Bar expands online legal clinic in response to COVID-19 outbreak
More volunteers sought to help those impacted by the pandemic
The Florida Bar has temporarily expanded the Florida Free Legal Answers online legal clinic that aids qualifying members of the public as they navigate the unforeseen legal impacts that arise as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The online clinic, a cooperative effort between the Bar and the ABA, matches low-income Floridians with attorneys who can answer basic legal questions online confidentially. Inquiries on a variety of subject matters are included, such as landlord/tenant concerns, foreclosure, family law, unemployment and benefits, and debt and bankruptcy.
The temporary increase allows Floridians below the 400% Federal Poverty Level to qualify for Florida Free Legal Answers. At that threshold, qualifying Floridians would include single individuals who make less than $51,040, and a family of four making less than $104,080. The number of questions a user may post annually has also been increased from three to five.
The Florida Bar’s Young Lawyers Division has been actively recruiting attorneys to volunteer for this service and in support of local legal aid organizations, helping to meet consumers’ legal needs during the crisis.
“Many young lawyers shy away from pro bono work because it’s new or feels uncomfortable and I understand,” said YLD President Santo DiGangi. “But, once you have helped someone who truly appreciates you, your advice, and your willingness to care, you will be forever changed by the experience. We became lawyers to help others, and this opportunity is when you are most needed.”
As Florida continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is anticipated there will be an increase in the number of Florida Free Legal Answers questions from the public. Many Floridians are currently unemployed and many more will be unemployed in the near future.
Florida has its own page where qualifying residents will post their question. The attorney’s identity is not revealed through the platform unless the attorney decides to do so. Once an attorney answers a question, the user will be sent an email to alert them they have a response waiting. More information and a link to sign up to volunteer can be found on The Florida Bar YLD’s website.
In addition to the online clinic, the Bar offers several resources that can help the public address COVID-19 legal concerns and issues. The Lawyer Referral Service, for example, matches members of the public, who do not have a local lawyer referral service, with the right attorney based on means and needs.
The Florida Bar’s consumer guide also provides information on who consumers can contact for legal assistance and how to protect legal rights during this pandemic.
More information on the Bar’s COVID-19 resources is located at www.floridabar.org/covid19.