Anyone who has asked a Northeast CONTACT volunteer for help is told right away, “We do not give legal advice.”
We are volunteer members of the general public, not lawyers. Any advice or guidance we give to consumers cannot get into matters of law. We would be doing people who come to us for help a disservice by trying to give advice about ways to proceed in legal matters.
We leave such advice to people who are educated in the complex rules of law that govern our daily lives. But we will give you a heads-up about a really great source of information that could provide the legal help many people are seeking.
It’s a Web site launched recently by Pine Tree Legal Assistance. The statewide organization assists low-income and senior citizens with legal problems. The site, www.HelpMELaw.org, offers a variety of resources that anyone can use.
The user-friendly site is organized into four areas. The first, titled “Search,” lets users type in a word or phrase and returns relevant topics.
Clicking the “Legal Library” heading takes you to a “bookshelf” where various areas of law are stored in “folders.” Click one of these — Housing, Education, Family or Elder Law, Employment and, of course, Consumer Law — and you will visit a number of sub-categories of each.
There’s a section titled “Helpful Organizations.” Just as its name implies, it lists agencies around Maine that can help people resolve legal issues. Some offer low-cost or even no-cost help.
You can find legal forms at a linked Web site put together by Pine Tree Legal Assistance and the Volunteer Lawyers Project. Some are plain forms you print and fill out. Others are test versions of interactive software: You answer some questions and the data in your responses will be entered in the correct places on the legal forms. One caution: Interactive forms often like some Web browsers and not others.
The section titled “Maine Courts” covers virtually any topic related to the state’s court system. From a guide to small claims proceedings to suggestions for taking a case to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, this section covers the judicial waterfront.
Pine Tree Legal Assistance has a unit at its Bangor office to help members of the Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy and Penobscot tribes, as well as other American Indians living in Maine. Pine Tree also manages a Farmworker Unit, Family Law Project, Foreclosure Prevention Project, Low Income Taxpayer Project and KIDS LEGAL, aimed at meeting the needs of low-income children.
Meanwhile, a group teaming judges, lawyers, social service providers and advocates called the Justice Action Group is looking at new ways people can get information about the justice system.
Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues or for more information, write: Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.