Mass Legal Answers Online (MLAO) is a brand new way for busy attorneys to do pro bono in Massachusetts. Through Mass Legal Answers Online, low-income Massachusetts residents can ask civil legal questions on the web at www.masslao.org. This program, administered by the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute with help from the Volunteer Lawyers Project, will function like a “virtual legal clinic,” providing attorneys with a 21st-century platform to give free legal advice.
Eligible site users can post legal questions, and volunteer attorneys can choose which questions they would like to answer. MLAO helps alleviate the time and place constraints that clients and attorneys sometimes face in a traditional legal clinic or on the phone.
On Monday, Rochelle Hahn from the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and Barbara Siegel from the Volunteer Lawyers Project spoke at a BBA program about this innovative project and how to participate. If you missed the program, here are some things you should know:
- Mass Legal Answers Online is part of a national initiative sponsored by the American Bar Association (ABA).
- The ABA provides malpractice insurance to cover any activity that occurs through the secure site.
- Volunteer sign-up is easy! Attorneys just need to provide basic contact information and certify that they are in good standing with the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers by providing their BBO number.
- Attorneys can subscribe to receive alerts when new questions are posted in their specific practice area
- As a volunteer, the Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 6.5 applies to conflicts, because of the pro bono nature and limited scope of the advice provided through MLAO. The only conflicts of interest that would preclude an attorney from answering questions are conflicts that are known at the time the client’s question is reviewed.
This project embodies the idea of “bite-sized pro bono” and, according to Rochelle Hahn, “is an ideal opportunity for busy attorneys who want to help, but have limited time. It allows you to virtually share your expertise with people struggling to navigate the legal system — without committing to ongoing representation or a set schedule. Answering even just one question a month can make a real difference to people in need. Sign up and give it a try!”