Access to the justice system through self-representation is a fundamental right in our democracy. Yet navigating court processes is often confusing and daunting for litigants who are living in poverty, have low-literacy levels or limited English proficiency, or have experienced the trauma of domestic violence or homelessness. Daily, approximately 565 of these individuals find help at one of nine courthouse-based Self-Help Legal Access Centers in Los Angeles County.
Last year, the centers – led by NLSLA in partnership with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles and Community Legal Services SoCal – assisted more than 150,000 people, including litigants in 60% of all family law/domestic violence cases and 40% of all eviction actions filed in L.A. County.
Located in courthouses in the Antelope Valley, Compton, Inglewood, Long Beach, Pomona, Santa Monica, Torrance, Chatsworth and Van Nuys, attorneys and volunteers at the centers provide guidance to litigants requiring protection from domestic violence, resolving child custody disputes, seeking a divorce, and halting an eviction to avoid homelessness. The centers are also a significant tool in screening and vetting cases requiring additional assistance that should be placed for attorney representation with legal services programs serving L.A. County.
The cost for this assistance is minuscule – just $18 per person in 2019. But the impact can change lives.
“The Self-Help Centers are a resource that hundreds of victims depend on,” said Barbara Kappos, Executive Director of East Los Angeles Women’s Center. At the centers, she said, survivors of domestic abuse receive critical legal assistance and support, “helping them move past their crisis.”
The centers are also a key safety net for vulnerable tenants at risk of being evicted, whether they are trying to save their home or simply get enough time to find another place to live.
“As a leading homeless services agency in Los Angeles County, we can confidently say that these self-help centers are an essential resource in the prevention of homelessness,” said Kris Freed, Chief Program Officer of L.A. Family Housing.
In the 18 years since NLSLA opened the first center at the Van Nuys courthouse, the centers have empowered more than 1.5 million people.
Antonio Morales received help at one of the centers in 2005, but just two months ago, in December of 2019, he reached out to NLSLA to express his gratitude.
“I know you don’t remember me, but I will never forget you” he wrote to NLSLA’s Ana Maria Garcia, now Vice President of Access to Justice Programs. “That day made a huge difference in my life. I got custody of my children and I have remarried. I just wanted you to say thank you.”