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September 28, 2022 Featured Article

Federal Free Legal Answers: "The Answers Attorneys Provide Make an Enormous Difference for Asylum-seekers and Immigrants Who Otherwise May Lack the Resources to Find an Attorney."

By Senior Staff Attorney Emily McCabe

Santiago Palacios, Senior Paralegal at the American Bar Association’s Commission on Immigration, shares his insight as one of the Site Administrators for Federal Free Legal Answers (Federal FLA). Federal FLA allows low-income individuals to ask questions in immigration law or veterans federal issues that are answered by qualified attorneys. 

Who can volunteer as a Federal FLA attorney?

For attorneys looking to help with immigration law, they must be licensed to practice law and have relevant experience. Members of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) are fast-tracked for registration verification, but attorneys who are not AILA members can still volunteer – they just have to answer a few follow-up questions before their accounts are approved.

For attorneys looking to help with veterans’ issues, they must be licensed to practice law and be accredited with the Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.). 

One of the benefits of the federal system is that attorneys who are authorized to practice law anywhere in the United States may answer immigration questions on Federal FLA. For example, an attorney who is California-barred can answer a question for a client living in rural Ohio.

What is the process to sign up as a Federal FLA volunteer attorney?

Registration is very simple. Go to the Federal FLA website and click on the toolbar that says Attorney Registration, then it will send you an attorney agreement that you sign and the next page asks for you to provide info about your bar license and to create account information. Then, the Administrators get an email to vet you as a potential volunteer. Once you have been vetted and your experience verified, you will have full access to the site.

Are there resources available to volunteers? 

Yes. There are training videos and written resources on a variety of topics – from asylum to removal defense. 

Who are the users?

Users are a diverse group of people who qualify to ask questions based on income guidelines. Federal FLA allows users in remote areas to connect with attorneys in different geographic locations. Users may post up to five questions a year. Questions are asked in English, or sometimes, Spanish. If need be, the Administrators will translate the questions from Spanish to English. 

When can volunteers answer questions? 

Any time! There is immense flexibility for both users to ask questions and volunteers to answer questions. It is a one of the positive outcomes from the COVID-19 pandemic. Any time of day or night, a volunteer can log in to answer a question. Some questions can be answered in a few minutes. Other questions require a bit of research. The Administrators work hard to highlight questions left in the queue.

Why should I volunteer for Federal FLA?

It is a flexible, at-your-own-pace program that makes it easy to help those in need. The answers attorneys provide make an enormous difference for asylum-seekers and immigrants who otherwise may lack the resources to find an attorney. 

Also, you do not need to be an expert in all areas of immigration law to participate. Federal FLA offers a lot of materials and trainings for attorneys to learn more about a topic before answering a question. The tools are already there for you! Go to our website and take a look for yourself!