Oklahoma Bar Journal
Access to Justice | Oklahoma Attorneys Provide Significant Contribution to ABA Free Legal Answers
By Emily Buchanan Hart
In November 2022, the American Bar Association published a report on their web-based, no-cost legal advice program, ABA Free Legal Answers. This program, sponsored by the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service, welcomes income-eligible individuals to submit civil legal questions which will be answered by attorney volunteers.
Each of the 41 participating states or jurisdictions has a website specific to them, while a federal site exists to answer questions related to immigration and veterans. More than 11,000 attorneys have volunteered nationwide to answer questions for the program, and Oklahoma was one of the first states to sign up for the program in 2016.
According to OBA Practice Management Advisor Julie Bays, who is the program administrator for Oklahoma’s Free Legal Answers, 163 Oklahoma lawyers have volunteered to provide free legal advice through the program as of Dec. 14, 2022.
For those who may not be able to afford an attorney, this program has proven to be a beneficial resource. Since the program’s launch in 2016, the number of free legal questions has exceeded 253,000 across the United States. Oklahomans are taking advantage of the program too – with thousands of questions having been submitted.
“From its inception in 2016, Oklahoma citizens have asked 6,831 questions,” Ms. Bays said. “The majority of questions coming from Oklahoma are regarding family law at 32%, landlord/tenant questions at 14%, and then we have ‘other’ at 15%. Oklahoma’s attorneys have answered 4,180 of these questions. This is 61% of all questions asked – which is great because some questions can’t be answered due to being criminal law questions.”
Volunteers are not authorized to answer criminal law questions, only civil law. Ms. Bays refers any immigration questions to the ABA.
According to the ABA report, many questions from users nationwide include topics on housing or homelessness, children and family, finances or work and unemployment. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an 86% increase in questions, with more than 12,000 questions being pandemic-related. Housing and employment questions increased by more than 110% since the start of the pandemic.
In 2022, according to Ms. Bays, there were five Oklahoma attorneys who answered more than 50 questions each throughout the year. These attorneys were Travis C. Smith, Paula D. Wood, Margaret E. Travis, Michael J. Miller and Timothy C. Dowd.
“We have some very dedicated lawyers who spend many hours answering questions,” Ms. Bays said. “Oklahoma’s Free Legal Answers offers lawyers a way to contribute their time to pro bono work with little effort. We could always use more lawyers and hope that they will sign up.”
Attorney volunteers can choose which questions to answer and may be alerted when a question is submitted in their practice area.
“They need not worry about malpractice issues because the ABA provides up to $1,000,000 in liability insurance for lawyers answering questions,” Ms. Bays said.
If you are an Oklahoma attorney who has been authorized to provide pro bono legal advice and you are interested in volunteering to provide free legal answers for this program, visit https://oklahoma.freelegalanswers.org. If you are unable to give your time but are interested in supporting the program, you can also make a monetary donation to the program at https://abafreelegalanswers.org/supportus.
Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal – OBJ 94 Vol 1 (January 2023)