How does www.SC.FreeLegalAnswers.org work?
www.SC.FreeLegalAnswers.org is based on the Ask-A-Lawyer model where clients request brief advice and counsel about a specific civil legal issue from a volunteer lawyer. Lawyers provide information and basic legal advice without any expectation of long-term representation.
Users who meet eligibility (see Eligibility below) sign the use agreement , create a username and password, post a request for legal advice information and provide facts about their case that will help the lawyer answer the question. Users will be asked to select a category (such as “housing” or “debt”) that best describes their question. The lawyer may ask for additional information before responding to the user’s request, but the user will have a choice to respond to that request or not. Users will provide their name, but no other identifying information will be shared with the volunteer lawyer. Users are informed that there is no guarantee that a question will be answered. If a question is not answered within 30 days, the user will receive an email from the website administrator instructing them to seek assistance elsewhere. The user will also be provided with a list of additional resources.
Lawyers who would like to participate must create a username and password, provide contact information and their Bar number, sign the lawyer use agreement and request approval from the website administrator. Before the lawyer’s account is activated, the website administrator checks to ensure the lawyer is licensed in South Carolina and is in good standing with the South Carolina Bar. Once a lawyer has been approved by the website administrator, the lawyer receives an email notification and can begin answering user questions.
Lawyers may log in at any time to review a list of user questions and select the one(s) they want to answer. Lawyers will use the categories provided by the user (such as “housing” or “consumer”) to help determine which questions they would like to answer. A lawyer will have the opportunity to read the full question before deciding to take it from the list and answer it. Once a lawyer takes a question from the list, the lawyer has 3 days to answer it. Lawyers will be allowed to ask follow up questions via email if they need additional information in order to answer the user’s question. The lawyer’s identity is not revealed to the user unless the lawyer decides to do so. Once a lawyer answers a question, the user will be asked to accept the answer or send a follow up question to the lawyer.
Lawyers will be able to view a log of questions they have answered.
Who is eligible to use www.SC.FreeLegalAnswers.org?
Eligibility for use of www.SC.FreeLegalAnswers.org is limited to the following:
- The user must have household income less than 250% of the federal poverty level;
- The user may not have liquid assets exceeding $5,000 in value (this includes checking and savings account balances, as well as the value of any stocks or bonds);
- The user may not be incarcerated;
- The user may not request assistance with criminal law matters
- The user may not have already hired an attorney
- Users must provide their name and zip code in order to request advice.
- Users agree to post no more than 3 legal questions per year.
What kinds of lawyers should participate?
All lawyers are welcome! While there are certain types of legal questions that regularly come up at legal clinics, we need lawyers with different areas of expertise and practice to volunteer. We hope the website will appeal to lawyers who want to give back but have been unable to participate in traditional pro bono work due to family obligations, schedule or geographic location. We also hope to engage lawyers who already provide pro bono and are willing to give more of their time to those who need it.
What happens if a lawyer cannot answer a user’s question?
A lawyer might be unable to answer a user’s question for a number of reasons. Some examples might be a conflict of interest, user’s failure to respond to lawyer requests for additional information or the question is determined to fall outside the lawyer’s area of expertise. .Lawyers will have access to online resources on various areas of substantive law to help them answer questions via the Pro Bono volunteer site. If a lawyer determines that (s)he cannot answer a question, the lawyer may contact the site administrator to place the question back into the queue so that another volunteer lawyer may try to assist the user. The lawyer should let the administrator know the reason why the question needs to be placed back in the queue.
What type of relationship exists between the client and lawyer?
When a user submits a question and receives an answer from a lawyer, there will be a lawyer/client relationship formed between that client and the lawyer who responds. That relationship, however, will be limited in scope and duration as described in the use agreements for both users and lawyers. The representation will be limited to providing an answer to the legal question and will not involve any continuing representation of the client beyond the act of providing such an answer. The lawyer will provide short-term, limited legal services to a client (the eligible user of this site) without expectation by either the lawyer or the client (the eligible user of this site) that the lawyer will provide continuing representation in the matter. Both the eligible users and lawyers must consent to the limited nature of this relationship both as to scope and duration as indicated when they accept the terms of the use agreement. Eligible users and lawyers who do not accept the terms of the use agreement will not be allowed access to the site.
How do lawyers check for conflicts of interest?
The only conflicts of interest that would preclude a lawyer from answering a question for an eligible user of www.SC.FreeLegalAnswers.org are conflicts of interest that the lawyer actually knows of at the time that they receive or answer a client’s question. This means that the possibility exists, and the clients agree that they understand, that a lawyer who answers a question, or another lawyer with whom they practice in a firm, may actually be representing other parties with an interest in the question. The user’s name will be provided to the lawyer so that the lawyer can make sure not to answer the question if the lawyer knows that (s)he would have a conflict of interest. If based on the information the user provides, whether user name or any details of the question, the lawyer actually knows of a conflict of interest precluding him from answering, the question will be referred to another volunteer lawyer.
