By Jessica Almeida, LISP-SIS

Many of us are aware of the 2017 Legal Services Corporation Justice Gap Report which noted the following key finding: 86% of the civil legal problems reported by low-income Americans received inadequate or no legal help.  To help narrow the justice gap, the American Bar Association created Free Legal Answers, a virtual legal clinic, comprised of existing and expanded state projects.  Free Legal Answers is an online portal that allows low-income individuals to ask civil legal questions of volunteer attorneys.  It also allows lawyers during COVID times to provide pro-bono services when they are needed most. 

Created in 2016, ABA Free Legal Answers (ABA FLA) is now available in 38 states with 7 more committed to participate in the future.  As of December 2020, over 140,757 civil legal questions have been submitted from individuals with limited income or inability to access legal services due to geographic and transportation issues.  While most questions are family law issues, ABA FLA also receives questions covering a variety of situations, including housing, consumer, and health issues.  Currently, over 8,000 attorneys are registered to provide pro bono legal advice through the portal.

When asked in February about the impact the pandemic has had on ABA FLA, ABA President Patricia Lee Refo responded, “ABA Free Legal Answers has answered 145,000 questions since its inception, underscoring the need for free and affordable civil legal services. Earlier this year, we expanded its reach to veterans, immigrants, and asylum seekers, who all have legal problems that can’t be solved easily without a lawyer’s help. Coupled with the legal pressures presented by the pandemic, we expect to see continuation of the steady increase in both the number of inquiries and volunteer lawyers who have generously given their time and talents.”

To help in this uncertain time, many states have increased the questions per user limit as well as the income threshold, so that attorneys can reach more people.  ABA FLA continues to grow with the roll out of a federal site which began tackling immigration and veterans’ questions in January 2021. 

For more information, visit https://www.americanbar.org/groups/probono_public_service/projects_awards/free-legal-answers/

About the author:  Jessica Almeida is a Public Services Librarian at the University of Massachusetts School of Law in Dartmouth, MA.  She is currently the co-editor of the LISP/SR Blog. 

References

“ABA Free Legal Answers Reaches Milestone with 100,000 Inquiries since Launch.” American Bar Association, March 17, 2020. https://www.americanbar.org/news/abanews/aba-news-archives/2020/03/aba-free-legal-answers-reaches-milestone-with-100-000-inquiries-/ .

 Albukerk, Tali K. “‘ABA Free Legal Answers’ Connects Clients and Pro Bono Attorneys Online.” Business Law Today from ABA, April 13, 2020. https://businesslawtoday.org/2020/04/aba-free-legal-answers-connects-clients-pro-bono-attorneys-online/ .

“Justice Gap Report.” LSC, 2017. https://www.lsc.gov/media-center/publications/2017-justice-gap-report .

Robert, Amanda. “Working from Home? ABA Free Legal Answers Offers pro Bono Opportunities.” ABA Journal, March 17, 2020. https://www.abajournal.com/news/article/working-from-home-aba-free-legal-answers-offers-pro-bono-opportunities .

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s