LAC hosts Justice McCormack for a discussion on bridging the justice gap

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by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Since its inception in 2002, Kent County’s well-known Legal Assistance Center (LAC) has worked hard to be sure that everyone who needs it has access to the justice system.

In the case of the LAC, this means providing self-help services that guide people through the court and legal processes without actually representing them or giving legal advice. (This means, for one thing, that the?LAC can help people on both sides of a case.)

The LAC?has served over 18,000 people a year, primarily from its location in the 60th District courthouse downtown, and expects that to increase to 19,500 this year. It recently expanded to the Kentwood courts (see Grand Rapids Legal News June 6, 2018) and this year decided to extend its hours to Mondays, when it had formerly been closed, first for a few hours and starting in September, all day.

A recent LAC?survey indicated 98% patron satisfaction.

But as Executive Director Deborah Hughes would acknowledge, the LAC also supports expansion of access to justice beyond its services. As she puts it in a blog on the LAC website, https://legalassistancecenter.org, “We make a promise to one another – justice for all.  But without access, there can be no justice.”

That is one reason the annual Bridge the Gap event on November 8 invited Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget McCormack to a “Conversation about Access to Justice.”

Said Chief Justice McCormack, ““I love the LAC. If we had this everywhere, I would get more sleep. I love this community and the way everyone comes together to solve problems.”
The chief justice answered questions, discussed solutions, talked about the role of technology in serving the public, and reflected on her deep commitment to seeing justice for all – a commitment that precedes her time on the Michigan Supreme Court, when she was a professor at University of Michigan.

“I wake up thinking about how we can do more to help people have access to information and navigate the legal system,” she said. “I’ve seen all the ways that having someone to help you navigate the legal system can make a difference to people and their families.”

In addition to Limited Scope Representation efforts discussed in a recent Legal News, there is a new Justice for All Taskforce launched in May by the Michigan Supreme Court. Justice Brian Zahra will spearhead the effort to “reduce the gap between the civil legal needs of Michigan residents and available resources.”

The taskforce intends to take a multi-pronged approach to achieving  100% access to the civil justice system, not focusing on any one program but on comprehensive strategies.
LAC’s Bridging the Gap conversation included lawyers, educators, and business leaders engaging with Chief Justice McCormack.

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