In only one year of operation, the Virginia State Bar Free Legal Answers Service, located at Virginia.freelegalanswers.org, has reached more than 1,150 users, including 200 lawyers, and answered more than 450 legal questions.
The online, interactive, pro bono question and answer website marked its one year anniversary on August 22, 2017. The Virginia State Bar hosts the website.
Free Legal Answers provides free legal information and assistance to low- and moderate-income Virginians in civil legal matters. Eligible clients are Virginia residents who have income levels of 250 percent of the federal poverty guidelines (or a household income of just over $29,000 per year for a single adult).They may post up to three civil legal questions per year.
People who have legal questions can log in to the website, answer a few simple questions regarding their income, assets, and residence, and then post their question. Lawyers who have registered with Virginia Free Legal Answers review the questions in the queue and respond. The client and attorney may even engage in an online dialogue and share documents via the website. Attorneys remain anonymous during the interaction.
Questions posted have involved family law/divorce/custody, landlord/tenant issues, debts and creditor disputes, employment law, civil rights, wills and estates, Medicaid/Medicare/Affordable Care Act, personal injury, expungement, and immigration. Attorneys typically respond to clients’ questions within 48 to 72 hours and, to date, no question has gone unanswered.
“This program provides people who are lost in what one client called ‘legal limbo’ access to legal professionals that they might never be able to afford,” said Karl Doss, the director of Access to Legal Services at the VSB and administrator of the program. “I commend the Virginia lawyers who are providing this service without compensation or even public recognition.”
Virginia Free Legal Answers is one of many services the VSB encourages lawyers to use to assist people who find it difficult to afford a lawyer. The agency runs the Virginia Lawyer Referral Service; assists legal services agencies throughout the state; and operates with Clients’ Protection Fund.