Lawyers take part in nationwide ABA initiative

The American Bar Association web program ABA Free Legal Answers, which gives income-eligible users the ability to pose civil legal questions to volunteer attorneys, has released a nationwide list of lawyers, law firms, corporate law departments, law schools and other legal organizations who during 2023  handled the most online questions.

Launched in 2016, the program operates in 43 jurisdictions, including a federal portal that addresses veterans benefits and immigration questions.

More than 13,500 attorneys nationally have registered to volunteer on ABA Free Legal Answers (FLA), which operates virtually.

Of those, 148 attorneys in 2023 — an increase from 2022 — handled at least 50 civil legal questions each and are recognized as 2023 ABA Free Legal Answers Pro Bono Leaders.

In addition, 36 law firms, corporate law departments and other legal organizations were recognized for answering at least 75 questions in 2023.

The nationwide program has emerged as a no-cost way for eligible participants to obtain basic civil legal guidance, as pro bono lawyers have fielded more than 40,000 inquiries annually since 2019. Through last year, Free Legal Answers handled 330,221 total questions since its inception. The summary report for 2023 is here.

“ABA Free Legal Answers has become a vital link to civil legal aid for those in need,” ABA President Mary Smith said. “The program exemplifies a commitment to access to justice, with over 330,000 questions responded to and thousands of attorneys offering their expertise on a volunteer basis since its inception in 2016. The platform stands as a testament to the impact of pro bono work in addressing the legal needs of low-income communities.”

Geared to expand legal services for low-income communities, the service requires users to meet income eligibility guidelines applicable to each state or U.S. territory. While expanding access to legal services,
ABA Free Legal Answers also expands pro bono opportunities for attorneys in a convenient way to match their schedules.

“Free Legal Answers is an accessible way for our attorneys to be a resource to those in need at any time of the day,” said Margaret Richards, director of Pro Bono Services at Husch Blackwell LLP, whose attorneys handled 821 questions in 2023 on the California, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin sites. In addition to providing volunteer attorney time, Husch Blackwell is also an FLA funder, as the program relies on private contributions to keep this free service available for those needing legal assistance.

Julie Phillips, a regulatory attorney at the Federal Aviation Administration and Pro Bono Leader, answered 70 civil legal questions in 2023 on the FLA site in Virginia where she is licensed. She said she loves being able to volunteer with ABA Free Legal Answers. “It lets you instantly help people to understand their rights,” Phillips explained. “It’s so flexible: You can dedicate as much or as little time as you can.”

FLA began through a collaboration between the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service and the law firm Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz PC, consolidating the web programs in Tennessee and other states.

It then expanded by inviting other states to participate through the national platform.

In January, Baker Donelson announced a renewed commitment to FLA with another major investment of financial and technology resources that will ensure the tool continues to increase access to advice and information about noncriminal legal matters for those who cannot afford a lawyer.