Program Brings Civil Legal Help to Rural Montanans
Thursday, May 13, 2021
HELENA, Mont. -- Legal documents can be hard to parse, and for rural Montanans, and it also can be hard to find help filling out those documents.
The Court Help Connect Program assists people representing themselves on civil legal issues, by connecting them virtually with folks at the State Law Library who can answer their questions while filling out tricky forms.
Alex Clark, community outreach assistant for the Montana Legal Services Association, said the goal of the program is to increase access to free civil legal assistance for rural Montanans.
"The distance from Glasgow, Montana, where there is no self-help law center, to Billings, where there is a center and where people can get free help with legal forms, is longer than the distance between New York City and Washington, D.C.," Clark explained. "People shouldn't have to drive four hours just to get help filling out the legal forms."
Court Help Connect workstations are located in 11 courthouses and libraries in cities such as Dillon, Glendive and Miles City.
Clark noted access to the program dipped during the pandemic but is ramping back up as restrictions ease.
The program is a partnership between the Montana Legal Services Association, Montana Court Help Program and the Office of the Court Administrator.
Clark emphasized his organization watched people fill out legal forms to get insights into the kind of barriers they typically face. They then automated 14 legal forms, so people could complete them online by themselves for free.
He added it's helpful for people to connect with a law expert while filling out these forms.
"These are really commonly used legal forms, but they're also really high stakes," Clark contended. "You know, we're talking about time with your kids, your housing, allegations of a debt that someone may or may not owe. So often, what I've learned in my experience is that people really need reassurance."
Clark stressed another reason this program is helpful is because civil legal issues are a largely overlooked part of the justice system.
"With the criminal justice system, it's very clear that you have a legal problem," Clark observed. "A police officer is reading your Miranda Rights off to you. The civil legal problem? It's not always clear that there's really a legal avenue to resolving that dispute, and then it's also not clear where to go for help."
get more stories like this via email
The coalition known as "Think Babies Michigan" has secured more than $36 million in funding to offer grants to child-care providers for infants and to…
Nearly 100 school board elections are coming up in Minnesota this fall, with some gaining attention because of the candidates who are running…
The so-called conservative "hostile takeover" of a small, progressive liberal arts college in Florida is seeing some resistance from former students …
High rent prices are draining the budgets of many Nebraska renters, who are paying between 30% and 50% of their income on rent. In some parts of the …
As the federal government nears a shutdown over a budget impasse in Congress, Wisconsin offices that help low-income individuals worry they'll have …
Indigenous leaders are traveling through the Northwest to highlight the plight of dwindling fish populations in the region. The All Our Relations …
Washington performs well in a new report scoring states' long-term care systems. The Evergreen State ranked second in AARP's Long-Term Services and …
A lack of housing options, mental-health challenges and a lack of connections and support have combined to drive an uptick in the number of foster …