Solicitors across the profession are being invited to participate in a new pro bono service to improve access to justice through technology.
Deloitte Legal is supporting the charity LawWorks (the Solicitors Pro Bono Group), in developing and launching Free Legal Answers, www.freelegalanswers.org.uk, an online platform that virtually connects individuals in need of legal advice with lawyers who are able to provide it on a pro bono basis. The platform is currently in its early stages of a pilot, and has provided advice to over 50 clients – with numbers expected to grow as more people are referred to the platform. LawWorks has seen 90 lawyers sign up to the platform thus far and are calling for more solicitors to get involved in the project, especially lawyers who have experience in housing, family and employment law.
An established ‘Free Legal Answers’ website is supported in the United States by the American Bar Association (ABA). LawWorks, a charity which promotes and supports pro bono by solicitors and law schools, has been granted a licence to introduce the service in England and Wales.
The Free Legal Answers platform enables people who cannot afford to pay for legal advice to register and ask a legal question – the focus is on initial and one-off legal advice. Individuals are referred to the platform by a growing network of organisations, including advice agencies.
Volunteer lawyers can preview the questions and respond at any time and from any location – they can also contact the person asking the question if further information is needed. Free Legal Answers will also improve access to initial legal advice for those who find it difficult to physically attend existing pro bono centres, for example due to mobility issues, health issues or COVID restrictions. As the social and economic impact of COVID-19 on society increasingly materialises, this platform hopes to assist individuals most in need during these challenging times.
All advice provided through the website will be insured by LawWorks’ professional indemnity insurance.
Deloitte Legal has provided management and technical expertise to assist LawWorks in configuring and testing the website to fit the legal environment in England and Wales. The online platform will ultimately provide access to legal services to those who would previously have faced barriers to this type of support. This mirrors the goal of Deloitte’s ‘One Million Futures’ social impact initiative, which aims to help one million people to get to where they want to be through access to education and employment, raising aspirations, improving skills and developing leaders.
The Access to Justice Foundation has awarded funding for a dedicated project development post for the service, which will include verifying lawyers registering to take part, under the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) Legal Support for Litigants in Person grant programme. The two-year programme, which the Foundation oversees on the MoJ’s behalf, aims to explore the most effective ways of resolving people’s legal issues at the earliest possible stage.
Michael Castle, UK Managing Partner at Deloitte Legal, said:
“Justice is a fundamental right for everyone. It should not be exclusive for those who can afford it. We have assisted LawWorks in configuring this innovative, secure platform, with our deep understanding of how technology can improve the delivery of legal services. Its ultimate aim is to reduce physical barriers around access to justice, allowing individuals and lawyers to connect in a more flexible and accessible way.”
The President of the Law Society of England and Wales, Simon Davis, said:
“Free Legal Answers will help people who may not be able to visit a lawyer in person to get the advice they need. This can be life-changing for people who would otherwise have to navigate the justice system without expert help. It also provides flexibility that will enable more solicitors to work pro bono if they wish, as we know many do. As a LawWorks trustee, I am immensely proud of the charity’s work and of the profession’s commitment to pro bono and access to justice.”
The Chief Executive of LawWorks, Martin Barnes, said:
“Pro bono is not and should not be seen as an alternative to legal aid, but it can help enable people to access the timely advice they need and which they cannot afford to pay for. We are excited about the potential for ‘Free Legal Answers’ to provide new pro bono opportunities for lawyers willing to give their time and expertise for free."
Buck Lewis, speaking on behalf of Baker, Donelson, said:
“With the help of over 5000 volunteer attorneys, our pro bono web site has helped over 40,000 clients in the states. We could not be more delighted to make this access to justice tool available to the UK.”
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Notes for editors:
For more information contact: Martin Barnes at [email protected]
Originally developed as an online pro bono clinic by the US firm Baker, Donelson and launched as Online Tennessee Justice in 2010, it was expanded to ‘ABA Free Legal Answers’ through the ABA’s Bono and Public Service Committee. To date, 42 states are providing or committed to providing the service.
LawWorks (the Solicitors Pro Bono Group) is a charity working in England and Wales which helps to connect volunteer lawyers and law students with people in need of legal advice, who are not eligible for legal aid and cannot afford to pay, and with the not for profit organisations that support them and their communities. LawWorks supports a network of independent pro bono advice clinics across England and Wales, and facilitates the provision of free legal advice for smaller charities and not-for-profit organisations. For further information about LawWorks (including membership) visit: www.lawworks.org.uk
LawWorks is supported by the Law Society of England and Wales, the independent professional body for solicitors.
A factsheet for lawyers about Free Legal Answers is available from the LawWorks website.
About the Access to Justice Foundation
The Access to Justice Foundation aims is to improve access to justice for the most vulnerable in society. It does this by raising funds and distributing them to organisations that support those who need legal help but cannot afford it.
About Deloitte Legal
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The information contained in this press release is correct at the time of going to press.
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