Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Legal Aid of North Carolina - Going Tech...slowly

I just volunteered to do some pro bono work for Legal Aid of N.C. via their Wilmington branch. I filled out the volunteer form online which was an option newly available on their website. When I spoke with the very friendly PAI coordinator about my website and how I was able to offer services at a lower price because of no overhead costs and how that could benefit clients that Legal Aid could take, she said that the attorneys in their office were "traditionalists" and believed it was important to meet with the client face to face.

I had a feeling that was the case. And sure, if I didn't have mountains and mountains of student loan debt and I had a nice savings or trust fund, I might could afford my own physical law office and would enjoy counseling clients face-to-face. However, I still stand behind my virtual law practice as a great alternative way to provide legal services. When it comes to money versus a nice, friendly in person conversation, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that most middle to lower income folks (myself included) are thinking about the money and not the friendly face-to-face chatting. If we can get the same legal service and it costs less, then I'm all for that.

I think it is a generational difference. Also, the PAI coordinator mentioned that most of their clients did not have access to the internet and therefore, the website office wouldn't be of use to them. Again, there is so much resistance before the idea is even really introduced to the public. So I mentioned that the public library and law library offer free internet to the public. Plus, personally, I have been in some of the lower income neighborhoods in town and you would be surprised how many of the younger generations living there are decently current in their use of technology. Almost every kid you see has a cellphone and I find it very hard to believe that for many of them someone in their family doesn't have access to a computer and the internet somewhere.

Again, I just think that if it's between no legal assistance because Legal Aid can't help you and affordable legal services, they would prefer the help however it comes. For example, I just finished working with a client this morning. Never met her in person. Only talked to her on the phone. Did my research and work on her matter online and through the cell phone to assist her. Got back with her by phone and that was all she needed. Before she had contacted me for help, she had gone to Legal Aid and they had not been able to take her case due the nature of the matter and their funding restrictions. If I hadn't offered an alternative way to get legal services, she would have had to go back to looking up random attorneys in the phone book and listening to the brush-off from many of them as she had before she was referred to me.

So, I sincerely hope that the more traditional attorneys don't immediately disregard what I am trying to do with the virtual law practice and at least take the time to consider it as an alternative way of practicing the law that can be of service to the citizens of our state and local community.

No comments: