Pro bono website helps hundreds in first year
In January 2017, The Missouri Bar launched Missouri.FreeLegalAnswers.org, a website focused on matching low-income residents in need of legal assistance with Missouri lawyers willing to answer their questions at no cost. Since the site went live, more than 1,600 eligible Missourians have signed up to ask questions about non-criminal problems—and more than 80 licensed Missouri lawyers have signed up to respond. Over the course of the year, those lawyers answered 1,100legal questions.
The website is based on the walk-in clinic model, where clients request brief advice and counsel about a specific civil legal issue and lawyers provide information and basic legal advice without any expectation of long-term representation. To qualify, residents must have household income less than 250 percent of the federal poverty level. The structure also allows lawyers to answer questions at a time and place that fits their schedules.
Brett Rolwes, legal and community services coordinator at The Missouri Bar, says the system is fulfilling its designed purpose of increasing access to justice.
“We have some great, dedicated volunteer lawyers,” Rolwes said. “Client survey results consistently show that the majority of respondents are pleased with their experience.”
The website, part of an initiative by the American Bar Association, fills a niche with unmet needs and helps improve the lives of Missourians. There are no other online formats in the state for submitting legal questions and getting answers pro bono from licensed Missouri lawyers.