chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.

Litigation News

Spring 2023, Vol. 48, No. 3

The ABA Makes It Easy: A Pro Bono Plea

Mark Drummond


  • ABA Free Legal Answers is a platform that connects licensed attorneys with individuals in need of legal advice.
  • Attorneys can provide legal guidance and answer questions without the need to appear in court or obtain malpractice insurance.
  • The platform offers a range of pending questions categorized by legal deadlines, age, and veteran status, allowing attorneys to choose cases they feel competent to address.
The ABA Makes It Easy: A Pro Bono Plea
SolStock via Getty Images

Jump to:

“Long distance is the next best thing to being there.”
—Bell Systems’ Advertisement, circa 1965

For this article I am going to put on my hat as a member of the Access to Justice Committee for the ABA Litigation Section. Want to do something that will help others, perhaps help you fulfill a pro bono requirement, and make you feel good all at the same time? The ABA has made it easy. ABA Free Legal Answers is a project of the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service. From virtually anywhere you can help someone in need.

When one of my fellow judges retired, I always thought it was such a waste of talent if the former judge’s only destination was the golf course. All that knowledge, all that experience put on the shelf? What if the judge could devote just an hour or two here or there to help?

How easy is it to get started?

Very. Just click on the name of the state or states where you are licensed to practice in the list at the end of this article. On the home page, click the tab at the top labeled “Attorney Registration.” This leads to a short “Attorney Agreement” along with an overview of frequently asked questions. Click on “I agree” at the bottom, fill out the short form with your information, and you are good to go.

Will I have to appear for the client in court if I participate?

No. Your representation is limited to giving your best legal advice over the platform and answering the client’s questions to the best of your ability.

Do I need to get malpractice insurance?

No. As stated on the website, “Malpractice insurance is provided by the ABA for the legal guidance that you provide through the ABA Free Legal Answers website.”

How much time does it take?

Let me address this by example. I just logged in. There are 67 pending questions to be answered. Across the top are these categories:

Legal Deadline
Kind of Problem
Submitted (Date)

Next to each question is a red flag. If the flag is filled in, that means the question has been pending for more than 25 days or has a legal deadline. If the flag is not filled in, that means the question has been pending for more than 10 days. No flag at all means that the question has been pending for less than 10 days and that there is no legal deadline. Finally, there may be a symbol telling you that the person asking the question is over 65 or a veteran.

Assuming I feel competent to answer a question, the first person I would want to help would be a veteran, over the age of 65, who has a legal deadline. Fortunately, today there is no one with that profile with a question. Here is my decision tree:

  • Is there a legal deadline?
  • Is the person over 65 or a veteran?
  • Is this in my area of expertise? If not, can I help by directing the person to another resource?
  • After reading the issue do I have the time to adequately address it, including responding to follow-up questions?
  • After reading the issue, do I need other information from the person? (This happens often.)
  • Has the person attached documents that will help me decide the issue?
  • Am I clear on what the person needs, or will I need to ask substantially more questions?
  • Is this issue in the county where I used to preside as a judge? (I do not take questions from here.)

Today, I picked a question that had a legal deadline three days away. The questions were fairly narrow, and the client attached documents, which were very helpful. I answered the questions, but my guess is that I will receive some follow-up questions. On average, about only 20 percent of the questions I answer result in follow-up questions.

I try to answer the questions to the best of my ability, but many times I also include links to in-state legal service agencies that could help the person if he or she needs an attorney to appear in court. The website also allows me to attach documents, and I have drafted some documents for clients.

 Once you answer a question, the website has a great feature that allows you to record your hours. This helps if your state requires you to document pro bono hours. Today, I spent an hour reviewing the questions, analyzing the documents attached, and crafting a response. I will get an email notification if the client responds, and my practice is to respond that day, if possible.

What types of questions am I likely to handle?

The cases are all civil matters. The Illinois site lists 15 separate categories of cases. You can subscribe to as few or as many different categories as you feel confident in handling. My experience has been that most questions involve family issues.

If there is a question that I see is urgent and I feel uncomfortable giving advice based on my experience, I can usually find a resource in the state and can at least send the client a link for further help. 

I’m interested. Are there any training resources?

Click on the state where you are licensed and register. Once I registered, my Illinois home page had a tab for “Training Resources” with links to three helpful videos for those starting out.

In closing, I try to set aside some time each week to log on. Sometimes I answer a question and hear nothing back from the client. Sometimes a client will take the time to write a “thank you” and let you know how everything came out. It is always rewarding to be able to help someone who is half a continent away. 

If you have any questions, I can be reached at (217) 430-7459 or by email at [email protected]I hope you will join me.