Prison Legal Research Pamphlet: Updates to the Final Draft

By Katelyn Golsby, SR-SIS

In June of this year, I had the privilege of presenting a webinar about the Prison Legal Research Pamphlet, a joint project between myself and Jake Gottfredson (Branch Librarian, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit). The goal of the project, put simply, was to create a short and simple legal research guide that libraries could send in response to research requests from incarcerated people. The guide is purposefully bright and easy to understand, incorporating many elements of universal design, so it will be useable by the most people possible.  Jake and I received the 2019-2020 SR-SIS Education and Awareness Grant to assist in the continued development of the project, and we are happy to say that our final draft will be finished by the end of November. I am writing this blog entry to provide some updates on what changes we have made based on the feedback of our peers, and ultimately, to thank the AALL community for helping us make the pamphlet better.

We received feedback on the language we used in the pamphlet, some overall topics that should be included, and other versions of the pamphlet we could try to create for the future. Here is a sneak preview on some of the additions we made based on that feedback:

  • Building on the basics: We added two pages that took a step back from the detail we had before in order to better support the discovery of concepts of law. The first addition is an overview of types of law- it provides definitions and examples of statutes, regulations, case law, and common law. The second page we added was on finding statutes, which provides a short description of where states and federal statutes apply, topics usually covered by each, and where to find them.
  • Clarifying language: We changed a lot of the language around to be simpler and easier to read. For example, our first draft description of search connectors was clunky, so we made a few modifications to make it easier to comprehend.
  • Adding Spanish resources: A number of librarians had feedback on whether we would be able to make Spanish copies of the pamphlet, and whether we could come up with a resource guide for immigration detainees. In this first test of our project, we did not have the personal resources to expend on an entirely Spanish copy or on a new version of the pamphlet. But, in order to provide some resources to people dealing with immigration law, we came up with a page of Spanish research sources and legal assistance organizations which work on immigration cases. We are in the process of getting this page translated so we can add it to the end of the guide.

In conclusion, we have made a few important changes thanks to the participation of other librarians and we are excited to provide everyone with a final draft soon.

About the author: Katelyn Golsby is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of New Mexico School of Law Library.

Where is the A2J Commission Movement Headed in the 2020s and Beyond?: A Brief Recap

By Jessica Almeida, LISP-SIS

As with many meetings during the pandemic, the ABA National Meeting of State Access to Justice Commission Chairs met online instead of in person.  The opening session titled “Where is the ATJ Commission Movement Headed in the 2020s and Beyond?” is now available on demand, giving law librarians the chance to get an update on the American Bar Association’s efforts to bridge the access to justice gap.

The opening plenary began with a moving remembrance of Chief Justice Ralph Gants of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, who passed away in September.  Chief Justice Gants was the co-chair of the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission for almost 10 years. 

Next, Trish Refo, President of the American Bar Assocation (ABA), welcomed the online audience to the session and webinar series.  In her remarks, President Refo thanked members for the critical work they are doing, especially at a time when the legal system is being severely tested.  She also discussed the digital divide and its effect on civil litigation and the major challenge of sweeping evictions that is on the horizon.  President Refo also touched upon the many programs and efforts the ABA and its members have created to bridge the access to justice gap, including ABA Free Legal Answers.  According to President Refo, ABA Free Legal Answers has 7,000 volunteer lawyers in 41 states, who have fielded over 100,000 legal inquires. 

Shubi Deoras, Director of the ABA Resource Center for Access to Justice Initiatives, spoke briefly about their collecting of civil legal aid funding data.  The data is publicly available at www.abarray.org with the 2018-2019 data being released on October 29, 2020.  Director Derras spoke about the data collection process and their hope to streamline the reporting procedure.  She also gave a quick overview of the webinar series, including networking events, facilitated table talks, and the closing plenary.

The panel discussion was moderated by Amy Dunn Johnson, Executive Director of the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission.   The panel included Hon. Lawrence Winthrop, Arizona Court of Appeals Judge, Hon. Mark Juhas, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge, and Hon. Maria Araujo Kahn, Supreme Court of Connecticut Justice.  All of the panelists are chair of their state’s access to justice commission. 

Each panelist gave a brief presentation on their state’s current access to justice initiatives. Judge Winthrop discussed the primary goals of the Arizona Access to Justice Commission, specifically the barriers to self-represented litigants.   He also discussed projects that the commission is engaged with, including the Law4AZ Public Library Project, which has trained public librarians to help patrons with legal questions.  Judge Juhas from California talked about the variety of roles the commission plays; partnering with the legal services community and commenting on legislation, rules, and forms.  He also spoke about the projects the commission is working on, such as creating a justice gap map and a modest means practice guide as well as encouraging right to counsel projects.  Finally, Justice Kahn discussed the Connecticut Access to Justice Commission which develops equal access recommendations, helping to identify and remove barriers.  She also discussed some of the commission’s projects, including partnering with 165 libraries and the creation of video and audio public service announcements about legal resources.  After Justice Hahn spoke, the panel took questions from the moderator and audience. 

To view the entire webcast, visit   https://players.brightcove.net/1866680404001/default_default/index.html?videoId=6196864399001

About the author:  Jessica Almeida is a Public Services Librarian at the University of Massachusetts School of Law.  She is also the editor of the LISP/SR Blog. 

LLNE Legal Link

By Josh LaPorte, SR-SIS

Legal Link was developed by the Service and Access to Justice Committees of the Law Librarians of New England (LLNE) to serve as a tool kit for public librarians who are assisting patrons with legal questions. Legal Link was part of a larger initiative of outreach to public libraries. The LLNE Service Committee, which planned and organized community service projects for the members of LLNE, were trying to find ways to tie those projects in with our professional work as law library professionals and best leverage our unique skills to serve the public. We realized that for many people facing a legal problem, their local library was a first resource.  From our relationships with public library staff, we recognized that many of our public library colleagues felt ill-equipped to assist with these queries. In many parts of New England, public law libraries are not easily accessible. We wanted to bridge this gap by offering resources and  guidance to our public library colleagues to help them better assist their patrons with these needs.

Currently, Legal Link is primarily a web resource hosted on the LLNE website. Legal Link offers high-level guidance on how to approach legal information questions, including when to stop, so library staff feel more comfortable with saying no if the patron is asking for legal advice or if their situation is complicated. In our conversations with public librarians, many shared that their patrons were accustomed to the library being able to answer and assist with almost any question or need, and it was challenging to say no, or “I don’t know”. Legal Link assures library staff that often it is necessary to say “I don’t know” and assist the patron by locating an appropriate referral. Legal Link also provides guidance on finding legal information along with targeted resources for each New England state.

Since developing Legal Link, the Access to Justice Committee has done outreach work to share the resource through public library networks. We also hope to continue to do targeted legal research talks at New England library organization meetings as well as continuing to maintain the web resource. We are cautious about expanding it, in fear of making it unwieldly and challenging to use, but also want it to be comprehensive enough to be useful to public librarians.

About the author: Josh LaPorte is the Head of Circulation at Boston University’s Fineman & Pappas Law Libraries.  He is chair of the LLNE Access to Justice Committee.