Illinois Legal Aid Online, which is funded in part by a $20,000 grant from the Illinois Bar Foundation
, was featured in a recent Chicago Daily Law Bulletin story. Another $10,000 IBF grant to the Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice funds the creation of 5 self help centers in some of the most rural counties in the state.
By Maria Kantzavelos
Law Bulletin staff writer
Illinois Legal Aid Online hasn't yet reached its goal of establishing technology-based legal self-help center in the courthouses and public libraries of every county in the state to increase access to justice for low-income residents and pro se litigants.
But an instant messaging service, launched recently on the non-profit organization's Web site, is serving as a supplement toward that end, said Lisa A. Colpoys, executive director of Illinois Legal Aid Online.
"Our goal is to have a legal self-help center in every county. It's not there yet," said Colpoys, adding that the computer self-help centers are in courthouses or public libraries in 38 Illinois counties. "And even if there is a legal-self help center in their county, they may not be able to access it because they have transportation issues, they're disabled, they work during the hours it's open.
"We thought it was logical to add a help component to the Web site. It gives another access point for people all over the state."
Launched in October, LiveHelp is an online chat service that can be accessed with a click of a computer mouse on IllinoisLegalAid.org
. LiveHelp has Web site visitors communicating in real-time with a remote operator who helps them navigate the site's free online legal information and other resources - such as legal documents and application forms - to help people who can't afford an attorney find the resources they need to resolve their legal problems.
"A lot of the people we're trying to reach aren't very sophisticated Internet users. Or they may have problems using a computer in general, or not a lot of experience using a computer. They may not have those skills," Colpoys said. "The operator fills in, and helps them find what they need."
The live operators are law students from around the state who may be volunteering via laptop computers in two-hour shifts from coffeehouses or their law schools. Or, like Samira Nazem - a 3L at the University of Chicago Law School - from their living room couch.
Nazem is among the law students who underwent the required training to serve as a LiveHelp operator. She said she usually takes the 9 to 11 a.m. shift on Tuesdays.
She said the volunteer work is a perfect fit while juggling her law school studies.
"I wanted to contribute, but in a way that wouldn't require 15 or 20 hours a week," she said. "[Volunteering] as a LiveHelp operator] allowed a lot more flexibility for me, while allowing me to give back to the community."
Visitors to IllinoisLegalAid.org
in need of direction can click on the "Click to chat" option on the Web site for person-to-person help from 9 a.m to 5 p.m. Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.