Free Online Answers for Civil Cases

The following is an excerpt from Susan Essoyan’s “Site Offers Free Advice for Needy Isle Residents Involved in Civil Cases” (Star-Advertiser, 12 Nov. 2016). For the full article, go to the Star-Advertiser site.

People who can’t afford a lawyer can now reach out to get free advice on civil legal issues — from child custody to debt collection disputes — via the new Hawaii Online Pro Bono Portal.

Michelle Acosta

Michelle Acosta

“It’s available at their fingertips,” said Michelle Acosta, executive director of the nonprofit Volunteer Legal Services Hawaii, which runs the site. “You can pose a question and it looks exactly like an email. A volunteer attorney provides an answer. You can go back and forth.”

The site, which went live Oct. 24, is the latest move in a concerted campaign to push open the door to justice for needy folks in Hawaii, a broad-based effort that has earned Hawaii national recognition.

The Aloha State placed third on the 2016 Justice Index issued by the National Access to Justice Center, which ranks states and the District of Columbia on their efforts to promote justice for all, regardless of economic status, language or disability.

“It represents a lot of hard work by an awful lot of people to get us to this point in Hawaii,” Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald said last month at the Hawaii Justice Foundation’s annual meeting. “We have made great strides under the leadership of our Access to Justice Commission.”

The commission was formed in 2008 in the wake of a report that found that only one in five low- and moderate-income people get their civil legal needs met. While the right to a lawyer is guaranteed in criminal cases, that’s not the case in civil disputes, despite the high stakes at times, from losing a home to custody of a child.

The new secure website, hawaii.freelegalanswers.org, allows people with limited incomes [income and asset restrictions apply] to pose questions on civil cases, whenever and wherever they have internet access. Most of the questions coming in so far deal with consumer debt collection and family-law issues such as divorce and child support, Acosta said.

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