Ohio Legal Help (www.ohiolegalhelp.org), a website created to help all Ohioans access the civil justice system by providing free information on common legal issues, was recently launched by a statewide alliance of judges, attorneys and legal associations, including Akron’s Community Legal Aid.
Ohio Legal Help provides plain language legal information, interactive self-help tools and connections to local legal and community resources to help Ohioans resolve their legal issues. The site also offers details about court and other legal forms and referrals to legal aid and bar association programs. All content is reviewed by lawyers, to ensure the website is easy to understand and accurate.
“The Supreme Court’s Task Force on Access to Justice recommended in 2015 that Ohio develop a statewide website that provides free and accurate legal information and standardized forms,” said Supreme Court of Ohio Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor. “Ohio Legal Help is that website and will increase access to justice for all Ohioans.”
Locally, Community Legal Aid served as a partner in the website’s development. “The biggest hurdle we face is having to turn away clients because of limited resources,” said Steven McGarrity, executive director of Community Legal Aid. “Ohio Legal Help is an online toolkit we can use to help these people. It’s really going to help us expand our reach so that more people understand their rights and how to protect them.”
McGarrity also emphasized the importance of the site’s usability.
“A lot of times, when legal materials are put out there for the public, they have a lot of legal jargon in them, terms that only a lawyer or judge would understand,” he added. “That’s why we developed it specifically with community members in mind, so that it’s useful for them. The language is easy to read, and the tools are easy for anyone to use.”
To lay the groundwork for the project, a steering committee was assembled comprising judges, private lawyers, legal aid lawyers, librarians, clerks of court and domestic violence advocates, said David Kutik, Ohio Legal Help board president. “This comprehensive process, which resulted in the creation of the Ohio Legal Help website, has ensured that Ohio Legal Help will meet the diverse needs of potential users.”
The steering committee commissioned a survey of potential users, and 800 Ohioans responded to the survey. Half of the respondents made less than $30,000 per year, according to Ohio Legal Help. The survey revealed that costs and confusion of dealing with legal issues were most frequently cited as barriers to accessing the legal system. Sixty-one percent of survey respondents believed that they needed more legal education and 68 percent strongly supported a legal access portal website.
Ohio Legal Help addresses these concerns with straightforward legal information that helps Ohioans resolve legal problems in common, critical legal areas, such as housing, family, consumer and income maintenance. The website’s mobile-first design will meet users where they are, and the tailored, personalized approach will ensure that users only receive information and referrals specific to their individual needs.
The information available on Ohio Legal Help is free. Ohioans may visit the website at www.ohiolegalhelp.org.