Oct. 7, 2015 – A new resource hopes to address closing the justice gap in Wisconsin through an online service that allows volunteer lawyers to answer questions asked online via a website.
Wisconsin Legal Advice Online (WLAO) is now recruiting volunteer attorneys to participate in this exciting and easy way to give back.
Created by the Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission and sponsored by the State Bar’s pro bono program, WLAO makes legal advice more available to more Wisconsin residents.
WLAO will allow more attorneys to engage in pro bono service right from their desk without taking on additional long-term clients or obligations, said Beth Ann Richlen of Wisconsin Judicare Inc., and the State Bar’s Legal Assistance Committee.
Pro Bono Work – During a Free Moment
So much is expected of lawyers these days that finding time to do pro bono work can be a challenge. If you haven’t had the time to do pro bono work and are looking for way to serve during your free moments, Wisconsin Legal Advice Online is the legal clinic you have been looking for.
WLAO merges key features of a traditional telephone hotline and a brief legal advice clinic into a website that is available anytime, anywhere, to both volunteer lawyers and clients.
Jeff Brown, Harvard 1989, is manager of the State Bar Pro Bono Program, liaison to the Legal Assistance Committee, and staff for the Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission. He can be reached by email or by phone at (608) 250-6177.
How it works: Clients go through the online screening process to establish that they are financially eligible to use the site, agree to the limited scope of the assistance provided, and are then able to post a legal question for participating volunteers. Volunteer lawyers can log in to the site anytime as well, select the question that they want to answer, and then respond when it is convenient.
The entire exchange takes place through the website – there is no expectation of any ongoing representation.
The site also helps you keep track of your pro bono time so that you can qualify for the Wisconsin Pro Bono Honor Society.
Brief Advice Legal Clinic, Reliable Answers – Now Online
Lawyers who are willing to take on extended representation of pro bono clients are invaluable. But not every issue calls for full or extended representation. Brief advice legal clinics are set up to address this latter category of issues. Typically, this has meant setting up a physical legal clinic in a courthouse, library, or church. While a few communities are fortunate to have multiple legal clinics like this, and some have one, most have none.
Pro Bono Week is coming! And that’s a welcome thing, unlike the other thing that we also know is coming (Brrrr). The National Pro Bono Celebration (aka Pro Bono Week) is Oct. 25-31. This is a chance to recognize the great work that so many lawyers are doing to provide pro bono legal assistance in various forms around the country and in Wisconsin. The Milwaukee Bar Association is holding their Seventh Annual Pro Bono Reception on October 29. If your office or organization is sponsoring a pro bono event during the National Pro Bono Celebration, consider adding it to the national calendar.
Now, Wisconsin residents near and far from existing legal clinics have a resource that can provide help with basic legal questions. Best of all, the answers come from a reputable source, Wisconsin lawyers.
“Even though pro bono services provided by State Bar members is on the rise, we are still far from our aspirational 50 hours a year for every licensed attorney set by our supreme court,” Richlen said. “New and innovative service delivery and clinics, like Wisconsin Legal Advice Online, will help us move towards that aspirational goal and make a difference in the lives of low-income Wisconsinites.”
Closing the Justice Gap
Wisconsin has an ongoing challenge to bridge the vast gap between the legal help that its residents need and the resources available to them. For low income residents, the need is particularly acute, because staffed legal aid offices are stretched thin with chronically inadequate funding. Various groups are working diligently to address the lack of funding issue. In the meantime, there are smaller steps that make the justice system more accessible.
That’s where WLAO comes in.
“Limited advice and brief service can be a great way for attorneys to help us bridge the justice gap. In addition, we hope that attorneys will see the kinds of important cases the clients present online and be more inclined to take on full representation cases through civil legal aid programs,” Richlen said.
Visit the volunteer sign-up page to learn more about the program and to find answers to frequently asked questions.