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Access to Justice Commission releases plan for future

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A commission meant to help residents gain better access to the state's justice system released a three-year plan Wednesday that recommends creating forms in "plain language" and asks attorneys to do more charitable and free work.

In its strategic plan, the West Virginia Access to Justice Commission says it will continue to examine and identify barriers West Virginians face while utilizing the legal system.

"These objectives were selected because the commission believed they would provide the greatest benefit to the largest number of West Virginians seeking access to or experiencing barriers in accessing the civil legal system," the report states.

The commission recommends developing a "self-help center" with a support staff, both online and at the Harrison County Law Library in Clarksburg. The public, the report states, regularly accesses that law library.

Also, a toll-free telephone number, which would be answered by a trained employee located in the Harrison County office, would be beneficial, commissioners believe.

Having an online assistance center would provide attorneys with the opportunity to give free legal assistance, according to the commission.

A partnership between Legal Aid of West Virginia and the State Bar "would be based on a walk-in clinic or dial-a-lawyer model where clients request brief advice and counsel about a specific civil legal issue from a volunteer lawyer," the report states. It would mirror OnlineTNJustice.org, which is meant to provide legal advice to Tennessee residents who can't afford it.

The project would provide assistance to those who may have been turned away from Legal Aid due to funding cuts or statutory restrictions and provides an opportunity for attorneys to engage in pro bono work, the report states.

The state's Access to Justice Commission was created in 2008 to address the fact that the "cost of effective legal representation is beyond the moderate means of the ordinary citizen," the report states.

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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