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Empowering Nebraskans: Access to Justice

This article was written by Sydney Rogers-Morrell, Development Coordinator.

Legal Aid of Nebraska is the largest nonprofit law firm in the state providing free civil legal assistance to low-income Nebraskans. For the last 60 years, Legal Aid has been making equal justice happen by providing a full range of civil legal services, from brief advice and counsel, to assistance with self-representation, to direct representation in court.

In response to an increase in people representing themselves in court, Legal Aid created the Access to Justice Center (A2J) in 2010. From a single storefront in downtown Omaha, the program has evolved into four walk-in self-help centers across the state that prioritize helping people who are representing themselves in court. A2J most often sees people with family law, landlord/tenant law and debt cases. On average, A2J serves 1,261 people annually.

At A2J, a person can meet with an attorney for free legal advice. A2J attorneys also provide pleadings to people. Most important, the attorneys help people understand the court process. A2J helps empower Nebraskans to advocate effectively for themselves by providing them with knowledge and resources to navigate the civil legal system.

Muirne Heaney, the managing attorney for the Access to Justice Program, said “A2J has helped empower many people who otherwise would have had no support through self-representation.”

In addition to the walk-in centers, Legal Aid holds clinics to assist people with common legal issues. Do-It-Yourself (Pro Se) Divorce Clinics are held virtually once a month in Buffalo, Madison, Dawson, Dodge, Gage, Jefferson, Madison and Saline County. Legal Aid has also held Set Aside and Record Sealing, Name Change, and Transfer on Death Deed clinics in the Omaha and Lincoln areas.

 

“As I have noted in past years, one of the major challenges that our courts and judges face, as we proceed into the 21st Century, is the rapid increase of self-represented parties. The partnership between Legal Aid and the Pro Se Litigation Committee will assist our judges in processing cases with self-represented litigants.”

—Chief Justice Mike Heavican State of the Judiciary, January 2010 [1]

 

What can I expect when coming to an A2J center?

Services are provided on a walk-in, first-come-first-served basis. The services are free if you qualify for Legal Aid’s services. You will fill out an application when you arrive to ensure you are eligible for our services.

 

What can A2J help with?

A2J helps prepare you to represent yourself in civil legal issues. That may include writing answers to complaints and counterclaims or getting ready for a temporary hearing. The lawyers are able to walk you through the stages of your case so you know what to expect. Many people come back at different stages of the case to receive additional assistance. These are often family law, landlord/tenant law, and debt cases.

 

What can’t A2J help with?

A2J cannot help with any criminal cases, personal injury cases or workman’s compensation cases. Additionally, the attorney assisting you cannot go to court with or for you. The center offers assistance with civil legal issues and helps you prepare to represent yourself in your case.

 

Legal Aid’s Access to Justice Clinic Schedules

The Omaha A2J Center is open Monday through Wednesday from 1 – 4 p.m. CT

The Lincoln A2J Center is open Monday through Wednesday from 1 – 4 p.m. CT

The Grand Island A2J Center is open Tuesday from Noon – 3 p.m. CT

The Scottsbluff A2J Center is open Tuesday from 1-4 p.m. MT

Days and hours are subject to change.  For updated information, check our website:  https://www.legalaidofnebraska.org/how-we-help/walk-in-centers/

[1] https://supremecourt.nebraska.gov/sites/default/files/Programs/self_rep/pro-se-self-help-portal.pdf

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