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Legal web site helps 200,000 people in first year

When MichiganLegalHelp.org launched Aug. 17, 2012, initial estimates expected around 3,000 visits per week to the legal information web site.

According to Michigan Legal Help Project Manager Angela Tripp, “This estimate proved too conservative. Starting in January, there were over 5,000 visits per week, and that grew to over 6,000 per week by July. We are very gratified that so many people have turned to the web site for help.”

The Michigan Legal Help web site was created to provide free legal information to people who cannot afford to hire an attorney and need to represent themselves in simple legal matters. It makes legal information easier to understand and shows self-represented people how to navigate the court system properly and efficiently.

The web site contains information on many areas of law in the form of articles, toolkits, forms and instructional checklists to help prepare people who represent themselves in court. Many court forms can be completed using a simple question and answer interview format. The web site can help users look for a lawyer in their area if they need more assistance, and includes information about legal self-help centers and local community services as well as details about the court where a web site visitor’s legal issue may be handled.

In addition to the web site, Michigan Legal Help works with communities to open local legal self-help centers, with staff (called ‘navigators’) who help visitors find what they need on the web site, answer basic questions about court practices and processes and provide information about forms that are available on the web site.

Neither the web site nor navigators can give legal advice. They provide only legal information. Michigan Legal Help Self-Help Centers are now open in Wayne, Oakland, Allegan, Oscoda and Muskegon counties. More centers are expected to open over the next year, including in Marquette and Monroe counties.

Information about locations and hours for the centers can be found on the MLH web site. In addition, public librarians across the state are being trained to assist their patrons in finding the information they need on the web site. People do not have to be at a self-help center or library to use the web site, which is accessible via the internet from any computer or mobile device.

Many visitors take the time to share how the web site has helped them handle a legal problem on their own, or to give suggestions on how Michigan Legal Help can be even better,” Tripp reports. “Some typical messages are: ‘This site was a very useful and informative tool. It has provided me what I need to represent myself in my divorce hearing. Thank you sincerely,’ and, ‘I was so stressed about this process. Not having money for a lawyer was making me nervous about this entire process. But the web site walked me through the step-by-step questions with a sense of ease. I am so thankful for this service.’”

The Michigan Legal Help Program is the culmination of several years of work by the Solutions on Self-Help Task Force, which was established in 2010 by (then) Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Marilyn Kelly to improve and coordinate resources for self-represented persons.

More than 100 people participated in the Task Force’s work, reflecting input from judges, bar associations, legal aid, local self-help centers, libraries and others. Many of these groups continue to collaborate with the effort which is managed by a nonprofit organization, Michigan Poverty Law Program, based in Ann Arbor.

As of Aug. 1, 2013, MichiganLegalHelp.org contained 30 toolkits, 74 articles, 312 common questions (with answers), 19 automated interviews that populate a total of 50 different forms, and referral information for more than 212 organizations. There are videos to educate people about using the web site and what to expect when going to court. The legal information content available now is in the areas of family law, protection from abuse, consumer law, housing law, expungement, income tax and public benefits. More content is added regularly.

In the second quarter of 2013, web site visitors used the automated interviews to create 7,359 sets of forms, placing Michigan fifth in the nation among states using these types of automated forms.

These numbers are impressive, as many other states are more populous and have had resources available for self-represented people for much longer than one year,” Tripp said.

She also noted that the web site has had more than 200,000 visits since the launch a year ago.

The response to MLH in its first year demonstrates the need for assistance for those who must represent themselves because they cannot afford to hire a lawyer or because nonprofit legal aid agencies do not have enough resources to help everyone who qualifies for their services. Also, courts are seeing an increasing number of self-represented persons. One court reported at least one self-represented party in 80 percent of all divorce cases and both parties in 50 percent of such cases.

The Michigan Legal Help Program plans to expand to cover more areas of law especially needed by low-income people. In addition, a LiveHelp feature will be launched this fall enabling web site visitors to chat online with navigators who can help them find what they need on the web site. Because more than 30 percent of web site visitors access the site through a mobile device or tablet, an updated mobile version of the site will be available in September. Also, by year end, much of the content on the web site will be available in Spanish.

The web site also has links to a user’s guide and informational flyers which can be downloaded and printed out for groups to distribute to potential web site users.

Contact Tripp at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for questions or requests for other information.

Michigan Legal Help is funded by the Michigan State Bar Foundation, The Legal Services Corporation and Legal Services of South Central Michigan.

(Note: This report is provided as a service to our readers from a press release submitted to eastvillagemagazine.org. The story is edited to conform to Associated Press and local style. The group or individual who submitted the story is responsible for all information provided.)

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Hits on web site Dec. 13  to Jan. 12:  10,887

 

Hits on stories Nov. 13  to Dec. 12: 19,236

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Hits on web site July 13 to Aug. 12: 22,290.

 

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Hits on web site June 13 to July 12: 19,304.

 

Hits on stories May 13  to June 12: 59,629.

Hits on web site May 13 to June 12: 20,095.

 

Hits on stories April 13  to May 12: 57,218.

Hits on web site April 13 to May 12: 19,073.

 

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Hits on web site March 13 to April 12: 19,082.

 

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Hits on web site Feb. 13 to March 12: 14,788.

 

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Hits on web site Jan. 13 to Feb. 12: 18,198

 

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Hits on stories Nov. 13 to Dec. 12: 113,197

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Hits on stories Aug. 13 to Sept. 12: 91,003

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Hits on stories July 13 to Aug.12: 59,238

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Hits on stories May 13 to June 12: 45,956

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Hits on stories Jan. 13 to Feb. 12: 12,400

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Hits on stories Dec. 13 to Jan. 12: 12,400

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Hits on web site Dec. 13 to Jan 12: 2,937

 

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Hits on web site April 13 to May 12: 1,467

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Hits on stories March 13 to April 12: 2,229

Hits on web site March 13 to April 12: 1,538

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Hits on stories Feb. 13 to March 12: 1,991

Hits on the web site Feb. 13 to March 12: 1,485

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Hits on stories Jan. 15 to Feb. 12: 2,378

Hits on web site Jan. 15 to Feb. 12: 1,839

 

Hits on stories Nov.13 to Dec. 12: 113,197

Hits on web site Nov. 13 to Dec.. 12: 16,849

 

 

 

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