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New state alliance seeks to expand network for self-help legal services

Nora Ryan with Michigan Legal Help met this week with other advocates at the Michigan Hall of Justice in Lansing.
Rick Pluta
Michigan Public Radio Network
Nora Ryan with Michigan Legal Help met this week with other advocates at the Michigan Hall of Justice in Lansing.

Michigan courts, community agencies and libraries are building out the network of centers to provide legal help for people who can’t afford an attorney in civil cases.

Criminal defendants have a right to a publicly funded attorney, but that is not true for parties to legal actions such as debt collection cases, landlord-tenant disputes, and divorce and custody matters. So those litigants have to represent themselves.

Nora Ryan with Michigan Legal Help said self-help centers can help people navigate the legal system, file paperwork with courts, and protect their rights.

“The reality of the legal system right now is that there is a large portion of people who are facing legal issues without the help of an attorney and that really is not the way the legal system is set up,” she said.

Groups gathered earlier this week at the Michigan Hall of Justice in Lansing to launch an effort to more closely coordinate their efforts. The plan also includes collecting information on how people are using existing centers and the demand for particular types of services.

Ryan said national data suggest three-quarters of people in civil cases show up in court without a lawyer and there is no reason to believe Michigan is different.

Michigan currently has 38 centers in 27 counties. Ryan said she expects there will be 57 centers in 30 counties by the end of the year.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.
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