Since Florida Free Legal Answers, a cooperative effort between The Florida Bar and the American Bar Association, was launched one year ago, Florida lawyers have answered more than 2,200 legal questions by Floridians.
The virtual legal advice clinic gives low-income Floridians a way to have legal questions answered free of charge and gives lawyers a way to improve access to civil justice through pro bono services for those who would otherwise find it out of reach.
Florida Free Legal Answers is accessible online 24/7 at florida.freelegalanswers.org, matching qualifying participants with lawyers who can answer questions on a wide range of issues. While Florida is not the only state participating in Free Legal Answers, it is leading the country in terms of participation. The average answer rate for other Free Legal Answer sites throughout the country is 65-70 percent, as confirmed by the ABA, while The Florida Bar’s rate of response is 85 percent.
More than a third of the questions have related to family matters such as divorce, child support, adoption and name change. Another 16 percent were connected to housing or landlord/tenant issues. Other legal issues include domestic violence, bankruptcy, consumer issues, education, employment, workers’ compensation, wills and estate planning. Note that Florida Free Legal Answers does not answer questions on criminal law.
The Florida Bar has reached out to county libraries, clerks of court and other groups and agencies to help spread the word about Florida Free Legal Answers. Meanwhile, 639 lawyers are participating in the program, volunteering their time on a pro-bono basis.
“When this program was first implemented, the goal was to make justice more accessible to those who couldn’t otherwise afford it,” said Michael J. Higer, president of The Florida Bar. “Now, only one year later, we have made great strides in connecting lawyers willing to help with those who need it most. As we look ahead, our focus will remain on raising even more awareness for the program to further expand its impact.”
How Florida Free Legal Answers works:
- Go to https://florida.freelegalanswers.org to sign up and answer a few questions to see if you qualify to use the service. You must have an annual household income below 250 percent of federal poverty guidelines; have less than $10,000 in total assets (this amount has been raised to make the program more accessible); be at least 18 years old; and not be incarcerated.
- After you register, you may ask a specific question about your noncriminal legal issue.
- You will receive an email telling you when your question has received a response.
- Log back in, see the response, and ask more questions if necessary. Lawyers can submit a single response or have a dialogue with the user through the site. Please note: The volunteer lawyers at Florida Free Legal Answers can’t call you or represent you in court.
The information users provide is confidential, and the answers are not associated with the user’s name. Lawyers will see only the information associated with a user’s legal issue.
Users will not know the name of the lawyers who answer their questions unless the lawyers choose to provide it, a user makes a specific request for the name of the lawyer or it is required by a court of law. Volunteer lawyers will not write letters, make phone calls, file documents or attend court proceedings.
Florida lawyers may enroll by visiting https://florida.freelegalanswers.org, clicking on “Volunteer Attorney Registration” and agreeing to the attorney agreement.