By Marissa LaVette
ABA Free Legal Answers is a virtual legal advice clinic that allows income eligible individuals to post civil legal questions online seeking advice from volunteer attorneys. Licensed participating attorney volunteers log into the website, select questions they would like to answer, and provide legal information and advice. Users receive an email when their question receives a response.
Access to Justice
ABA Free Legal Answers is a valuable resource for individuals who may otherwise be ineligible for legal services due to conflicts, income eligibility, or citizenship status. ABA Free Legal Answers has been beneficial for those unable to access traditional, in-person services due to geographic or other limitations. This platform has become an even more needed resource during the pandemic as traditional walk-in clinics or in-person services are limited.
Convenient Pro Bono
Free Legal Answers provides an easy and convenient way for attorneys to do pro bono on a short-term, limited basis. Attorneys can spend as much time as they want on the site and answer as many, or as few, questions as they choose. The ABA provides malpractice insurance for volunteers. Local administrators offer training and guidance to attorneys registered on their state’s site. Volunteers can indicate their preferred areas of law and will receive an email notifying them when a user submits a question in that category. The format is beneficial for newer attorneys who can gain valuable experience by researching the questions and drafting responses. A Florida Free Legal Answers volunteer stated, “I find it rewarding that I can take 30 minutes and possibly help someone who is really stuck. I think it should be required of all attorneys as part of our pro bono services. You don’t even have to leave your desk to help someone in need.”
As the pandemic-related legal issues continue to mount, ABA Free Legal Answers serves as a valuable pro bono resource for those in need of legal assistance while reducing the burden on legal providers facing increased need. Clients can easily access legal advice without meeting face-to-face with an attorney. In response to the pandemic, ABA Free Legal Answers temporarily increased its question limit for clients, and many states increased the asset and income caps for the site. Legal questions in areas commonly associated with the pandemic showed a notable increase over the last year, primarily in housing and employment-related questions.
Expanded Practice Areas
In 2021, the ABA expanded Free Legal Answers to the areas of veterans and immigration questions. Qualified attorneys across the country can volunteer at abafederal. freelegalanswers.org to answer questions for immigrants and asylum seekers on topics such as deportation, green cards, DACA, and naturalizations. Volunteers can now assist veterans, including survivors and dependents, by answering questions about VA benefits, discharge upgrades, and other related areas. This expansion is especially significant during the pandemic when in-person services are limited and personal health concerns persist. The need for and value of this model to address basic legal questions is demonstrated in the growth of ABA Free Legal Answers since its 2016 launch. As of the date of this writing, 39 jurisdictions are live with a Free Legal Answers site, with another 6 committed to participate. Users have submitted more than 150,000 civil legal questions to date, and as of February 2021, more than 9,000 volunteer attorneys are registered to answer questions on Free Legal Answers. The most common categories of questions asked on Free Legal Answers are family law, housing and homelessness, consumer rights, and bankruptcy. Signing up for ABA Free Legal Answers is easy. Go to abafreelegalanswers.org and select “Volunteer Attorney Registration.” Even if you think you do not have time for pro bono, with ABA Free Legal Answers, you can easily fit pro bono into your busy schedule and help someone who may have nowhere else to turn.
MARISSA LAVETTE IS THE ASSISTANT STAFF COUNSEL WITH THE AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION’S CENTER FOR PRO BONO. SHE PROVIDES TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE AND SUPPORT TO ORGANIZATIONS IN THE PRO BONO FIELD, INCLUDING LAW SCHOOLS, BAR ASSOCIATIONS, PRO BONO PROGRAMS, AND LEGAL SERVICES OFFICES.
Published in TYL Summer 2021, Volume 25, Number 4, ©2021 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.