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New Website Supports Self-Help

August 13, 2009

Author: Saima Akhtar

After months of anticipation, Empire Justice Center has launched its redesigned, enhanced website - a dynamic and ever-growing resource for the legal services community.  One year ago, our website was attacked and was completely destroyed.  Thanks to an emergency grant from the Interest on Lawyer Account Fund of the State of New York (IOLA), we were able to rebuild our site, adding many new features. While most legal services advocates and many non-profit organizations in New York are familiar with the materials available on the Empire Justice website and the On-line Resource Center, the new website (http://www.empirejustice.org/) can also be an important tool for both outreach and information sharing with low income people.

In the website’s first week, I had the pleasure of seeing how useful a tool it can be when I received a call from a gentleman who had found materials on our website and had questions.  Mr. Q had gone to the internet looking for information when his bank account was frozen because of a judgment against him on a very old debt.  Mr. Q was particularly concerned about being able to pay his rent since it was the beginning of the month and he has previously been homeless.  He swore to himself and his wife that they would never have to live in a shelter again.

On the new website, Mr. Q found information about the Exempt Income Protection Act.  He had read through the article and printed out the exemption notice and claim form to file with his bank and creditor.  He was calling to ask several questions about what documentation he needed to send with these forms and how to talk to his landlord about the situation, in case it did take some time for his bank account to be released.   Mr. Q said that he felt that he understood how the process should work but was not sure he could explain it adequately, so he asked if he could share our materials with his bank.  I offered to send the bank copies of all the materials and the authorizing statute.

As I was preparing to get off the phone with Mr. Q, I provided him with contact information for a local legal services organization to help him address the default judgment he was subject to and let him know he could follow up with me if the bank continued to freeze his entire account.  I haven’t heard back from Mr. Q, but I’m not worried about him - I believe he was able to use Empire Justice materials available through our website to do the self-advocacy he needed to pay his rent and keep his apartment.

While not every client has access to a computer or can easily navigate websites, many can.  We need to expand client resources and encourage self-advocacy where it makes sense.  As more and more clients are turned away from our offices, our website and those of other legal services providers may make the difference in the lives of clients who have no where else to turn.
 

 





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