January 2016 Bar Bulletin
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The Rita R. Dermody Legal Help Center Takes A Test Flight

By Rick Stroup, Interim Director

 

 

By the time you read this, the staff at the Public Law Library of King County will be in the middle of the “soft” launch of the new Rita R. Dermody Legal Help Center. Our Board of Trustees named the Center in honor of our recently retired director, recognizing her commitment to improving services to the ever-growing number of unrepresented litigants in our local courts.

During this shakedown cruise, the Center will be open two days each week in our Seattle location in the King County Courthouse. Once we’ve worked out the bugs, we hope to extend the service to our Kent location in the Maleng Regional Justice Center as well.

The Center’s day-to-day operations are in the expert hands of our public services attorney, Marc Lampson. He joined the staff last spring and has spent a good portion of his time studying the operations of similar pro se, self-help programs in other public law libraries and adapting their “best practices” to our circumstances and to the particular vision we have for serving unrepresented litigants.

During the soft launch period, Lampson and the rest of the Law Library staff will be testing everything from the intake form we’ve designed to capture and assess the patron’s legal issue, to the lottery process we’ve adopted to make the assignment of center sessions as fair as possible, to the record-keeping tools we hope will give us the data we need to evaluate work-flow and plan for the Center’s evolution.

Given the flood of unrepresented litigants in King County courts today, we expect the Center to be busy from Day One. Lampson has visited key internal court partners — the Family Law Facilitators, the Housing Justice Project, Court Interpreter Services and the clerk’s offices for Superior and District Court — to make sure they are aware of the testing period and know how to make appropriate referrals. Together with referrals our own reference staff make during our standard patron interviews, we should have no problem filling available session times.

Of particular concern during this testing period is the issue of scope: What types or categories of legal issues can we appropriately and accurately address? Unrepresented litigants are everywhere and the issues they grapple with run the gamut from divorce and child custody to traffic violations, probate and contracts.

Given the advice we’ve received from other public law libraries that operate similar services, we expect our scope to need refining. Whether that means it expands, narrows or remains as is depends, at least initially, on the successes and “tribulations” of this first shakedown cruise.

 

 

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