New website offers residents free legal information, forms

A new legal self-help website, www.michiganlegalhelp.org offers information and many resources for Michigan residents who need to represent themselves in simple civil legal matters.  

The Michigan Legal Help website is part of a pilot project overseen by the Solutions on Self-Help Task Force.  The Task Force was established in 2010 by (then) Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Marilyn Kelly to improve and coordinate resources for self-represented persons.    

“We are very pleased that the website will provide information to help people who cannot afford to hire a lawyer handle basic legal problems,” said Kelly.  

 “This website will also benefit the courts because more self-represented litigants will be better prepared when they go to court. It will also assist many members of the public who ask the courts for information on legal processes and help users who need lawyers find a local attorney,” said State Court Administrator Chad Schmucker.

  “After a test run, we received helpful feedback to improve the site and make it as easy to use as possible,” said Project Director Angela Tripp. Tripp is the website project director for the Michigan Poverty Law Program, which was selected by the Task Force to create and manage the site.  Tripp said, “The website is not a substitute for hiring a lawyer.  It provides information, not legal advice, and many other states have similar resources.  The Michigan website is modeled on an Illinois website that has operated successfully for more than a decade.”

 The website was created to make legal information easier to understand and to show people how to navigate the court system properly and efficiently. The website can also help users look for a lawyer or legal self-help center in their area if they need more assistance. New Michigan Legal Help self-help centers affiliated with the website are open in Oscoda and Allegan Counties and will be opening later in Oakland and Wayne Counties.  Information about and links to these and other Michigan self-help centers are on the website.   

The website contains articles explaining specific areas of law, toolkits, forms and instructional checklists to help prepare people who represent themselves in court.  Many court forms can be filled out online using a simple question and answer interview.  The website also includes information about local community services and details about the court(s) where a website visitor’s legal issue may be handled. Although it does not cover all areas of law, new content will be added regularly.

 Currently, there are sections regarding family law matters, protection from abuse, housing issues, consumer law problems, and expungement. Family law matters include divorce, custody, and child support.  Consumer legal issues covered are suits regarding debts, small claims, installment payment plans and garnishment.  The housing section deals with leases, security deposits, landlord/tenant issues, mobile homes, eviction and subsidized housing.  Expungement provides information about setting aside an adult criminal conviction or a juvenile adjudication.  

To view the website and learn more about its tools for civil legal self-help in Michigan, visit www.michiganlegalhelp.org. 

 The Michigan Legal Help website and affiliated local self-help centers are part of the overall work of the Solutions on Self-Help Task Force to promote coordinated and quality assistance for persons representing themselves in civil legal matters in Michigan. The Task Force is a statewide collaboration of judges, courts, lawyers, bar associations, funders, nonprofit legal aid agencies, legal self-help centers, libraries and others. For more information about the Task Force and its projects go to www.sostf.org. Michigan Legal Help is funded by the Michigan State Bar Foundation and The Legal Services Corporation.