American Bar Association 2021 Summary Report indicates Illinois is a national leader for the virtual online legal clinic.
Nearly 200,000 civil legal questions have been submitted to the Free Legal Answers website since its launch in 2016 according to the ABA’s 2021 Summary Report. The site, which allows low-income people to post civil legal questions for lawyers to answer, was an especially important resource during the pandemic when typical legal clinics and help desks had to close during the shutdown. Since March 2020, the ABA Free Legal Answers site has received 92,837 submitted questions, representing a 58% increase over the same period in 2018-19.
“For those who cannot afford an attorney and have nowhere else to turn, Free Legal Answers serves as a critical resource,” ABA President Reginald Turner said in a news release. “Sadly, hitting the milestone 2of 00,000 questions underscores the need for expanding free and affordable civil legal services.”
In Illinois, Free Legal Answers is managed by PILI, the Public Interest Law Initiative. Illinois was one of the first states to adopt the Free Legal Answers website and is a leader in the number of volunteers registered (918) and questions answered (10,792). PILI has also seen an increase in questions on the site, but at a much higher rate than the national increase. Specifically, 6,507 questions have been answered since March 2020, representing a 154% increase over the same period in 2018-2019.
“PILI was proud of the work we did to help people during the shutdown and continue to be proud of the work we are doing to keep up with the growing number of questions asked,” said Michael Bergmann, PILI’s Executive Director. “We are especially grateful to our partners in the community and the volunteers who have made sure people in need receive answers to their civil legal questions.”
PILI was able to keep up with the increased demand by launching the COVID-19 Illinois Free Legal Answers Task Force and focusing on volunteer recruitment and training. PILI regularly works with law firms, corporations and law schools to set up virtual clinics to train volunteers to use the site and then answer questions together. This virtual model has proven to be a way to successfully engage more volunteers who then provide quality answers to clients.
“I am very grateful to have this resource! I cannot afford an attorney and wouldn’t know how to proceed without this free legal advice,” one of our Illinois Free Legal Answers clients said.
Illinois Free Legal Answers is a convenient way for attorneys to volunteer their skills in a way that best fits their schedule while assisting those who have nowhere else to turn. If you would like to volunteer to answer questions for those in need, please log on to il.freelegalanswers.org or reach out to PILI Managing Attorney Abigail Causer by email or at 217-693-6017.