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Getting Answers: How to get free legal advice during social distancing

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(WKOW) -- Wisconsinites are encountering a whole new set of legal issues and concerns related to the coronavirus.

While many free legal clinics are closed to help slow the spread of the COVID-19, Wisconsin residents can turn to a web portal called Wisconsin Free Legal Answers. Civil, not criminal, legal questions are answered by Wisconsin lawyers for free.

“We have 250 volunteer lawyers who are ready to answer questions, and we anticipate a surge in questions as the public experiences the impact of the coronavirus in the work and personal lives,” said Jeff Brown, Wisconsin Free Legal Answers Administrator.

Brown says these are some of the most-asked questions right now:

  • placement arrangements when one parent has been exposed to the coronavirus and the other has not
  • workplace safety
  • unforeseen medical bills and consumer debt
  • unemployment benefits
  • powers of attorney
  • landlord-tenant issues, including evictions
  • real estate sales and home foreclosures

Clients go through an online screening process to establish financial eligibility and agree to the limited scope of the assistance provided. All communications between lawyers and clients are confidential and take place through a secure website. Clients receive an email notification when an attorney responds to their question.

"We are hitting record numbers for April," Brown said. "We're at 135 questions for April, which is about 30 or so above what March was. March was higher than February, so it has been an upward trend."

In 2019, Wisconsin Free Legal Answers volunteers responded to nearly 1,000 questions.

The project is from the Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission. It is supported by the State Bar of Wisconsin and the national ABA Free Legal Answers.

As a public service, the State Bar of Wisconsin also offers a Lawyer Referral and Information Service (LRIS), 800-362-9082, to help individuals determine whether they need a lawyer, and provide referrals to appropriate attorneys and appropriate government or community resources. The service is also available online. Attorneys referred through LRIS agree to charge no more than $20 for the first consultation, up to one half hour.

Emily Friese

27 News Producer

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