CHICAGO, Feb. 8, 2022 —The American Bar Association web program ABA Free Legal Answers, which gives income-eligible users the ability to pose civil legal questions to volunteer attorneys, surpassed 200,000 total questions in January, doubling the number of its inquiries in less than two years.
Launched in 2016, 45 states and more than 10,000 attorneys nationally have committed to participate in ABA Free Legal Answers, which serves as a virtual legal advice clinic. The nationwide program, which has been widely praised as a no-cost way for eligible participants to obtain basic civil legal guidance, hit 100,000 questions in March 2020. Through Jan. 31, the program has recorded 200,592 inquiries.
“For those who cannot afford an attorney and have nowhere else to turn, Free Legal Answers serves as a critical resource,” ABA President Reginald Turner said. “Sadly, hitting the milestone of 200,000 questions underscores the need for expanding free and affordable civil legal services. We are proud of the more than 10,000 volunteer lawyers nationwide who are helping to meet these important legal needs and urge other attorneys to step up and offer assistance as well.”
Geared to expand legal services for low-income communities, users of the service must meet income eligibility guidelines applicable to each state. While improving access to legal services, ABA Free Legal Answers also expands pro bono opportunities for attorneys in a convenient way to match their schedules. Legal guidance is limited to noncriminal matters and takes place entirely online.
The rapid increase in the number of questions during the past two years tracks the U.S. emergence of COVID-19 in March 2020. In the first few months of the pandemic, ABA Free Legal Answers responded by temporarily increasing its question limit per client while many states raised their income/asset cap. The higher caps remain in a dozen states today.
Throughout the near six-year program, the types and volumes of questions have remained relatively steady, with roughly four out of 10 questions or 40% relating to family and children-related legal matters; 15% stemming from housing and homelessness; and 10% involving consumer/finance.
Residents of Texas, Florida, Indiana, Illinois and Tennessee have generated the most questions, with the highest number of participating attorneys coming from Florida, Tennessee, Illinois, Texas and North Carolina. Nationwide, more than 43,400 hours of pro bono legal service were submitted with 10,288 volunteer attorneys registered to participate. And through January, 11,752 veterans and 15,365 seniors have submitted questions.
Additional details on ABA Free Legal Answers through January can be found here. In 2016, the national program began through a collaboration between the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service and the law firm Baker Donelson, consolidating the web-existing programs in Tennessee and other states. It then expanded by inviting other states to participate through the national platform. Nationally, attorneys can volunteer their services by navigating to www.ABAFreeLegalAnswers.org and selecting “Attorney Registration.”