The Lake County News-Sun reports on a “Guardianship Help Desk” set up by the Lake County Bar Association:
“It’s to help assist these people going through the process and making the court process more efficient,” Rochford said.
Staffed by volunteer bar association attorneys and paralegal student volunteers from the College of Lake County, assistance is provided for people petitioning the court for guardianship of a minor child. The free service is for people establishing a legal relationship with a child not their own to make decisions about the child’s education, health and welfare, Rochford said.
Many people were involved in making the project work.
Circuit Judge Diane Winter, who presides over Probate Court, said many people coming into her courtroom often had incomplete or incorrectly completed paperwork, forcing the judge to assist with the paperwork.
“This was all very time-consuming for me to get these cases into court. I was only able to hear a few cases in a few hours. Now we can serve more litigates,” Winter said.
She said the help desk makes the system more efficient. Rochford said many people were frustrated with the system and previously had to come to court multiple times due to paperwork issues.
The help desk was in planning for about a year and involved cooperation by many, including county clerks and administrators, the bar association, the sheriff’s office and College of Lake County students, Winter and Rochford said.
But, of course, I am focusing on the paralegal students. I generally promote and encourage this kind of volunteering anyway, but this one is of particular interest because it demonstrates how access to justice can be improved through wise utilization of paralegals. Since each attorney can supervise several well-trained paralegal, more people gain access.
Paralegal assistants from the college received special training last fall so they work on the help desk, said Gayle Miller, CLC’s department chair of paralegal studies.
Nearly 30 students signed up, and about 20 attorneys have registered to supervise, Miller said. Because paralegals are not qualified to offer legal advice, Miller said there is always a supervising attorney at the help desk.
This project also provides a networking opportunity and experience for the students, as well as good exposure to the public. Those helped by the project, at least, will have a better understanding of the role of a paralegal as part of the legal profession.
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