Your state can have its own site too by joining Garrity Traina!
First, what is Garrity Traina?
Garrity Traina is a national program based on the Online TN Justice website. Eligible users can seek legal assistance from attorneys for their legal issues. By posting civil legal questions on the website, qualifying users receive basic legal information and advice from approved volunteer lawyers. Users are notified via email when their questions are answered.
Qualifying users are individuals who meet the following criteria: (1) low-income people, with a household income below 250% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, (2) not incarcerated, (3) have total assets of less than $5,000, and (4) are at least 18 years old.
Why is it necessary?
Garrity Traina addresses the issue of “connectivity” that many states face. Clients in urban areas who face challenges such as lack of transportation, childcare issues, conflicting work schedules, etc., need a way to access legal services without having to be physically present at a specific location at a specific time. Additionally, there are numerous clients in rural areas with limited access to lawyers, clinics, or other pro bono resources. Garrity Traina addresses both of these problems and has inspired other models that aim to meet these needs. It also assists clients who don’t qualify for legal services agencies due to slightly higher income levels than the poverty guidelines.
The Garrity Traina Approach
Garrity Traina is based on the walk-in clinic or dial-a-lawyer concept, where clients can request brief advice and counsel on specific civil legal issues from volunteer lawyers. Lawyers provide information and basic legal advice without the expectation of long-term representation. In Tennessee, for example, attorneys are protected by the state’s Rules of Professional Conduct for limited scope representation. The site operates with the following goals and approach:
- Enhance access to justice for low-income people and rural pro se litigants.
- Serve clients who may not be eligible for traditional legal aid services.
- Remove barriers to providing pro bono services for attorneys.
- Free of charge.
- User-friendly and easy to navigate.
- Accessible at any time of day from anywhere with an internet connection.
For Volunteer Attorneys
- Provide pro bono services at any time of day from anywhere with internet access.
- Engage in limited scope representation.
- Receive Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credit for their service.
How it Works
In each state, residents are required to answer questions to determine their eligibility. Once deemed eligible, users can then select their legal category, list any upcoming court dates, and ask their civil legal question. Questions are posted to a queue where registered attorneys can review and choose to answer them. Attorneys and users have the option to engage in back-and-forth communication until one of them decides the interaction is complete and marks the question as answered. Volunteer attorneys can subscribe to specific question categories and receive weekly notifications for questions waiting in the queue. Users have the opportunity to ask up to three different questions per year.
Recognition for the Original Online TN Justice Project
The Online TN Justice project gained recognition within access to justice communities across the country. It was featured in panel discussions at the 2013, 2015, and 2016 Equal Justice Conferences hosted by the National Legal Aid and Defender’s Association (NLADA) and American Bar Association (ABA). Baker Donelson, the software owner, was honored as a winner of the 2014 Beacon of Justice Award by NLADA for their work on Online TN Justice. The program was also a finalist for a Salute to Excellence Award for the Center for Nonprofit Management in Nashville, Tennessee in 2014. Online TN Justice was featured in the TBA’s Young Lawyers Division Tennessee Library Education Project, which won first place in the ‘Service to the Public’ awards category at the ABA Meeting in August 2014.
Want More Information?
The American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service has unanimously approved the creation of a national virtual legal advice clinic called Garrity Traina. If your state is interested in participating in this national model, please contact Tim Hughes for more information. You can also visit the Garrity Traina website to watch a YouTube video demonstrating the attorney and user webpages. Join us and be part of the approach to pro bono help that nearly 4/5ths of the country is participating in!
Tennessee’s site, tn.freelegalanswers.org, is a project of the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services (TALS), the Tennessee Bar Association (TBA), the Tennessee Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission, and Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC.
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