October 30, 2018 Pro Bono

Volunteer to do Pro Bono Now Through ABA Free Legal Answers

By Tali Albukerk

Addressing Civil Legal Challenges with Virtual Pro Bono Advice

In June 2018, a South Carolina resident needed urgent legal advice regarding custody of her three children. She submitted her legal question online to ABA Free Legal Answers and was able to receive timely legal advice from a qualified pro bono attorney licensed in South Carolina. This attorney helped her understand her legal rights and options without having to hire legal counsel that she could not afford. Subsequently, her case was escalated by her state social service agency which arranged for kinship care for all three of her children and is currently working to provide her with full custody of one of her children.

In September 2018, a Florida resident found himself in danger of becoming homeless and needed immediate legal advice. He submitted his legal question on ABA Free Legal Answers and quickly received an easy to understand response from a qualified pro bono attorney licensed in Florida. This attorney’s advice allowed the client to better understand his legal rights and options. As a result of the advice, he was able to return to court with his required paperwork in order and received an extension of time resulting in a far less dangerous living situation.

These are just a couple examples of the thousands of legal issues that are being addressed on ABAFreeLegalAnswers.org, an online virtual legal clinic through which income-eligible clients can post civil legal questions to be answered by pro bono attorneys from their state.

Addressing an Access-to-Justice Gap by Providing Pro Bono Legal Advice to Clients Where They Are—Online

According to a recent Legal Services Corporation survey, 71% of low-income households in the United States struggle with civil legal problems. The survey also reported that more than half of the estimated 1.7 million problems that were presented to LSC organizations last year received limited or no legal help due to limited time and resources, resulting in an access-to-justice gap.

Given that legal advice is increasingly sought online and—according to a recent report from the Pew Research Center—nearly 80% of households with low-moderate income households have internet accessibility, the solution was clear.

Modeled after a legal advice portal created in Tennessee, the ABA Center for Pro Bono launched the first and only national pro bono legal advice portal, providing non-incarcerated adults with income under 250% of the federal poverty level and assets under $10,000 with access to brief civil legal advice from attorneys who are licensed and in good standing in their jurisdiction.

The site is designed to allow any qualified user with an internet connection to access civil legal advice and resources at any time from across their state—ultimately to prevent larger legal crises from developing and to allow existing legal services staff attorneys to focus on full representation.

Register with ABA Free Legal Answers to Provide Brief Legal Advice at Your Convenience

In addition to its successes, this site has provided much-needed legal assistance resources to our low-income populations. ABA Free Legal Answers has also been a useful tool for attorneys searching for convenient, short-term pro bono opportunities. The majority of site volunteers who responded to a biannual survey recommend ABA FLA and report that the site is very simple to navigate and fosters easy client communication.

If you are on inactive or retired status, many states provide emeritus rules that allow you to continue to practice on a pro bono basis under the auspices of a legal assistance agency, including many ABA Free Legal Answers state site hosts.

Moreover, the ABA provides legal malpractice insurance to all volunteer attorneys for their communications on the site—a valuable feature for senior lawyers who may have discontinued their coverage.

ABA Senior Lawyers Division members can sign up to get involved at ABAFreeLegalAnswers.org under “Volunteer Attorney Registration.” Questions are submitted in a variety of civil legal areas, including family law, landlord/tenant matters, and consumer rights, among others.

Attorneys can sign up to receive notifications when questions are posted in their areas of interest as well as sort by subject matter and for questions that are submitted by those with senior and/or veteran status.

“For the senior lawyer who wants a supported, convenient, and accessible platform to provide pro bono legal assistance to persons unable to afford an attorney, Free Legal Answers is the way to go. I urge my senior colleagues to give FLA a try,” said Anthony Barash, Senior Lawyers Division Council Member.

Contact the ABA Free Legal Answers National Administrator, Tali Albukerk, at tali.albukerk@americanbar.org, for further information about the site or how to make a tax-deductible financial contribution.

 

Author

Tali Albukerk is the national administrator of ABA Free Legal Answers for the ABA Center for Pro Bono. Tali previously held the position of staff attorney/pro bono projects manager for the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Assistance for Military Personnel. During her career, Tali has worked for several Chicago law firms focusing on federal civil rights litigation, specifically addressing police misconduct claims. Tali is also board president of the Pro Bono Network, a Chicago area nonprofit that provides pro bono programs for attorneys with nontraditional work schedules. Tali has a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Michigan and a J.D. from Chicago-Kent College of Law. She lives in Oak Park, IL, with her husband and two daughters.