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Turnout for Lawyers in Libraries shows need for community legal aid, says judge

Posted May 01, 2013, at 6:26 p.m.
Bangor attorney Hunter Umphrey (center) was among the four lawyers who gave free legal advice on Law Day at the Bangor Library on Wednesday.  Lawyers around the state talked about the legal system with patrons, answered individual questions and gave general legal advice.
Bangor attorney Hunter Umphrey (center) was among the four lawyers who gave free legal advice on Law Day at the Bangor Library on Wednesday. Lawyers around the state talked about the legal system with patrons, answered individual questions and gave general legal advice. Buy Photo

BANGOR, Maine — The turnout for the state’s first Lawyers in Libraries program at the Bangor Public Library on Wednesday demonstrates the need for legal services in the community, said Maine Supreme Judicial Court Justice Andrew Mead, who helped organize the statewide event.

“[The turnout in Bangor] clearly sends the message that there are plenty of people out there in need of legal assistance,” he said. “Twenty-five people attended and all of them wanted to talk to a lawyer.”

Many people don’t seek legal advice because they are concerned they won’t be able to afford it or don’t know how to go about finding a lawyer, Mead said.

Vincent Franco of Bangor came seeking advice on a real estate issue.

“I feel like I got some help,” Franco said after he spent about 15 minutes with attorney Christopher Largay. “It confirmed some of my previous understanding of the law. I felt the panel was very informative and provided a lot of information.”

About 70 attorneys spent two hours between noon and 2 p.m. in more than 40 libraries around the state. The program, planned to coincide with Law Day, celebrated nationally on May 1, provided information about free resources, low-cost legal assistance and ways to work with an attorney to lower the cost of legal services. After a panel of four Bangor lawyers spoke, each met for about 15 minutes to discuss specific legal issues with attendees.

“I talked with about six people and the issues ranged from medical malpractice to a real estate boundary issue to a possible wrongful death action,” Largay said after the program. “They wanted to be heard and to understand their situation better. All were very receptive and very respectful.”

Largay said that he told half the people he talked with they did not need an attorney.

Sean Ociepka said that a handful of people came to the Belfast Free Library for the program. The Belfast attorney said people asked questions about family law, wills and probate.

“One man wanted to put in a pond on his farm and asked questions about the appropriate way for him to do that,” Ociepka said.

The justice also said as the individual consultations with attorneys began in Bangor that the total number of people who turned out statewide would not be available until later in the week.

The program is the culmination of years of work by the Maine Justice Action Group, which includes judges, lawyers, librarians, social service providers and representatives from advocacy groups. JAG’s goal is to improve access to justice in Maine. Wednesday’s program was organized by the Collaboration on Innovation, Technology and Equal Access to Justice, an offshoot of JAG.

Mead said that the goal of the program is to have local lawyers in libraries at least once a month around the state. Over the past six months, libraries have held sessions using the statewide teleconferencing system based at the Maine State Library in Augusta. Lawyers with the Maine Volunteer Lawyers Project have talked about different topics from the state capital and they have been broadcast to local libraries around the state. Two more will be held this month.

“How to prepare for an Unemployment Compensation Hearing or Appeal,” with David Sherman, will be presented at 3 p.m., Wednesday, May 8. “Understanding the Family Law Process,” with Kim Pittman, will be held at 3 p.m., Wednesday, May 22.

For information on the program, visit www.lawyersinlibraries.org or visit your local library.

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