By Sadef Ali Kully
A program that provides legal services for no charge has opened its first center in Queens in downtown Jamaica.
The center is part of Legal Hand, a new program that brings in trained community volunteers to offer free legal information, assistance and referrals to residents grappling with a wide range of legal matters.
The volunteers assist clients with such issues as housing, family troubles, immigration, divorce, domestic violence and even public benefits. They also help prevent problems from turning into legal actions.
The Legal Hand center in Jamaica launched Dec. 18 with a ceremony hosted by City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) and Chief Judge of New York Jonathan Lippman, along with members of the legal community and volunteers at the center’s location at 89-64 163rd St.
In Queens and Brooklyn, the network of Legal Hand Centers is supported by a $1 million grant from an anonymous donor.
“Legal Hand lends a helping hand to New Yorkers struggling to navigate the legal system to protect their most basic rights,” said Lancman, who serves as chairman of the Council’s Courts & Legal Services and Public Safety Committee.
A diverse group of Legal Hand volunteers will receive substantive training focusing on areas where emergencies commonly arise. Training will also cover cultural competency, interviewing skills, the limits on the advice non-lawyer volunteers are legally permitted to provide and the availability of referrals to other services, including full legal representation. A legal services attorney will also be on site to help train and aid volunteers.
“Our goal with the Legal Hand Centers is to break down barriers between the community and the justice system and to demystify some of the simple steps people can take to protect their rights under the law,” Lippman said. “This will lead to more just outcomes, more crises averted, less litigation, and money savings for our state and local governments.”
The Jamaica Legal Hand center, which will offer weekend and evening hours to accommodate 9-to-5 employees and others, is sharing space with Community Mediation Services.
The Jamaica center is equipped with computers, Internet access, printers and the full array of online legal tools for the self-represented, with volunteers on hand to provide assistance in completing online legal forms, drafting form letters and using technological to address consumer credit problems and other legal issues.
Reach Reporter Sadef Ali Kully by e-mail at skull