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Fueling Pro Bono Efforts in 2023 with NC Free Legal Answers

In 2022-23, 244 NC Free Legal Answer volunteer attorneys answered 2,283 questions from North Carolinians.

North Carolina attorneys have been serving residents in need online since 2018, through the power of the ABA’s Free Legal Answers (FLA) platform. Here, virtual connections can be made at any time of the day or night. Those who financially qualify can have their civil legal questions answered at no cost, while attorney volunteers can respond to an ever-burgeoning need in a way that is impactful, accessible and flexible.

While the numbers of attorney volunteers and clients served have steadily risen since the ABA program was adopted in NC, many see an opportunity for expansion. When Foundation Senior Director Kim Bart Mullikin applied for an IOLTA (Interest On Lawyer’s Trust Accounts) grant last year, she had her sights set on bolstering the program. She was delighted when the grant money was awarded and additional funds became available to broaden outreach to less well-served areas of the state and increase communication efforts supporting the service. She adds that as outreach to libraries and community organizations continue to expand, so will the demand for more active lawyers in the system.

Serving the Community

“Clients who can’t afford to pay for legal advice deserve the same level of service and respect as those who can,” comments Elysia Prendergast-Jones, North Carolina Bar Association Family Law Section Pro Bono Council Chair and a strong supporter of NC FLA.

“By logging in and spending a relatively short amount of time screening and answering questions online, you are extending that respect, and providing access to the law to many people who wouldn’t have the opportunity otherwise.”

Mary Irvine, Executive Director for NC IOLTA, commented on how perfectly NC Free Legal Answers aligns with her organization’s mission. Simply put, IOLTA’s focus is grant-making to support access to legal services to underserved NC residents. “We are proud to support NC FLA. Not only does the program deliver free legal access, but it fills an unmet need. It meets people where they are – using technology to fill a gap by increasing accessibility and broadening the spectrum of services available. ”

Empowering Attorneys to Serve

NC FLA also fills a gap for attorneys looking to perform pro bono work. As NCBA’s Pro Bono Committee Co-Chair, Irvine is motivated to spread the word within the association and to ensure NCBA members are utilizing this powerful platform to support and extend the reach of their pro bono activities.

“There is simply no reason not to be logging on to this service,” states Prendergast-Jones. “You don’t have to go anywhere, and you can log on anytime. With nearly 25% of the questions posed on the platform being family law related, the need is particularly strong in this area. I challenge all family law practitioners to be the superstars I know they are by utilizing this unique opportunity to serve.”

Spotlight on Brandon Robinson, NC Free Legal Answers Power User

With a commitment to pro bono that goes far beyond the 50 hours of service recommended by the North Carolina State Bar, Brandon Robinson spends at least 60 minutes a day on pro bono work and has answered more than 3,000 questions posed on the Free Legal Answers platform. Recipient of the NCBA Pro Bono Award in 2022, he is the most active attorney on NC FLA, logging in every day of the year.

Not surprisingly, Robinson has answered questions across the range of practice areas offered on the platform, with family law, landlord-tenant and probate and estate questions being the most frequently posed, followed by questions on employment and contract law.

Robinson has seen an uptick in questions across the board, and he cites both the outreach afforded by the IOLTA grant, and an ever widening gap in access to justice, as likely contributors to the increase in activity.
As a power user, Robinson has honed his approach to screening and answering questions, but he notes that the tool makes it easy for anyone to increase their pro bono work. The platform also offers the option to track pro bono hours for reporting and achieving personal goals.

“In general, pro bono allows me to educate myself, and the person I am serving, about all the subtle and obvious ways the law intersects with life and even death (in probate). I am a more competent lawyer, and a more empathetic person, through the pro bono services that I perform.”

This article is part of the 2023 Impact Series. Access the 2023 Impact webpage.