Access to Justice Committee Launches Lawyer in the Library Program

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The Deschutes County Access to Justice Committee has established a Lawyer in the Library program which will provide free 30-minute consultations with a local attorney. The Lawyer in the Library night is set for 5:30-7:30pm at the Downtown Bend branch of the Deschutes Public Library. The program will continue each Wednesday evening. Consultations are on a first-come, first-serve basis.

“The program is not a substitute for legal representation,” explained David Rosen, Access to Justice committee chair. “It is intended to assist people in 1) answering their questions 2) helping them determine if they have a legal issue and 3) if so, to provide some general direction regarding their next steps and/or a referral to additional resources.”

Rosen noted that the volunteer attorney assisting an individual may not have expertise in the particular area of law, limiting the scope of the advice provided to program participants. He said that typical issues for consultation would include small claims, contracts, landlord-tenant, wills and other civil matters. The program does not cover criminal issues.

“One of the main focuses of the Lawyer in the Library program is to reach those in our community who don’t qualify for legal aid services, but cannot afford an attorney on their own,” said Jeff Hall, Committee Member and Trial Court Administrator for the Deschutes County Circuit Court. “While we won’t solve everyone’s legal issue in thirty minutes, we can get them headed down the right road and on their way.”

The Access to Justice Committee hosted a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) session on September 29 for attorneys to learn about the program and how to work with program participants. The CLE program was recorded to allow future volunteer attorneys to join the program. An initial group of five lawyers will staff the program, which is scheduled each Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. The program, believed to be the first in Oregon, is modeled on similar programs operating across the country.

The Access to Justice Committee was jointly chartered by the Deschutes County Circuit Court and the Deschutes County Bar Association in January 2016 to improve access to justice in Deschutes County, promote pro bono opportunities for lawyers, and provide greater access to legal services for people who do not qualify for legal aid, but still cannot afford legal services.

The Access to Justice Committee has focused its initial efforts on working with the Deschutes Public Library as a point of access for legal resources in Deschutes County. This focus leverages the role as the Deschutes County Law Library taken on by the Deschutes Public Library in October 2015 through an intergovernmental agreement with Deschutes County. The Oregon Judicial Department, of which the Deschutes County Circuit Court is a part, also offers an online self-help center, including legal forms, information and resources at http://www.courts.oregon.gov/help/Pages/default.aspx.
Jeff Hall, trial court administrator, jeff.hall@ojd.state.or.us, 541-317-4780

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