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July 29, 2016

Virginia.freelegalanswers.org

Virginia.freelegalanswers.org is part of an ABA multi-state initiative to provide online pro bono civil legal assistance to Virginia residents with income levels of 200 percent of the poverty guidelines or less (a household income of just over $29,000 annually for a single adult). Prospective clients will log on to the site and be screened to determine if they meet the threshold income requirements. If they qualify, the users may post questions about a civil legal issue. Users may post up to three questions in a twelve-month period. Their question will then be placed in a queue for Virginia lawyers according to the nature of the legal issue or type of problem (i.e., "Family/Divorce/Custody" or "Debts & Purchases"). In addition to the question, the user posts relevant facts and may even attach documents and photos. 

Volunteer lawyers in good standing who have signed up for the website may preview questions in the queue and select a question they would like to answer. Additionally, the available question queue will also provide the lawyer with information about the identity of the opposing party, the legal deadline (court date or when the client is requesting a response) and how long the question had been in the queue. If the lawyer needs additional information to answer the question, the attorney may leave the queue open to communicate with the client via the website or, if there is sufficient information, the attorney may post an answer and close the conversation. The interaction is limited to responding to the legal inquiry. When an attorney closes the question, the client receives notification that the question has been answered and is prompted to take a survey requesting feedback about the assistance provided. 

During this process, the attorney knows the name of the user; however, the attorney’s identity remains anonymous and is known as "the Volunteer Attorney."  Also, volunteer lawyers answering questions on the website are covered by malpractice insurance provided by the National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) Insurance Program. 

Virginia is one of thirty-five states and a Canadian province launching online pro bono websites in August and September. Six states have previously launched sites, and their sites will be included in this initiative. Tennessee was the first state to provide this service six years ago (www.OnlineTNJustice.org) and, since its launch, over 11,000 questions have been answered by 500 attorneys.

On August 22, the Virginia State Bar will debut Virginia.freelegalanswers.org. In the meantime, lawyers who are interested in the service and seeing a demonstration of how the Free Legal Answers websites will work may review the video and PowerPoint slides at http://www.americanbar.org/groups/probono_public_service/resources/free_legal_answers.html. Virginia lawyers who are interested in participating can now complete the Attorney Interest Form at www.vsb.org/docs/volunteer-form-pb.pdf

Updated: Jul 29, 2016

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