This month marks five years since the launch of Mass Legal Answers Online (MLAO), a virtual legal advice clinic that enables low-income Massachusetts residents to obtain free legal advice from volunteer attorneys. Since MLAO’s launch in November 2016, 485 attorneys from across the Commonwealth have signed up to answer more than 6,600 questions on civil legal topics such as housing, family, consumer debt, and employment. We here at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute administer MLAO, with the assistance of the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association.
The goal of MLAO is to expand access to justice by providing both clients and volunteers a platform to obtain and give free legal advice at a time and place of their choosing. Particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic when many in-person opportunities for help were unavailable, MLAO has provided a unique, vital resource for thousands of low-income individuals.
MLAO clients have reported eviction prevention, obtaining unemployment insurance, and satisfaction with guidance given in family law, consumer, and government benefits matters, among others. As one client shared, “MLAO is wonderful. Because of the advice I received, I was able to get my security deposit back from my landlord. I never thought I would see that money again.”
Volunteers, too, have reported satisfaction with MLAO as both a means of conducting pro bono work and developing bonds with fellow attorneys. Indeed, 28 individuals and organizations have been recognized as ABA Pro Bono Leaders for their commitment to helping hundreds of clients through MLAO. Furthermore, MLAO has effectively spread volunteer attorney resources concentrated in Suffolk County statewide by connecting them with low-income clients dispersed across Massachusetts.
All communication between clients and attorneys on MLAO takes place via a secure website. Volunteer lawyers who provide brief advice and counsel via the website are covered by professional liability insurance maintained by the American Bar Association. Attorneys who are licensed to practice law in Massachusetts, or registered for pro bono status with the Board of Bar Overseers, including in-house counsel and retired attorneys are eligible to offer legal advice.
MLAO is the Massachusetts home of the national ABA Free Legal Answers project. In addition to in-kind support from the ABA, MLAO is supported by the Boston Bar Foundation, the Massachusetts Bar Foundation, and the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation.
A video on MLAO can be viewed here. Visit www.masslao.org to ask a legal question. Lawyers wishing to provide legal help through MLAO can email email@example.com for more information on how to join or sign up immediately at www.masslao.org.
The Massachusetts Bar Association is a participant in Mass Legal Answers Online, and attorney Brian Reichart is part of the Massachusetts Legal Aid Websites Project at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI). This article originally appeared on the MLRI website.