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Virginia Legal Aid Society Opens LawLine, a One-Call Telephone Legal Advice System

Thursday, May 19, 2005

  • Organization: Virginia Legal Aid Society

Virginia Legal Aid Society Opens LawLine, a One-Call Telephone
Legal Advice System

LYNCHBURG - Virginia Legal Aid Society has opened a new intake and advice hotline, LawLine, which is dramatically increasing the number of new clients served and the speed of service for them.

VLAS is a non-profit law firm that provides legal information, advice and representation in civil cases to low-income individuals and families in twenty-six counties and cities in Central, Southside and Western Tidewater Virginia. Clients are not charged any fee, though they may have to pay court costs. Offices are located in Lynchburg, Danville, Farmville, Emporia, and Suffolk. The firm uses legal skills to solve problems in health care, public benefits, housing, family relations, wills and powers of attorney, consumer purchases, education, and economic self-sufficiency.

More than 130,000 low-income people in these cities and counties are eligible for VLAS assistance, and VLAS receives over 10,000 new client contacts every year. With only 13 full-time lawyers on staff and 120 private attorneys willing to take at least one pro bono case every year, many applicants have been turned away in the past, and applicants just needing advice have often been forced to wait a week or more for an appointment. LawLine is now providing legal advice, assistance or a referral to callers during their first telephone contact with VLAS.

LawLine helps legal aid clients in three ways: clients receive advice much more quickly, within a matter of minutes rather than the days or weeks previously necessary for an office appointment; many more clients just needing advice are now being served; and VLAS' experienced non-LawLine attorneys have more time to handle complex cases.

Six LawLine intake workers screen, interview, and advise eligible callers. Most of the workers were previously VLAS paralegals and secretaries with substantial experience in working with VLAS clients. They are supervised by three full-time attorneys, each of whom has fourteen or more years experience in representing low-income clients.

To make use of experienced staff in three locations (Lynchburg, Danville, Farmville) and evenly distribute incoming phone calls and forward calls back and forth between offices, VLAS is using Voice Over Internet Protocol, known as Voice Over IP or VOIP, phone technology. Incoming client calls are placed in a "queue" managed by a computer, then forwarded to the next available intake worker in any of the three offices.

LawLine can be contacted by calling toll-free 866-LeglAid (534-5243) or a local VLAS office. The line is open Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 9 AM until 3:30 PM, with Wednesdays reserved for training and other work. At any time, callers can listen to recorded messages with legal information on a variety of topics. More legal information can also be found at www.vlas.org or www.VaLegalAid.org .

LawLine is financially assisted by grants from the Virginia Law Foundation in Richmond and the Beazley Foundation in Portsmouth.

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