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Free Legal Advice Tool Available Online

October 19, 2016, 7:59 AM HST
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Big Island Now stock photo. August 2016

Big Island Now stock photo. August 2016

Volunteer Legal Services Hawai`i Executive Director Michelle Acosta has announced the launch of a new online service that will provide free legal assistance to low- and moderate-income Hawai’i residents.

The project—Hawai’i Online Pro bono—part of the American Bar Association Free Legal Answers national project. Volunteer Legal will launch the website on Oct. 24, 2016, during National Pro Bono Celebration Week. Residents on all of Hawai‘i’s islands are encouraged to advantage of this new free service.

Hawai’i Online Pro-bono (HOP) is an online version of a walk-in legal advice clinic where clients request brief advice and counsel about specific legal issues from a volunteer attorney.

Income qualifying Hawai’i residents can simply register and post a question on a secured website, where it will be reviewed and responded to by a volunteer attorney who is a member of the Hawai‘i State Bar Association.

Other states that have launched the ABA’s Free Legal Answers site have found this online tool to be particularly helpful to those who have difficulty accessing legal aid services due to geographic barriers, or because of work schedules or lack of childcare.

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Connecting to basic legal assistance is now just a few clicks away either from home or from a neighborhood library.

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“The goal of HOP is to provide an additional tool for individuals who cannot afford an attorney, especially those living in rural areas to have easy access to basic legal advice,” said Acosta, who will oversee the program at Volunteer Legal. “This free service makes it possible for rural residents to seek advice and get high-quality responses that will help them better understand their situation and assess their options.”

Volunteer Legal is also reaching out to local lawyers who want to do pro bono work. To be a part of the HOP project, attorneys just have to sign up through the website and they’ll be instructed on how to use the system to reply to questions. Once they’re registered, attorneys can log in to the site from anywhere at their leisure, choose a question they’d like to respond to, and then research and write the answer.

“This is an important way for the legal community to provide much-needed services to the general public, especially for those in rural communities where public transportation is limited,” said Judge Ronald Ibarra, chief administrative judge for the Third Circuit, which covers the Island of Hawai’i. “This program is supported by the Hawaii Access to Justice Commission, and has been proven successful in others states, so we are very pleased to be bringing it to the residents of Hawai`i.”

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People can pose questions related to a wide variety of civil matters, including landlord-tenant issues, divorce, paternity, child custody, child support, guardianship, adoption, powers of attorney, wills, healthcare directives, consumer debt collections, Chapter 7 Bankruptcy and Veteran disability claims.

The program is based on a well-received project called Online Tennessee Justice, where attorneys fielded questions from the public.

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