Sep 04, 2021
What’s Happening at the Marin County Law Library?
Sep 04, 2021
By Laurie Vaala-Olsen
Patrons are slowly returning to the Marin County Law Library after our reopening to the public in May 2021. At present, we require all patrons to wear masks but have mostly returned to normal operations1.
Shortly after COVID-19 caused the statewide shutdown in March 2020, the Law Library expanded the spectrum of legal resources available to the public from our website. This included access to the Westlaw and CEB OnLAW legal databases, as well as to numerous other legal resources. For example, the National Consumer Law Center publications include information specifically about the impacts of COVID-19 on credit, mortgages, homeowners, and landlord/tenant matters and regarding the CARES Act. We added links to many other resources regarding the impacts of COVID-19, such as the California Lawyers Association Online Video Resources, the American Bar Association webpage with information about COVID-19 and the delivery of legal services, and the Stanford Law School COVID-19 Memo database, which provides searchable access to roughly 4,000 memoranda covering legal, regulatory, accounting, and governance issues raised by COVID-19. The memoranda also discuss social and political issues, including questions about the government’s authority to order wide-scale shutdowns and whether businesses might seek governmental and/or insurance compensation because of shutdown orders.
We also strove to quickly adapt our community service programs—Lawyers in the Library and First Thursdays at the Marin County Law Library—to the Zoom platform to continue our assistance to Marinites reeling from the impacts of the coronavirus. Our Lawyers in the Library program is celebrating five years of service. If you are interested in a discrete, short-term volunteer opportunity that you can do from the comfort of your home or office, then this is the program for you. Can you spare two hours to help folks with their legal problems?
Lawyers in the Library is a collaborative program between the Marin County Bar Association and the Marin County Law Library and offers free 20-minute consultations with an attorney to members of the public. While the meetings were initially held at the Law Library, they are currently offered on Zoom because of COVID-19. However, this makes volunteering a straightforward one-click endeavor because you simply join Zoom at the appointed time and meet with members of the public in a private breakout room. There is no further commitment.
The sessions are held twice monthly on the second and fourth Thursday of the month. Check the calendar of program dates and sign up for a future event on Signup Genius. Typical areas of the law in which people need assistance include landlord/tenant, foreclosure, estate planning and probate, employment, family, general civil and small claims. Volunteers have helped: tenants avoid eviction during the pandemic; employees assert their rights to unpaid wages; individuals push back when their insurance companies fail to timely process claims; and individuals understand the terms of a contract. The goal of the program is to help people help themselves by offering legal information and guidance. Sometimes this small assist is all a person needs to gain the confidence needed to proceed on their own. Over 110 Marin County attorneys have participated in the program since 2016, some on numerous occasions, and I would like to extend my sincere thanks for their generous volunteering. Public response to the program has been overwhelmingly positive and appreciative.
Another community service program we offer is First Thursdays at the Marin County Law Library. It is the brainchild of Law Library Trustee Denise Bashline and began in November 2019. Representatives of county departments, nonprofits, agencies, and other programs are invited to present information about who they are and what they do, followed by a question-and-answer period. Initially, the presentations were made at the Law Library but had to be transferred to an online platform after the coronavirus-imposed shutdown. The online platform turned out to be a stroke of good fortune for it facilitated our ability to record the presentations and place the videos on the Law Library’s YouTube Channel for future viewing by a wider audience.
Presenters have included Marin Center for Independent Living, Marin Youth Court, STAR Court, Marin County District Attorney’s Office, Spahr Center, Homeward Bound, Vivalon, Marin Community Clinics, Center for Domestic Peace, San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, Canal Alliance, North Marin Community Services, Family Caregiver Alliance, Marin Election Department, Women Helping All People, Marin County Public Defender’s Office, New Beginnings Law Center, Buckelew Programs – Suicide Prevention, and Family and Children’s Law Center. Unfortunately, the presentations made before the coronavirus shutdown were not recorded but we are developing a good video library of the ongoing ones.
When asked about the program, Bashline commented that “making people aware of available assistance is a part of our service to our law library patrons. Many are self-represented and finding the way to resources may be time consuming for those navigating multiple concerns. Offering these recorded presentations to patrons on demand by video offers a greater opportunity to access the information about the service.” Check out the videos for yourself on the Marin County Law Library YouTube Channel. Upcoming programs include a restorative justice program on October 7 and on November 4, a presentation from the Ritter Center. The registration links can be found on the Law Library’s website.
1 Our current operating hours are Monday through Thursday, 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 noon. We are closed on Saturday and Sunday. We continue to follow the safety precautions in our Site-Specific Protection Plan and the current recommendations of the County Public Health Officer, the CDC, and of course, CalOSHA.
Laurie Vaala-Olsen began working at the Marin County Law Library in 2012 and has served as the Director since 2015. She administers the Lawyers in the Library program on Zoom and First Thursdays at the Marin County Law Library. Prior to that, she worked for several law firms in San Francisco and Marin as a paralegal, primarily in the area of civil litigation.