Even with the help of an attorney, navigating the waters of a court case can be tricky for those without much knowledge of legal processes.
Such a proposition can be more complicated for those who must represent themselves in civil cases.
For those in Putnam County who find themselves in this situation, free help is available in the form of the Pro Se Desk, open the third Tuesday of each month on the third floor of the Putnam County Courthouse.
The Pro Se Desk was launched in January of 2003, and is staffed by local volunteer attorneys. To date, 299 people have received free help from the Putnam County Pro Se Desk.
"We were one of the counties with a pilot project," said Susan Clark, project administrator of the Putnam County Family Court Project, which facilitates the Pro Se Desk. "We had a court improvement fund, and as part of that we developed a Pro Se Desk."
Clark said her part in the desk is simply to make sure it is staffed each month.
"I've never had a problem," she said.
Cheryl Danberry, who has had a law office in Greencastle since 1986, is one of the desk volunteers.
"There's a great need for this," she said. "I've done a lot of family law, and sometimes people have questions that they wouldn't really need to hire an attorney for. But they don't know that."
Danberry has seen a lot of different types of cases at the Pro Se Desk.
"It's a wide variety," she said. "There are some about guardianship, child support, parenting, grandparents' rights or care of the elderly."
She has seen the occasional person with questions about criminal cases at the Pro Se Desk, but it is rare.
"In criminal cases, the court can appoint public defenders if the person is in a position where they won't be able to pay," she said.
A lot of what the Pro Se Desk volunteers do is giving guidance.
"We point people in the right direction," Danberry said. "We don't all practice in all areas … sometimes we just have to let them know about Web sites or other places where they can get more information."
Pro Se Desk hours are noon to 2 p.m. Upcoming desk dates are Aug. 19, Sept. 16, Oct. 21, Nov. 18 and Dec.16. Those who wish to receive assistance must sign up on those days, and will be seen on a first-come, first-served basis.
"It would be nice if we could do it more than once a month," Clark said.
For more information about the Pro Se Desk, call 653-5974.