Solicitors across the profession are being invited to participate in a new pro bono service to improve access to justice through technology.

Deloitte Legal is supporting the charity LawWorks (the Solicitors Pro Bono Group), in developing and launching a UK-focussed Free Legal Answers online platform that virtually connects individuals in need of legal advice with lawyers who are able to provide it on a pro bono basis.

The platform is currently in its early stages of a pilot but has provided advice to over 50 clients – with numbers expected to grow as more people are referred to the platform. LawWorks has seen 90 lawyers sign up to the platform thus far and are calling for more solicitors to get involved in the project, especially lawyers who have experience in housing, family and employment law.

An established ‘Free Legal Answers’ website is supported in the United States by the American Bar Association (ABA). LawWorks, a charity which promotes and supports pro bono by solicitors and law schools, has been granted a licence to introduce the service in England and Wales. Originally developed as an online pro bono clinic by the US firm Baker, Donelson, Free Legal Answers was launched as Online Tennessee Justice in 2010 and later expanded to ‘ABA Free Legal Answers’ through the ABA’s Bono and Public Service Committee.

All advice provided through the UK website will be insured by LawWorks’ professional indemnity insurance.

Deloitte Legal has provided management and technical expertise to assist LawWorks in configuring and testing the website to fit the legal environment in England and Wales. The online platform will ultimately provide access to legal services to those who would previously have faced barriers to this type of support.

The Access to Justice Foundation has awarded funding for a dedicated project development post for the service, which will include verifying lawyers registering to take part, under the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) Legal Support for Litigants in Person grant programme. The two-year programme, which the Foundation oversees on the MoJ’s behalf, aims to explore the most effective ways of resolving people’s legal issues at the earliest possible stage.

Michael Castle, UK Managing Partner at Deloitte Legal, said: “Justice is a fundamental right for everyone. It should not be exclusive for those who can afford it. We have assisted LawWorks in configuring this innovative, secure platform, with our deep understanding of how technology can improve the delivery of legal services. Its ultimate aim is to reduce physical barriers around access to justice, allowing individuals and lawyers to connect in a more flexible and accessible way.”

The Chief Executive of LawWorks, Martin Barnes, said: “Pro bono is not and should not be seen as an alternative to legal aid, but it can help enable people to access the timely advice they need and which they cannot afford to pay for. We are excited about the potential for ‘Free Legal Answers’ to provide new pro bono opportunities for lawyers willing to give their time and expertise for free.”

A factsheet for lawyers about Free Legal Answers is available at: https://www.lawworks.org.uk/solicitors-and-volunteers/get-involved/free-legal-answers/information-pro-bono-solicitors