No one thinks they will need a lawyer. That is until they do.
Perhaps you need to take a landlord to court, or you need a divorce from an abusive spouse. Maybe you are in a custody dispute or you are a veteran applying for claims and need help navigating the system. Perhaps a debt collector is hounding you and will take away all your income. In this case, you will be heading to the civil courts, not the criminal ones. In a criminal case, if you were threatened with jail or a lengthy sentence, you would be guaranteed legal representation. But in civil cases, there is no such guarantee. Only people accused of a crime are guaranteed the right to a defense lawyer.
People who need legal help in civil cases like the ones above will often be left on their own to navigate an intricate and complicated system, where mistakes have life changing consequences for the people involved. It’s not that there aren’t enough lawyers. There are many lawyers in our country. It’s just that, well, lawyers are expensive. Paying for a lawyer is a financial hardship even for people in middle-income jobs. For anyone along or below the poverty line, it’s an impossibility and has life-changing consequences.
People who fall into poverty have merely a slender hope of obtaining quality representation, and often have to represent themselves in cases where the other side is well represented. This is especially true in tenant-landlord disputes in large cities. Tenants often do not have lawyers, and the landlords almost always do. It goes without saying what side usually comes out ahead.*
Legal Aid Services do exist to help fill in the gaps and ensure that people have access to lawyers, but the system isn’t perfect and people who need legal aid may have to wait for lengthy periods of time or will be turned away. According to the Boston Bar Association 2015 Task Force in Expanding Civil Legal Aid in MA, 64% of eligible cases were turned away by civil legal aid programs in 2013 due to lack of funding. and more than 54,000 eligible people were turned away in 2014, over 33,000 in the areas of housing and family law alone. If findings in the rest of the country are similar to those of Massachusetts, we have a legal representation problem in this country.
We’ve gathered many local and online resources for people seeking legal help or knowledge. With an imperfect justice system, the importance of having access to the resources that are available, and to be able to find correct and up-to-date information, is very important. Check below for a list of local and online legal services.
LOCAL LEGAL SERVICES
Chemung County Neighborhood Legal Services, Inc. (Free legal aid to those who can’t afford an attorney) Counties Served: Chemung, Schuyler, Tioga, Tompkins Case Types: Dissolution of Marriage, Domestic Violence, Education, Housing. Legal Services Provided: Criminal Law, Divorce, Education Law, Family Law, Real Estate Law.
215 E Church St.
Elmira NY 14901
(corner of Church St and Clemens Center Parkway).
Hours: 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Phone: (607) 734-1647
LawHelpNY.org Provides information about common civil legal problems, such as divorce, custody, debt, housing, government benefits, and much more for New Yorkers who cannot afford a lawyer. LawHelpNY lists more than 600 free legal service projects and organizations with their contact and intake information, and over 4,000 Know Your Rights and self-help resources covering 16 areas of law. LawHelpNY.org is also available in Spanish. Provides information about common civil legal problems, such as divorce, custody, debt, housing, government benefits, and much more. Has a chat service called LiveHelp, available Monday-Friday, 9 AM-9 PM (http://www.lawhelpny.org/what-is-livehelp)
The Charles B. Swartwood Law Library, Chemung County, was established as the Supreme Court Library at Elmira on April 4, 1895 (L.1895, Ch. 231). The library’s collection includes both Federal and New York State primary materials, West’s Regional Reporters, general practice treatises, and a small Pennsylvania collection, and is maintained in a variety of formats including print, microform, audio and video, and CD-ROM. The law library staff will provide legal information to the non-lawyer community by providing access to the materials in the collection. Because of ethical and legal implications surrounding the unauthorized practice of law, non-lawyer law library staff cannot interpret the meaning of materials or ascertain their relevance for a patron’s particular needs. Staff cannot perform legal research or provide legal advice or render legal opinions or otherwise evaluate a patron’s current situation or pending case. The law library staff will respond to telephone inquiries for cite checks and brief definitions. No other information will be given over the telephone. Staff will not answer telephone inquiries for information which require research or interpretation of legal materials.
Legal Assistance of Western New York: a not-for-profit corporation established to provide access to the justice system to low-income people and other vulnerable populations who have civil legal problems. Legal Assistance of Western New York, Inc. 215 East Church Street Suite 301 Elmira, NY 14901(607) 734-1647
Handbook for the Families and Friends of New York State DOCCS Offenders Guidelines to contacting those who are incarcerated, and a guide for reunification in the family when they come home. Includes a list of phone numbers and addresses of NY state prisons.
