In Fiscal Year 2016, the Board of Directors of the Illinois Bar Foundation approved a substantial special project grant of $105,000 (payable over three years) to Illinois Legal Aid Online (ILAO) to launch the innovative
Free Legal Answers pro bono advice portal.
This unprecedented award, the largest in IBF's history, served as venture funding for one of the Illinois Bar Foundation's trusted partners, allowing ILAO to develop and launch a program that will change the landscape of legal aid
in the State of Illinois.
ILAO SPECIAL PROJECT GRANT
The Free Legal Answers program was originally developed in 2011 by the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services to better address the needs of lower-income people who require legal services, especially those living in rural areas where there is little or no access to representation. In 2015, the American Bar Association (ABA) adopted this successful program in order to promote a new cloud-based version of the portal software, which will be shared at no cost with entities in all 50 states that wish to launch this program.
The Illinois Bar Foundation's commitment allowed ILAO to create and launch the innovative pilot program to serve Illinois residents seeking legal help, providing portal visitors the opportunity to get their legal questions answered online by pro bono attorneys, regardless of their location in Illinois, and removing barriers that lower-income clients face when seeking help. The program is expected to be particularly helpful for those who live in rural areas where there are few options for legal help and those who live in urban areas where walk-up clinics can be difficult to access.
"We do see the value in using technology to actually deliver services,
and not just connect people...It's a great way to reach people
who can't afford a lawyer and also people in remote parts of the state."
-Lisa Colpoys, ILAO Executive Director
ILAO's Free Legal Answers program also offers attorneys a new way to participate in pro bono service, as lawyers who are limited in how easily or how often they can provide pro bono services can participate on their own time wherever and whenever they can access the Internet. Additionally, the ABA will provide malpractice insurance for all pro bono attorneys who participate in the program.
Funding of this program greatly enhances the availability of civil legal aid to those of limited means by removing hard to overcome barriers like limited access to representation and geographic isolation. Additionally, Legal Answers also encourages pro bono legal work by providing a new, accessible way for attorneys to work pro bono and helps to better educate Illinois residents on their rights and responsibilities under the law by empowering them to get the help they need faster and more efficiently.