Free Legal Advice By Phone
It is not uncommon for state Bar Associations to volunteer to
offer free legal advice by phone, but usually only on specific dates
during the year and during a specified number of hours of the day.
They rarely offer free legal advice 24 hours a day. The service
is intended to help provide access to lower-income residents and
seniors who need help with simple legal problems, (criminal or civil),
or referrals to other agencies who can provide more relevant help.
In the past, the Houston Bar Association offered a free legal advice
service called “Legalline,” free legal advice by phone, during the
afternoons on certain days in August. Volunteer attorneys were available
to briefly answer simple legal questions or referral to social-service
agencies for further assistance. The number was 759-1133. See http://www.hba.org.
Likewise, the Virginia State Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Conference
offered free legal advice by phone at one point in the past, sponsoring
a "No Bills Night" of free legal advice by phone during
the evenings. It was intended to provide better access to legal
services by the general public. 30 lawyers were available for 10
minute sessions, all on a volunteer basis. See http://www.vsb.org/site/conferences/ylc.
Typically, free legal advice over the phone does not attempt to
solve the caller’s problem entirely, but simply to establish whether
the individual has cause for the services of a lawyer, or whether
the problem can be sorted out on one’s own without the assistance
of a lawyer. Usually, local government agencies are often in a position
to assist individuals than a lawyer.
The El Paso County Bar Association offered similar free services
during the evenings at one time in the past. See http://www.elpasocountybar.org.
Several years back the Canadian Bar Association’s BC Branch offered
free legal advice by phone through their “Dial-A-Lawyer” service.
It offered language support for Mandarin speakers. Sessions were
limited to 15 minutes. See http://www.cba.org/lawweek/events/main/dial_a_lawyer.aspx.
It is a common problem worldwide for countries, states, and municipalities
to provide fair access to legal services. In some cases, as was
the case with Ireland’s Legal Aid Board (LAB) in 2003, the failure
of legal aid access is considered illegal. Ireland’s Free Legal
Advice Centres (FLAC) were established to help reduce waitlists,
which, in some cities, exceeded 14 months. Because FLAC operates
on the principles of a community law centre model, to empower communities
with access to local community legal services, FLAC considered its
service delivery failure a “travesty.” Lack of services provided
by the Legal Aid Board was considered to contravene the 1995 Civil
Legal Aid Act and possibly even the European Convention on Human
Rights for breaching the client’s right to a fair trial.
In South Afraica “Legal Aid South Africa” has been delivering free
legal aid services over the phone since early 2010. The service
employees 23 paralegals, trained over two months, and not paid on
full capacity, to help clients not only with criminal matters but
also with civil matters involving most commonly children, family
law, and land affairs.
Legal advice over the phone is the preferred method since more
than 80% of walk-in-clients can resolve their problems over the
phone rather than in-person. The only qualification for the use
of services is that the individual earn less than R5000 a month,
or $739.00 US.
Since 1995, free legal advice has been given on a semi-annual
basis over the phone through the Massachusetts Bar Association’s
“Dial-a-Lawyer” service, where 37 lawyers participate in four-hour
shifts where they answer over 500 calls. Usually problems require
only 5 - 10 minutes to solve, even though to the client they are
very important issues, such as landlord-tenant obligations and employment
contracts. Usually clients only need to be “pointed in the right
direction” regarding their legal problems.
" FLAC says effect of budget onlegal aid system may be illegal,"
Sunday Business Post,
7 December 2003.
"Free Legal Advice by Phone for Seniors," The Record,
20 May 1993,
"Dial-A-Lawyer dispenses plenty of free legal advice,"
The Republican, 9 October 2007
"Inventors to discuss product marketing, Houston Chronicle,
26 July 1992.
"Best and brightest students sought for community recognition,"
Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph , 18 March 1992.
"Legal aid now just a phone call away," Business
Day, 12 November 2010.