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.