Our Work


New ILAO Program: Free Legal Answers

By Teri Ross on October 18, 2016

Increasing Access to Legal Advice and Making Pro Bono Easy

Today, Illinois Legal Aid Online launches a new service called Legal Answers. We at ILAO are both super excited and somewhat anxious about this launch.

We are super excited because this is the first time ILAO will provide direct representation legal services. Prior to today, and for over 15 years, ILAO has connected people to legal information, self-help tools, and lawyers, but did not provide legal advice to users. Legal Answers expands ILAO's services and adds another option for people seeking legal help. Because it uses technology to help people overcome barriers and solve their legal problems, Legal Answers is a natural extension for ILAO.

This brings me to our second reason for enthusiasm: Legal Answers offers new and unique opportunities for both lawyer volunteers AND people in need of legal advice. The service increases access to justice on both sides of the attorney-client relationship. Because it is a 24/7 secure website, Legal Answers makes it easy for attorneys to volunteer and provide advice to those in need when and where it is convenient for them. It is equally accessible to people who need legal help because they can ask a lawyer questions at any time, from any location.

But we are not all rainbows and sunshine. We are also a bit nervous about the launch of Legal Answers. This anxiety comes from two sources.

First, we don’t know what to expect. Some states that have recently launched this service have only received a few dozen questions from users in their first month. But back in 2009, when we quietly launched our LiveHelp chat service over 60 people a day immediately began chatting with us. What will the client demand for Legal Answers be?

There are a few distinguishing factors between the two services. Unlike LiveHelp, Legal Answers is available only to people whose income is below 250% of the federal poverty level (about $60,000 for a family of 4), and users have to create an account on the Legal Answers portal (il.freelegalanswers.org) to use the service. These factors may cause fewer people to use it.

ILAO’s staff members have already heard from judges and legal aid programs that can’t wait to start referring clients to this service. We are thrilled that there is so much eager anticipation, but this brings up our next worry.

Will we have enough volunteers? We suspect we don’t have nearly enough of them. Our goal is to launch Legal Answers with 50 volunteers. We have 15 signed up.

If you are an attorney practicing in Illinois civil law and have ANY inclination to help, please, please, please sign up now. Here are 6 reasons why you should volunteer:

  1. It takes mere minutes. The time commitment by each attorney for each client is minimal. And you can choose to answer as many or as few questions as you can handle.

  2. It’s not a long-term relationship. Legal Answers’ volunteers provide limited scope representation.

  3. You can do it in your pajamas. This brief advice pro bono opportunity is similar to a walk-in legal clinic, but is done at the attorney’s convenience.

  4. No one will know that you’re doing it (unless you want them to). Attorneys remain anonymous unless they choose to provide their name.

  5. Your risks are low. Legal Answers provides malpractice insurance to volunteer attorneys.

  6. You got this. The first set of volunteers will use their substantive expertise in responding to questions, only taking questions they feel qualified to answer.

Legal Answers needs lawyers from all civil law areas. We know that the highest demand will be in family law, but if you practice in another area, ILAO wants your help! Be the answer for lower-income Illinois residents by helping to meet their needs, one question at a time.

Ready to volunteer? Interested attorneys should create a volunteer attorney account on il.freelegalanswers.org. After creating an account, a welcome email will be sent including links to 3 short online training videos totaling about 30 minutes.

Questions? Contact Nicole Capretta at ncapretta@illinoislegalaid.org.