First year’s numbers tell the story: District Court’s phone and online help services are very popular

It’s been a little more than a year since the District Court of Maryland launched free, live, online chat, phone-in and email self-help services for people across Maryland who have civil legal issues before any of the District Court’s 35 locations.

District Court Self Help Center
The services were added to the District Court Self-Help Center in September 2011. Before then, District Court self-help services were provided only in person at the walk-in center in the Glen Burnie District Courthouse.

The District Court Self-Help Center assists people who are representing themselves in small claims, landlord-tenant and other civil matters in District Court. Through a contract with Maryland Legal Aid, the self-help center includes five full-time attorneys and provides basic information, legal assistance and help in finding and completing court forms. As their cases proceed, users can ask for further help in preparing for a court proceeding or get additional assistance. If people need more help, the staff may refer them to mediation, other legal organizations or the private bar. District Court Self-Help Center services are free.

The phone and online chat services have greatly expanded the District Court’s ability to serve self-represented litigants:

The 2012 numbers (January-October) break down this way:

“Few people who come to the District Court are represented by an attorney, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need help,” said Chief Judge Ben C. Clyburn of the District Court of Maryland. “Our challenge has been to serve the needs of the many self-represented court users who may appear at any District Court location throughout the state, and provide that service in a fiscally responsible way. Budget and space limitations make it difficult to create walk-in centers in all our locations at this time, so we decided to try this approach, and the response has been very encouraging.”

The Maryland Access to Justice Commission estimates that each year nearly 350,000 people appear in District and Circuit court proceedings involving basic human needs cases. These Marylanders, mostly individuals and families with low incomes, come to court without the benefit of counsel and usually without help from the existing voluntary legal services system.

District Court Self-Help Center Services
Walk-in: Glen Burnie District Court
Walk-in hours: 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Monday-Friday

Phone: 410-260-1392.
Phone hours: 8:30 a.m.-noon and 2-4:30 p.m., Monday-Friday

Online hours: 8:30 a.m.-noon and 2-4:30 p.m., Monday-Friday

Email: Visitors are directed to email automatically when live online chat is not available.