Brief Summary or Description
The local bar association sponsors a free legal advice period at a church, shopping mall, senior citizen center, or other community facility; or a call-in program at a local radio or television station. The bar association designates a specific period of time for community members to ask questions and receive brief, free legal advice.
To facilitate an opportunity for community members to raise questions and concerns about issues that they might not be able to afford to raise otherwise. This project enables interaction between the legal community and others, promotes public awareness of the legal community's desire to help the community, and provides an opportunity for citizens to seek and receive help they might not otherwise be able to afford.
For More Information Contact
Members of the Law Day Committee.
Free legal advice clinics can be promoted to target citizens in a particular geographic area or other category, or they can emphasize a particular area of law.
Sample target groups might include senior citizens, juveniles, or ethnic or gender minorities. One example might be a free legal checkup for senior citizens. This kind of program could be conducted in area senior citizens' home or coordinated with other programs sponsored by the local Administration on Aging Council.
The ability to focus a program on a particular area of law will depend on the lawyers who commit to participate. Examples of topics that work well for this type of program are consumer law or landlord-tenant law. Recent consumer law changes might make that a particularly timely program topic.
Logistics & Preparation
If the program will involve in-person consultations, space must be reserved in advance. Emphasizing the community focus of this program might enable program sponsors to reduce or eliminate the normal rental cost for the space. Sufficient table space should be set up to enable participants to consult with attorneys in at least a semi-confidential environment, and should allow participants to spread out documents they might bring along. A waiting area is recommended to prevent long, uncomfortable lines from forming.
If the program will be longer than a couple of hours, a sign-up list should be used to allow lawyers to work shifts. This will lighten the time burden on individual participants and permit more lawyers to participate. Besides consulting lawyers, additional volunteers should be scheduled to greet citizens at the door, direct them to the waiting area or the next available consultant, and answer any questions they might have. It might be a good idea to have law students, paralegals, or secretaries on hand to conduct intake interviews and direct citizens to the most appropriate lawyer for consultation.
Panel Discussion v. One-on-one Consultation
One alternative option to a one-on-one consultation period is a panel discussion. This could be held in the same type of forum, with a specific time period set during which citizens can publicly ask questions. The drawback to this kind of forum is that citizens might not feel comfortable asking personal, family law, estate planning, or other types of questions.
If the program is to be a call-in session at a local radio or TV station, a time slot must be pre-arranged with the station program manager. Communication with the sales & marketing director is also encouraged. Promoting the program in advance will enable the station to maximize its community-minded programming, and will assist with publicizing the event. Besides the lawyer or panel answering questions on the air, several other volunteers should be available to screen, introduce, and coordinate incoming calls to keep the program running smoothly.
Several weeks before the event, written instructions should be sent to volunteer attorneys to outline procedures for the event and to confirm the times hey have committed to volunteering. An orientation session might be held shortly before the program to answer participants' questions and to review procedures. Program coordinators may wish to prepare a checklist of common questions, answers, and telephone numbers for further assistance. Program coordinators should keep a list of volunteers from year to year, since many participants will want to participate again.