What about professional liability insurance coverage?
Volunteer lawyers who provide brief advice and counsel via the website will be covered by professional liability insurance maintained by The S.C Bar Pro Bono Program. If an issue of malpractice arises, SCBPBP can trace each answered question back to the attorney who answered it. SCBPBP may have to contact lawyers participating in the program from time to time related to this insurance coverage.
Is there a confidentiality issue with client information/lawyer advice being housed on the internet?
This site is designed to insure client privacy. Since the web program is administered via email through a platform that limits access based on a screening, confidentiality will be maintained since only the website administrator has access to content between a client and a lawyer. Information available to the website administrator and the lawyer responding to a client request shall remain confidential. However, client requests for information and the response of the lawyers participating in www.SC.FreeLegalAnswers.org may be maintained in a database for review in order to measure the effectiveness of the project. Steps will be taken to maintain the security of this database and it will only be utilized by the administrator but an absolute guarantee of security is not possible when using the internet and internet based systems.
For each visitor to the Webpage the web server automatically recognizes only the consumer domain name. This is the information that is collected for statistical purposes.
Aggregate information is collected on the pages consumers access or visit on this website.
The information collected is used to improve the content of the Web page and is not shared with other organizations for commercial purposes. Information may be disclosed when legally required at the request of government authorities conducting an investigation, to verify or enforce compliance with the policies governing our website and applicable laws or to protect against misuses or unauthorized use of our website.
Navigating the Website and Selecting Questions to Answer
When your account has been approved by the website administrator, you will receive a notification email. To get started you will go to www.SC.FreeLegalAnswers.org and select “Sign In” at the top right side of your screen. After you enter your username and password, you will automatically be directed to a page that lists all the questions that have been posted for lawyers to answer.
You will notice that the questions are color-coded. This color-coding lets you know how long each question has been in the queue. Green questions are those that have been posted within the past 10 days; yellow questions are those that have been posted for more than 10 days; and red questions are those that have been in the queue for at least 25 days and will be closed if no lawyer is able to answer them. Questions that are not answered within 30 days will be closed and the client will be notified.
You have numerous ways in which to view questions in the queue:
- You can view a list of all the questions in the queue; this is the default view.
- You can view a list of questions that have a deadline by clicking the “Legal Deadline”
- You can view questions by legal categories by clicking on the “Kind of Problem” tab at the top of the screen. The list of Categories is as follows: benefits, consumer, family, health care, housing, immigration/citizenship, other, school/juvenile, probate, bankruptcy and work. You will notice that each question has a “Category” and a “Subject.” Clients are asked to pick the Category that best describes their question. The Categories mirror the practice areas.
- You can view a list of questions that you are working on by clicking on your name in the “attorney” column.
- You can sort by date by clicking in the final column
The client is asked to use the Subject line to tell you, in their own words, what the question is about (for example, eviction, divorce, bankruptcy, etc.). The Category and Subject functions are tools to help lawyers quickly decide which questions they would like to review and answer. Note: the client may not always choose the best words to describe their issue.
Selecting Questions You Want to Answer
By clicking on the “preview’ button you can read the first few lines of each posted question and see if there is an opposing party. This feature will allow you to review questions before you select the “See full question” button. When you have found a question you’d like to answer, respond in the box provided. Remember you can add links to resources and useful websites and uploads documents. When you are done click on “Close” this completes your activity with this client. If at any point you decide you do not want to answer simple click on “ withdraw” and it sends the question back into the queue. You also have the option of assigning the question to another www.SC.FreeLawAnswers.org attorney by using the “ assign’ button at the top of the page. If the client has miscategorized the subject you use the Change Question button to relocate it.
Once you have taken the question, you will be able to reply to the client and provide an answer or ask follow up questions. The client will not know your identity unless you choose to provide it. If you ask the client a question, you will receive an email when the client responds and a prompt to log back into the website to respond.
How Do I Subscribe to a Category
If your area of practice is specialized and you only want to answer certain types of questions, you can subscribe to a Category and receive an email notification each time a question in that particular Category is posted.
To subscribe to a Category (for example, immigration), click on the “Practice Areas” tab at the top of the screen. Scroll down to the Category you are interested in and click on the “Subscribe” button. You will be asked if you are sure that you want to subscribe to the category. You will then enter your email address and click “Subscribe.” You can unsubscribe at any time.
Entering Hours for PB Credit
Each time you attempt to log out of the website, you will be prompted to enter the time you have spent researching and answering questions. You may log your time in 15-minute increments. You may view your hours at any time by clicking on “My Profile” at the top of the page.
How do I contact the administrator with a question?
If you have a question or run into a technical problem with the site, you may contact the administrator by clicking on the “Help” link located at the bottom of the page.
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