Mental Hygiene Legal Services: The Mental Hygiene Legal Service (MHLS) provides legal services, advice and assistance to persons receiving care or alleged to be in need of care at inpatient and community-based facilities for the mentally disabled.
c/o Elmira Psychiatric Center
100 Washington Street, Bldg. 4
Elmira, NY 14901
Fax: (607) 271-9038
Telephone: (607) 271-9262
Chemung County Department of Aging and Long Term Care: It is the mission of the New York State Office for the Aging to help older New Yorkers to be as independent as possible through the advocacy, development and delivery of cost effective policies, programs and services which support and empower the elderly and their families, in partnership with the network of public and private organizations which serve them. Legal Services Provided: Consumer Law, Elder Law, Estate Planning, Public Benefits, Real Estate Law
New York State Bar Association Lawyer Referral & Information Service
Phone: (800) 342-3661
Address: One Elk Street Albany, NY 12207. Provides referrals to private attorneys; also has information on many other helpful resources and agencies to contact for assistance. Fees: No charge for contacting referral service. Fee for first 1/2 hour consultation with participating lawyer is no more than $35. Beyond that the attorneys set their own fees.
Sexual Assault Resource Center (SARC) Provides crisis intervention services: hospital, police and court accompaniment for victims. Support, advocacy, and referrals to other services or agencies. Trained staff and volunteers are available 24 hours a day through our hotline, and primary counselors are available for on-going services. Services are free and confidential. Free educational services provided to the community. Alias: Rape Crisis of the Southern Tier Hours: Hotline & Crisis Services 24 hours/7 days a week.
755 E. Church St.
Elmira, NY 14845.
Phone: (888) 810-0093
American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Resource Center Journal – This free search engine searches the free full-text of over 400 online law reviews and law journals, as well as document repositories hosting academic papers and related publications such as Congressional Research Service reports.
American Civic Association: Adjustment of Status, Asylum applications, Consular Processing, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Employment authorization, Family-based petitions, Naturalization/Citizenship, Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) petitions. Help completing forms, Filings with USCIS. Address: 131 Front Street, Binghamton, NY 10004, USA. Phone: 607-723-9419.(For immigration resources nationwide, see https://www.immigrationadvocates.org/nonprofit/legaldirectory/).
Avon Global Center for Women and Justice The Center’s Women and Justice Collection offers unique access to judicial decisions from around the world that protect women’s rights and prevent and punish gender-based violence. The free database can be searched by country, topic, and keyword, and search results include case summaries and links to full-text decisions. The collection also makes available articles, reports, reference guides, and annotated reference lists of relevant international human rights instruments that address on gender-justice-related topics (Quote taken from website).
Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations Produced by staff of Information Services (INSRV), Cardiff University, Wales.”This database allows you to search for the meaning of abbreviations for English language legal publications, from the British Isles, the Commonwealth and the United States, including those covering international and comparative law. A wide selection of major foreign language law publications is also included. Publications from over 295 jurisdictions are featured in the Index. The database mainly covers law reports and law periodicals but some other legal publications are also included. The Index is under continuous development with new abbreviations and titles being added on a regular basis.” (Quote taken from website).
Census Bureau Data (Formerly CenStats): “Censtats, a long-serving data access tool on census.gov, included data from across programs, including county business patterns, international trade, building permits, and the decennial census. All of the data distributed through Censtats will remain available on census.gov and current programs will continue to publish data online.” (Quote taken from website).
Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation. “Beginning with the Continental Congress in 1774, America’s national legislative bodies have kept records of their proceedings. The records of the Continental Congress, the Constitutional Convention, and the United States Congress make up a rich documentary history of the construction of the nation and the development of the federal government and its role in the national life. These documents record American history in the words of those who built our government. Books on the law formed a major part of the holdings of the Library of Congress from its beginning. In 1832, Congress established the Law Library of Congress as a separate department of the Library. It houses one of the most complete collections of U.S. Congressional documents in their original format. In order to make these records more easily accessible to students, scholars, and interested citizens, A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation brings together online the records and acts of Congress from the Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention through the 43rd Congress, including the first three volumes of the Congressional Record, 1873-75.” (Quote taken from website).
Congress.gov The congressional information system from the Library of Congress.
Cornell Legal Information Institute – The LII publishes electronic versions of core materials in numerous areas of the law, primarily on the Web. They range from the Constitution to the U.S. Code, from Supreme Court decisions to the Code of Federal Regulations as well as the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Bankruptcy Procedure, and Criminal Procedure.
