Buck Lewis sat in a hearing in a small East Tennessee town. As Tennessee Bar President, he’d heard the same testimony time and again: Low-income families had to travel long distances to find a lawyer, and working families couldn’t make legal aid office hours. As he emailed his clients back in Memphis between testimony, it dawned on him: Why can’t we advise low-income clients this way?
Buck envisioned a virtual pro bono clinic. The model was simple yet elegant: Qualifying clients post civil legal questions to a website. Volunteer attorneys select questions and provide legal advice. Client and counsel alike can log in anytime, anywhere.
Working with the Tennessee Bar Association and the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services, and using software developed by his firm, Baker Donelson, Buck launched Online Tennessee Justice (OTJ) in 2009. Today, volunteer attorneys have answered over 13,000 legal questions through OTJ.
Why can’t we advise low income clients this way?
Seeing potential for expansion, Buck turned to the ABA Pro Bono and Public Service Committee. Soon after, ABA Free Legal Answers was born.
ABA Free Legal Answers aims to take Buck’s model nationwide. Already available in 20 states, ABA Free Legal Answers will reach more than 40 states by the end of 2017. In each state, the ABA partners with bar associations, legal aid agencies, or access to justice commissions, which recruit clients and volunteer attorneys. Since its launch several months ago, the site has served nearly 2,000 clients.
ABA Free Legal Answers combines three of our favorite things: collaboration, technology, and access to justice. We’re excited to see this project expand. If you have questions about the project or would like to volunteer, go to ABA Free Legal Answers or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can contact Buck directly at Blewis@bakerdonelson.com.