Follow-Up Guest Blog on Bronx Family Court Self-Help Center

Bronx Family Court Help Center
By Bronx County Family Court Clerk of Court Mike Williams

As Richard blogged yesterday, the Bronx County Family opened its new Help Center Complex this week.  Our initial goal was to relocate an extremely busy office to the first floor to allow easier access to services and improve the navigation of the building by all users.  Once underutilized space was designated, the New York State Office of Court Administration (OCA) provided funding to renovate the space for the Court Help Center.  Luckily, we were also able to obtain some new furniture from OCA funds set aside strictly for renovation projects.  There was no other funding or resources provided.  All computer and electronic equipment were redeployed or relocated from existing offices.  No additional staff were hired but many were reassigned.  The end result was an eight room complex consisting of a large waiting room, the Petition Room (which is the docketing office), the DIY (A2J terminals) room, a room to get records and court orders, a courtroom, a volunteer attorneys office, and two small offices for interviewing and conferencing.

This new space, designed with access to justice as a priority, also allowed us to expand upon our volunteer legal services partnerships.  These include:

– The NYC Volunteer Lawyer Project, which presently consists of 33 law firms and 250 court trained volunteer attorneys, staff the office twice a week and provide free legal advice with limited restrictions.
– Law students supervised by an attorney from Sanctuary For Families, a Domestic Violence Agency, are provided access to the court’s public access network computers to process Family Offense petitions utilizing the aforementioned DV application as part of their Court Advocate Project.
– Legal Information for Families Today (LIFT) a 501(c)(3), not for profit organization whose mission is “to enhance access to justice for children and families,” staffs a table and provides an array of interdisciplinary legal pamphlets for users.
– A volunteer lawyer from MFY Legal Services is provided office space one day per week for their Kinship Caregiver Project.  By utilizing a network of volunteer law firms and attorneys, this project provides persons seeking custody, guardianship or adoption, including Special Immigrant Juvenile proceedings, with full representation at no cost.

Additionally, we placed 10 DIY Form (Do-It-Yourself) public access terminals with headsets in the waiting room that host multiple types of NYS Family Court A2J interviews via the Law Help Interactive site.  This resulted in a record 40 DIY petitions being filed by court users on the first day the Help Center was opened.

While only opened a few days, the Center has already improved our court efficiency and overall operations.  By relocating different offices and personnel to a joint location, we were able to streamline our processes, lower employee workloads, increase our filings and overall productivity while reducing waiting times and improving services.  In fact, on the first day of being open, Monday July 29, 2013, the Bronx Family Court filed over 27% more petitions (262 total) on average than the first four Mondays of July.

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About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
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