Cornell Legal Research Clinic – The Cornell Legal Research Clinic invites legal research requests from local non-profit organizations and entrepreneurs, individuals, and legal service providers. Upper-level law students complete the research under the guidance of two attorney instructors.
Death Penalty Worldwide: Death Penalty Worldwide aims to bridge critical gaps in research and advocacy around the death penalty. First, it provides comprehensive, transparent data regarding death penalty laws and practices in the 87 countries and territories that retain capital punishment. Second, it publishes reports and manuals on issues of practical relevance to defense lawyers, governments, courts and organizations grappling with questions relating to the application of the death penalty, particularly in the global south. Third, it engages in targeted advocacy focusing on the implementation of international fair trial standards and the rights of those who come into conflict with the law, including juveniles, women, and individuals with intellectual disabilities and mental illnesses. (Quote taken from website).
Electronic Code of Federal Regulations – The e-CFR is an editorial compilation of Code of Federal Regulations material and Federal Register amendments produced by the National Archives and Records Administration’s Office of the Federal Register (OFR) and the Government Publishing Office.
FindLaw – FindLaw provides legal information, lawyer profiles and a community to help you make the best legal decisions.
FindLegalHelp findlegalhelp.org is provided as a public service by the American Bar Association’s Division for Legal Services. While the information on this site is about legal issues, it is not legal advice or legal representation. (Quote taken from website). Links to sources of free legal aid, and unbiased referrals of affordable lawyers.
Google Scholar “Google Scholar is a freely accessible web search engine that indexes the full text or metadata of scholarly literature across an array of publishing formats and disciplines. Released in beta in November 2004, the Google Scholar index includes most peer-reviewed online academic journals and books, conference papers, theses and dissertations, preprints, abstracts, technical reports, and other scholarly literature, including court opinions and patents. While Google does not publish the size of Google Scholar’s database, third-party researchers estimated it to contain roughly 160 million documents as of May 2014 and an earlier statistical estimate published in PLOS ONE using a Mark and recapture method estimated approximately 80-90% coverage of all articles published in English with an estimate of 100 million. This estimate also determined how many documents were freely available on the web.” (From wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Scholar)
EDGAR (SEC) All companies regulated by the SEC, both foreign and domestic, are required to file registration statements, periodic reports, and other forms electronically through EDGAR. Anyone can access and download this information for free. Here you’ll find links to a complete list of filings available through EDGAR and instructions for searching the EDGAR database. (Quote taken from website).
Empirical Legal Resources, Cornell Law School Cornell Law School Professors Theodore Eisenberg and Kevin Clermont developed this Web site that provides helpful tools for conducting empirical research, including several extensive databases of federal and state cases, instruction modules on statistics, scholarly articles, and lists of statistical resources available at Cornell University. Quote taken from Cornell Law School online legal resources Libguide.
FDsys (Federal Digital System): provides free online access to official publications from all three branches of the Federal Government. Through FDsys, you are able to:Search for documents and publications — FDsys provides advanced search capabilities and the ability to refine and narrow your search for quick access to the information you need.Browse for documents and publications — FDsys offers browsing by collection, Congressional committee, date, and Government author.Access metadata about documents and publications — FDsys provides information about Government publications in standard XML formats.Download documents and publications in multiple renditions or file formats — With FDsys, users can download a single file or download content and metadata packaged together in a compressed file. (Quote taken from website).
Justia – Legal information on numerous legal topics and jurisdictions.
LawArXiv – LawArXiv is an open access legal repository owned and maintained by members of the scholarly legal community.
LawNY – Provides free legal aid to people with civil legal problems in western New York.
Legal-Aid Society: Know your Rights: The Legal Aid Society provides free legal services to low-income New Yorkers in the five boroughs of New York City in the areas of housing, immigration, benefits, family law, employment law, criminal defense, child protection and juvenile rights. The Know-Your-Rights page has useful information for anyone in New York State about common civil legal matters such as divorce, child support, domestic violence, and more.
Library of Congress Law Online: The Guide to Law Online, prepared by the Law Library of Congress Public Services Division, is an annotated guide to sources of information on government and law available online. It includes selected links to useful and reliable sites for legal information. (Quote taken from website).
LLRX Court Rules, Forms and Dockets – This site includes links to over 1,400 sources for state and federal court rules, forms and dockets. You can browse to find the resource you need, or search by keyword.
