Legal Self-Help Resources Available in Anne Arundel County

The number of legal self-help resources have just recently increased.  The court has provided “legal information and forms to assist pro se (unrepresented) litigants in matters of divorce, custody/visitation, child support and name changes” for years now in the Self Help – Family Law Self Help Center.  It is located on the second floor of the courthouse and is open on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and on Tuesdays and Fridays from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.  They also have telephone hours everyday from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.  The phone number is: 410-280-5374.

The law library sees many self represented litigants (SRLs) who need assistance with many other legal issues beyond family law.  The library has dedicated a section of the library as a self-help center to assist those seeking legal information or want to represent themselves without an attorney.  The center has a computer with printer and a collection of legal books written for the non-attorney.  Having this PC in an area away from the computer room allows library staff to provide instruction on the use of online and print materials used in legal research privately.  The online Maryland’s Peoples Law Library is a great resource and used frequently in the “center.”

Still, many who visit the library want legal advice: in the form of should I or is this the right thing to do or what should I do?  Many times they would love to have an attorney to represent them or provide them with advice but cannot afford to hire an attorney and do not qualify for legal services programs.

In response, the law library sought to institute a new service in the law library:  Ask a Lawyer in the Law Library.  Now every Wednesday a volunteer attorney is in the law library from 11:00 a.m to 1:00 p.m. to provide limited legal advice and answer legal questions for up to twenty minutes.  The response has been great to the point where we often have many more than the six slots the two hours will allow.  Many times the attorney of the day will stay an extra hour or more to accommodate those who did get one of the six time slots.  (We now have a lottery between 10:45 and 11:00 so that time slots can be fairly assigned.)  This year four different firms have agreed to provide an attorney for the same Wednesday each month:  Bell, Ragland, Gauges and Paltell; David Simison; Council, Baradel; and Baldwin, Kagan and Gormley.  Chis Boucher and Mary Kay Canarte have  agreed to cover two of the four fifth Wednesdays in March, June, September and December.

The program has expanded to branches of  the Anne Arundel Public Library this year and hopes to find a way to continue on a regular basis as these programs can be offered in the evening and on weekends.

Luckily for Anne Arundel County, the Maryland Access to Justice Commission decided that a pilot District Court Self-Help Center be located in the Glen Burnie District Court.  The center is now up and running at 7500 Ritchie Highway in room 205 everyday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.  They can provide “limited legal services”  involving such issues as landlord/tenant, small claims, and debtor/creditor.  They can assist with such tasks as completing court forms and can answer legal questions or help in preparing for court.

By Joan Bellistri

Law Library Director for the Anne Arundel County Public Law Library

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