Volunteer lawyers have answered 1,200 legal questions posed by low-income residents
Mass Legal Answers Online (www.masslao.org), a virtual legal advice clinic that enables low-income Massachusetts residents to obtain free advice about civil legal problems from volunteer attorneys, celebrates its one year anniversary this month. Since MLAO’s launch in November 2016, over 180 attorneys from across the state have signed up to answer more than 1,200 questions on legal topics such as housing, family, consumer debt, and employment.
“At a time when civil legal aid programs in Massachusetts turn away almost two-thirds of all eligible cases due to limited resources, Mass Legal Answers Online provides another way for low-income residents to get legal advice--at a time and place of their choosing,” said Rochelle Hahn, attorney at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, which administers MLAO. “Attorneys who wish to provide pro bono service can now do so whenever and wherever it is convenient. The last year has demonstrated that MLAO is a win-win.” Susan Finegan, Co-Chair of the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission, noted, “The successful implementation of MLAO brings us closer to the Commission's goal of 100 percent access to effective assistance for essential civil legal needs.”
Mass Legal Answers Online is based on the walk-in clinic model where clients request brief advice and counsel about a specific civil legal issue from a volunteer lawyer. All communication between the client and the attorney takes place via a secure website. Volunteer lawyers who provide brief advice and counsel via the website are covered by professional liability insurance maintained by the American Bar Association. Attorneys who are licensed to practice law in Massachusetts, or registered for pro bono status with the Board of Bar Overseers, including in-house counsel and retired attorneys are eligible to offer legal advice.
Clients have appreciated the tailored advice that might otherwise be unavailable to them. One client who was facing a debt collection issue shared the following with her attorney, “I cannot thank you enough - you are seriously saving me SO much stress and anxiety.”
Mass Legal Answers Online is part of the American Bar Association’s Free Legal Answers project, a nationwide initiative. In addition to in-kind support from the ABA, MLAO is supported by the Boston Bar Foundation, the Massachusetts Bar Foundation, and the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation. Massachusetts Law Reform Institute administers MLAO with the assistance of the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association.
A video on MLAO can be viewed at www.bit.ly/MLAO-atty-video. Visit www.masslao.org to ask a legal question. Lawyers wishing to provide legal help through MLAO can email email@example.com for more information on how to join or sign up immediately at www.masslao.org.