National Archives and Records Administration Many people know the National Archives as the keeper of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. But we also hold in trust for the public the records of ordinary citizens—for example, military records of the brave men and women who have fought for our country, naturalization records of the immigrants whose dreams have shaped our nation, and even the canceled check from the purchase of Alaska.
In a democracy, records belong to the people, and for more than seven decades, NARA has preserved and provided access to the records of the United States of America. Records help us claim our rights and entitlements, hold our elected officials accountable for their actions, and document our history as a nation. In short, NARA ensures continuing access to the essential documentation of the rights of American citizens and the actions of their Government. (Quote taken from website).
National Center for State Courts – Resource guides on various legal topics, court resources by state.
New York Codes, Rules, and Regulations It provides free access to an unannotated version of the New York Codes, Rules and Regulations (NYCRR)
New York Courts – Information about courts, programs & services, court administration, e-courts, representing yourself, the law, jurors, legal profession, and judges.
New York State Laws, Court Acts, and Rules Online access to New York Consolidated and Unconsolidated Laws, Court Acts, Assembly Rules, and Senate Rules through the New York State Legislature’s Web site.
Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) – PACER is an electronic public access service that allows users to obtain case and docket information online from federal appellate, district, and bankruptcy courts, and the PACER Case Locator.
Presidential Directives Presidential directives are signed or authorized by the President. They are issued by the National Security Council. Many recent ones are classified. They have been given different names by different Presidential administrations. This guide from the Library of Congress will help you find the unclassified directives available on the Internet. (Quote taken from website).
Scholarship@Cornell Law Cornell Law School is a major research center and leader in legal education and scholarship. In addition to excelling in traditional legal scholarship, Cornell Law has a broader global perspective, encouraging collaboration and achievement in international and multidisciplinary studies. A service of the Cornell Law Library, Scholarship@Cornell Law provides open, global access to the scholarship of Cornell Law School faculty, students, and visiting scholars. (Quote taken from website).
Social Science Research Network (SSRN) SSRN´s eLibrary provides 748,922 research papers from 348,662 researchers across 30 disciplines (including law). (Quote taken from website).
State & Local Government on the Net The State and Local Government Internet directory provides convenient one-stop access to the websites of thousands of state agencies and city and county governments. Use the drop-down menus on the left to view directory pages for:
States: State Government Offices – View all the websites in a given state — from a state’s home page or governor’s site to the smallest counties or townships.
Topics: The websites of state government constitutional officers, state legislatures, state judiciaries and departments across ALL states. (Quote taken from website).
United States Code The United States Code is a consolidation and codification by subject matter of the general and permanent laws of the United States. It is prepared by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel of the United States House of Representatives. (Quote taken from website).
The World Factbook – Provides information on the history, people, government, economy, geography, communications, transportation, military, and transnational issues for 267 world entities.
World Legal Information Institute: Free, independent and non-profit access to worldwide law. (Quote taken from website).
Articles and Websites Consulted (Further Reading)
*”Review: In ‘Rebooting Justice,’ a Call to Help the Lawyerless in Court.” Knee, Jonathan A. New York Times. 31 July 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/31/business/dealbook/in-rebooting-justice-a-call-to-help-the-lawyerless-in-court.html Accessed 1 Aug 2017.
“Legal Help For The Poor In ‘State Of Crisis.” Johnson, Carrie. NPR. 15 June 2012. http://www.npr.org/2012/06/15/154925376/legal-help-for-the-poor-in-state-of-crisis Accessed 1 Aug 2017.
BBA Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid in MA. Boston bar Association. http://www.bostonbar.org/public-policy/civil-legal-aid-in-ma Accessed 22 Aug 2017.
“Charts: Why You’re in Deep Trouble If You Can’t Afford a Lawyer.” http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/05/public-defenders-gideon-supreme-court-charts/ Accessed 22 Aug 2017.. Mother Jones. 6 May 2013.
“The Justice Index 2016.” http://justiceindex.org/2016-findings/attorney-access/ Accessed 22 Aug 2017. The Justice Index is an online resource that relies on findings, indicators, indexing and other data-analytics tools to help ensure that a person’s ability to protect and vindicate her rights in a state justice system does not depend on whether she can afford a lawyer, speak and understand English, or navigate the legal system without an accommodation due to a physical or mental disability. The Justice Index scores and ranks the 50 states, District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico on their adoption of selected best practices for ensuring access to justice, creating incentives for state officials to replicate those practices.