Over the last 12 months (through June 30, 2022) volunteer lawyers have assisted 1,638 individuals and families with their legal issues through Wisconsin Free Legal Answers. With over 360 registered volunteer attorneys, the project is a significant resource for Wisconsin residents who are unable to access other options for legal advice.
Wisconsin Free Legal Answers is an online brief legal advice clinic sponsored and administered by the Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission. Clients are prescreened for eligibility and can then ask questions on a wide range of civil (noncriminal) legal topics each year. Volunteer attorneys log into the site at their convenience and pick which questions they’d like to answer through the website. All communications between the clients and attorneys take place through our secure website at wi.freelegalanswers.org. The service is part of the national ABA Free Legal Answers network.
Between July 1, 2021 and June 30, 2022, volunteers responded to 1,770 questions through Wisconsin Free Legal Answers, assisting 1,638 individuals and their families. Although this was down about 10% from the previous 12 month period, it was still far higher than our last pre-pandemic year. So, it appears that the surge of interest in using Free Legal Answers that was prompted by the pandemic is continuing. Our answer rate was also quite high at 95% of the 1,861 questions asked.
Family law continues to be the largest area for questions. Housing and debt issues rank second and third.
One of the greatest strengths of a service like this is our ability to direct legal resources from areas where they are plentiful to regions where they are not. Lawyers in Wisconsin are highly concentrated in a handful of Wisconsin’s most populous counties: 80% of practicing lawyers are in 10 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties. Most of our Free Legal Answers volunteers are also in these “top 10” counties.
We’re proud of the fact that our Wisconsin Free Legal Answers users come from all over the state. Almost half of our client users are in rural counties that have fewer local legal resources.
Looking at the socioeconomic profile of our users, it’s also clear that the vast majority lack the means to hire an attorney. Over half live in households with incomes below 125% of the Federal Poverty Level ($22,887 for a family of 2). They qualify for free legal representation but our staffed civil legal aid providers just don’t have enough funding to represent everyone who qualifies. So, provider agencies have to triage the most urgent cases and direct the rest to self-help resources like Free Legal Answers. A third of users are in households just above the poverty line: they earn too much to qualify for free legal services but too little to actually hire a lawyer.
|Clients Served by Poverty Level|
|Below 125% of the Federal Poverty Level||53%|
|125% – 250% of the Federal Poverty Level||35%|
|Above 250% of the Federal Poverty Level||12%|