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Free program at county law library helps local residents navigate legal paperwork

PMG PHOTO: ANNA DEL SAVIO - The Columbia County Law Library is stocked with the books and resources that the law librarian and others who oversee the library think are the most useful to the community.For those outside the legal profession, trying to navigate the court system can be intimidating and confusing. That's why the Columbia County Law Library started the Legal Forms Clinic earlier this year.

In February, the library started offering the public assistance with filling out various legal forms.

"It's really set up to help the low-income community and help the pro se litigation community," meaning people who represent themselves in court, explained Pam Schultz Davis, the law librarian.

Difficulties with filling out legal forms for issues like divorce, custody, parenting plans, small claims or restraining orders have long been an issue in the court system.

"From talking with people at the courthouse, the people in the Trial Court Administrator's office, and the judges, we knew that there was a real need in Columbia County for helping people find the right forms and helping them fill them out," Davis said.

The clinic doesn't provide legal advice, but can help people find out which forms they need and guide them through a maze of legal paperwork.

Community members can sign up in advance for appointments each Tuesday from 4 to 8 p.m. The clinic has been full almost every time, according to Davis.PMG PHOTO: ANNA DEL SAVIO - Pam Schultz Davis, the law librarian, stands beside a wall filled with commonly used legal forms in the Columbia County Law Library, located just a block away from the Columbia County Courthouse in St. Helens.

"Sometimes people come in here and they're terrified because they've never had any contact with a lawyer or a law library or a court," Davis said. "We help guide them but we don't actually fill out the forms for them. We just try to make them at ease and help them feel as comfortable as they can."

The clinic is staffed by two paralegals, one of whom is an intern from Portland Community College, and Davis, who worked as an attorney for almost 30 years.

The clinic is one step in a years-long process to rejuvenate the Columbia County Law Library. A few years ago, the Columbia County Bar Association recognized that the county's law library needed revitalization, so Davis and another librarian began studying law libraries and crafting recommendations.

"Whereas traditionally law libraries have served the legal community (lawyers and judges), we were looking at expanding the services to become a welcoming resource for the entire community," Davis explained.

Columbia County's small size is an advantage.

"The bigger counties have a harder time. Smaller counties, we're a block away from the courthouse, we know the judges on a first name basis, we work easily with the judges here," Davis said.

Some visitors have fairly straightforward needs, but others have more complex legal situations that require more legal assistance.

"We try to just have a good ear to whatever the problem is, and try to guide them to the resources that we know are available in this community," Davis said. "We are a new program, we're learning as we go. With each person that comes in, we're learning something about their case and we're learning something about how to most effectively help them."

We're definitely learning, but the people that come

in here learn from us," she added.

The law library also hosts free legal clinics where lawyers give presentations and take questions on topics like custody, special education law, and knowing your rights in criminal procedures.

For more information, visit www.columbiacll.org.


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