Providing Legal Help in Person and Online
April 2010As more New Yorkers struggle with poverty, their legal problems can multiply—evictions, domestic abuse, losing unemployment benefits—but where do New Yorkers go for legal help if they can’t afford a lawyer?
They might be referred to Legal Services NYC
or The Legal Aid Society
, agencies that received a grant of $1,200,000
to ramp up services in their field offices to meet the ballooning need for civil legal help with abusive debt collectors and trouble with unemployment insurance, for example. These and other legal services and pro bono
programs around the City are stretching resources to help as many people as possible, but they simply do not have enough lawyers to help everyone. In fact, 2.1 million people represented themselves in the State courts in 2009. If people must go it alone, helping them help themselves must be part of the solution.LawHelpNY
is an easy-to-use online clearinghouse of legal resources and information. Founded 11 years ago by five City legal groups, it provides up-to-date information, self-help resources, and referrals for everything under the umbrella of civil law, including disability, health, family, housing, education, immigration, tax, and labor law.
“New Yorkers need an easy way to help them navigate the law, their rights, and their responsibilities. That’s why we have committed $375,000 over the past decade to expand LawHelpNY,” says Jane Stern, senior consultant at The Trust. Prior Trust grants have been used to translate the site into 34 languages and develop resources to help immigrants. The agency also recently launched a live chat feature where people can get immediate answers.
Although anyone is allowed to use the site, many don’t have online access or can’t navigate the site on their own. They turn to staff at community centers, food banks, and settlement houses for the types of legal information on the site. With a grant of $75,000
, LawHelpNY is leading workshops for these staff. “We show them how easy it is to find things on LawHelp,” says Leah Margulies, director of the program. “A lot of people, especially those of an older generation, are not really that computer-savvy, and you need to guide people through the site before they become comfortable using it. Once you show them, they are better able to help those who come to them for legal advice.”