Those who don’t qualify for legal aid services but can’t afford an attorney are welcome to meet with one Wednesday evenings at the Deschutes Public Library in downtown Bend.
The Lawyer in the Library program, which started Wednesday, provides four, free 30-minute consultations with a local attorney. The volunteer attorney is able to answer questions and assist people on civil matters, such as small claims, contracts, landlord-tenant issues and wills. No criminal issues will be covered.
All four consultations were filled Wednesday at the first night of the program. One of the participants said afterward how empowering it was to have free access and speak with a lawyer without having to provide a retainer fee.
The program — held each Wednesday between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. — was created by the Deschutes County Access to Justice Committee, a group formed in January 2016 by the Deschutes County Circuit Court and the Deschutes County Bar Association.
David Rosen, chair of the access to justice committee and an attorney at the first Lawyer in the Library program Wednesday, said it is a good way to help those above the legal aid threshold.
To qualify for legal aid, a person’s income is generally 125 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $1,220 per month. Deschutes County has 32,849 residents who qualify for legal aid, according to Legal Aid Services of Oregon.
That leaves many who still cannot afford legal services. The library program will connect them with local lawyers willing to help them and possibly offer services at a lower rate, Rosen said.
“It matches the sizable population that can’t qualify for an attorney and the number of attorneys who might be willing to take on clients for a reduced rate,” he said.
Jeff Hall, Deschutes County Circuit Court trial administrator and access to justice committee member, said five lawyers have already signed up for the program, and they could help expand it to more times and library locations. In addition, Hall said, the committee is considering nights when the program focuses on just one area of law, but for now they are not putting any limitations on the program.
“We are trying to ease our way into it and see where it goes,” Hall said.
The downtown Bend library is a good location for the program since it houses the Deschutes County Law Library, Hall said. Deschutes Public Library took on the law library in October 2015 through an intergovernmental agreement with Deschutes County.
While the permanent law library collection is in the downtown branch, some copies of the same books are available at the other five branches, Community Librarian Nate Pedersen said. And many of the titles are available electronically at each library through LexisNexis, an online service that provides legal, government and business resources.
In the past, the law library was housed in the basement of the courthouse and in a building across from county offices off Wall Street in Bend.
“It has been a great service to the community,” Hall said. “It’s much more accessible to the public and better for the attorneys.”
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