Self-Help Legal Resources
Resources and Information to Help You Learn about the Legal System
Our legal system is adversarial, which means there are at least two opposing sides involved in a court case. All court employees, including judges, are required to remain neutral and impartial. They cannot tell you how you should proceed and cannot favor one party over another. In other words, everyone who comes to court is treated the same way.
Additionally, by law, court employees cannot provide legal advice and may not prepare any forms or documents for you; however, the clerks who greet you at the court reception windows in Mason County are committed to providing prompt and courteous service and will assist you to whatever extent the law allows. The table below shows what type of help a court clerk can and cannot give you.
|Clerks may provide...||but may not provide...|
|definitions of legal terms||interpretations of legality or how the law is applied|
|procedural explanations and factors to consider in your decision-making||procedural advice that encourages or discourages a particular course of action|
|numerical citations of statutes, court rules, and ordinances||any legal research or interpretation of statutes, court rules, and ordinances|
|case information available to the public||case information when no public record exists|
|general information about routine court operations||specific information about internal court operations|
|general information about options available to you||specific advice or opinions about which option you should select|
|information to facilitate access to court services||responses intended to discourage or limit access or to encourage and promote litigation|
|general referrals to departments, agencies, or associations that may be of assistance||subjective or biased referrals to a specific attorney or for-profit entity|
|court forms and instructions how to complete them||assistance filling out court forms, unless you are physically unable, and a clerk, while another clerk witnesses, will record the information you dictate|
Reference: Employee Guide to Legal Advice © 2016 Michigan Judicial Institute
If you need help with legal matters, especially if you will be appearing in court before a judge, you should meet with an attorney to get advice about your situation or to hire to represent you. Attorneys are trained legal professionals who are familiar with state law, court rules, forms, and procedures. You are not, however, required to have an attorney; all adult citizens have a constitutional right to represent themselves in court.
If you do decide to represent yourself, the judge may give you some general procedural guidance during the hearing, but cannot give you any specific legal advice. The judge will follow all the court rules and rules of evidence that apply, and those rules may limit what information you are allowed to present.
If you choose not to or are unable to hire an attorney, the resources listed below will help you learn what to expect when you go to court and will help explain legal terms and procedures.
Online Legal Help Resources
Note: These resources can assist your self-representation by providing guidance and helpful information, but they do not provide legal advice and are not a substitute for hiring an attorney.
- Handbook of Legal Terms – a 62-page alphabetical booklet that defines legal terms in plain English, produced by the Michigan Judicial Institute, which was created by the Michigan Supreme Court in 1977 to provide educational programs and materials to judges and court personnel
- Michigan Courts Self-Help Center – a resource to help you find legal assistance and learn about Michigan law
- State Court Administrative Office (SCAO) Approved Court Forms – a searchable webpage to access all court forms—by name, number, or category—approved for use in Michigan courts, with an alphabetical listing of court forms that have been translated into foreign languages
- Michigan Statewide Advocacy Services (MSAS) – a nonprofit organization that serves low-income individuals and families as well as their lawyers and other advocates through the many independent statewide programs listed below:
- Michigan Legal Help – a resource (also available in Spanish) to help residents who represent themselves in civil legal matters solve their legal problems
- Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC) – a resource center for immigrants and their advocates
- Michigan Poverty Law Program (MPLP) – a program that provides support services to legal-aid attorneys and poverty-law advocates
- Michigan Foreclosure Prevention Project (MFPP) – a collaborative of foreclosure attorneys and housing counselors
- Crime Victims Legal Assistance Project (CVLAP) – a program that provides free legal help to those who have experienced domestic violence or elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation
- Michigan Long Term Care Ombudsman Program (MLTCOP) – a program that advocates for individual residents in long term care facilities and for measures that improve the long term care system
- Michigan Elder Justice Initiative (MEJI) – an advocacy program that focuses on issues affecting older low-income adults and persons with disabilities
- Michigan Health Link Ombudsman (MHLO) – a free and confidential advocacy and problem-solving resource for beneficiaries enrolled in MI Health Link
- Farmworker Legal Services – a direct-service component of the Michigan Advocacy Program (MAP) that provides nonprofit legal services to indigent immigrant, migrant, and seasonal farmworkers and their dependents
- State Bar of Michigan Legal Resource and Referral Center – a gateway to a number of resources for self-help legal information, legal-aid resources, and direct lawyer referrals or searches for lawyers by practice area and geographic location