Justice Marilyn Kelly (Michigan Supreme Court, Ret.) spoke about the Michigan Legal Help program to a national audience during the recent mid-year meeting of the American Bar Association in Dallas. She explained how the program assists self-represented persons in Michigan and why judicial leadership in creating and maintaining such programs is important.
In 2010, then Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Marilyn Kelly established the Solutions on Self-Help (SOS) Task Force to promote coordinated, quality help for persons who have to represent themselves in simple civil legal matters. In doing so, she said the effort was needed to help close “the justice gap” for the increased number of self-represented litigants who cannot afford to hire a lawyer.
In her speech, Justice Kelly said she hoped her participation in the Task Force helped demonstrate judicial commitment for the effort. She encouraged the audience of legal aid funders to get judges visibly involved in their programs to assist the self-represented. She also noted that many judges and other individuals from the court system participated with legal aid, legal self-help centers, lawyers, librarians and others in the SOS Task Force. She said that collaboration built broad support for the project, allowed resources to be centralized rather than duplicated and laid the groundwork for future expansion.
Justice Kelly detailed the work of the Task Force, which ended in December of 2012, and explained that its work continues through the Michigan Legal Help Program, particularly its innovative website and affiliated self-help centers supported by the Michigan Poverty Law Program. She said that the Task Force’s efforts in related areas, such as training materials for courts and libraries, policy improvements and working toward more understandable and consistent forms throughout the state were also important. Justice Kelly quoted recent statistics, including about 250,000 page views in the first few months of website operation, and positive feedback from users and commended the many people in Michigan and around the nation working to improve resources for the self-represented.