Approaching legal matters can be complicated - from obtaining legal counsel to determining which form to fill out and how, the entire process can feel overwhelming.
For over seven decades, the Columbia County Law Library has been available to help citizens with such needs, now, the operators of the law library are taking the program a step further by offering a new ‘Court Forms Clinic’ – the first of its kind in the state.
“Generally, what we’re using the Law Library for these days is more to reach out to the community at large because lawyers don’t need law libraries the way that they used to,” Law Librarian Pam Davis said. “That’s what gave rise to the ‘Lawyer in the Law Library’ programs and also the Court Forms Clinic.”
The Lawyer in the Law Library program was also the first to be implemented in the state of Oregon. Davis said other Oregon law libraries have been following suit in one way or another since its implementation. Davis said this is due to Columbia County having a “very forward-looking team” composed of the presiding judge, trial court administrator, the law library’s board of directors and herself.
Davis said the new Court Forms Clinic became possible due to some legislation that was enacted about a year ago. Every county is required to maintain a law library, with the state providing funding. That funding, Davis said, comes from fees that are collected in the local courts that are then distributed out by the state to each county.
“Some counties have more sophisticated law library systems than others. Some counties just have a set of books in the courthouse and that’s it,” Davis said.
Davis is also the only law librarian in the state who has actually practiced law, and she has never been a librarian. She said she came in to the job looking at the law library in terms of how it could best serve the public.
“How can we reach out to the community and be a viable resource for people – everybody in the community that needs some help with legal questions?” Davis asked herself. “I have sort of a different approach from most law librarians because I’ve been a practicing lawyer. I’ve also been very interested in watching legal developments in the legislature that affect county law libraries, and that’s true of most law librarians. Most of us are watching what’s happening legislatively.”
When new legislation came about a year ago, Davis said she was already working with the presiding judge of Columbia County on finding forms that would be the most widely used by Columbia County citizens – forms for filing for divorce and various other common legal actions. Judge Jenefer Grant agreed it would be a “great thing” for local citizens, and Davis worked with the trial court administrator to update all of the most frequently used forms.
“Now, people can come into the law library and I’ll help them find the right form,” Davis said.
To take it a step further, Davis worked with other officials and the Oregon State Bar to establish the Court Forms Clinic, set for Tuesdays at 8 p.m. Citizens must sign up for the clinic by calling or stopping by the library. Davis said there will be “a couple of lawyers,” a paralegal and an intern from PCC’s paralegal program who will volunteer their time to help citizens with the complicated forms. The team will help them find the right form, help them fill it out, tell them where to take it, and how much it’s going to cost.
“A lot of people are super intimidated by filling out forms, even knowing which form they need to fill out. We just sit down across the table from them, help them fill it out, page one to the end, and help them answer questions,” Davis said. “We cannot and do not give legal advice, but we can help them fill out the forms.”
For more information, or to register for the clinics, call the Columbia County Law Library at 503-397-3682. The Columbia County Law Library is located at 270 Columbia Blvd. in St. Helens.