Providing Pro Bono Services While Practicing Social Distancing Could Not Be Easier

By Anthony P. DeRosa

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect hundreds of thousands of individuals in North Carolina, the need for attorneys to engage in pro bono legal services is even greater than before.  The North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center provides a number of legal resources for pro bono attorneys to ensure that those impacted by COVID-19 have access to appropriate legal services. For those of us who want to provide pro bono services, while still practicing social distancing, Legal Aid of North Carolina and the North Carolina Bar Foundation offer two great programs that allow attorneys to provide remote pro bono services from their own home: Lawyer on the Line and NC Free Legal Answers.

Lawyer on the Line: through Legal Aid of North Carolinas Lawyer on the Line Program, clients receive answers to legal questions over the course of just one or two phone calls, and the advice provided during these calls informs the client’s decision on how to proceed pro se. Lawyer on the Line cases typically take about an hour of the attorney’s time, though it can vary depending on the area of law and complexity of the issue. Attorneys control how often they will receive Lawyer on the Line referrals and their level of involvement in each case.

NC Free Legal Answers: NC Free Legal Answers, offered by the North Carolina Bar Foundation, is a web-based portal serving as a virtual legal advice clinic for attorneys to anonymously answer civil legal questions posted by financially eligible users. Attorney volunteers are able to filter the questions by legal topics, which allows the volunteers to focus on client questions that match their practice area of interest and eliminates the need to learn an unfamiliar area of law. Volunteers can preview a question, see the full question, and decide to answer the question or send it back to the queue. Attorney volunteers can choose to answer the question later and take up to three days to form a response before the question automatically bounces back to the queue.

For intellectual property (IP) attorneys who feel more comfortable providing pro bono legal services within their specialized area of law, a couple of IP-related pro bono programs include the North Carolina Bar Foundation’s NC LEAP program and INTA’s Pro Bono Clearinghouse program.

NC LEAP: The North Carolina Lawyers for Entrepreneurs Assistance Program (LEAP) provides services to low-wealth entrepreneurs by assisting small business owners through education and legal representation before the United States Patent and Trademark Office. In collaboration with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, NC LEAP has expanded its scope of services to include a regional Inventor Assistance Program (IAP). IAP is designed to help qualified inventors and small businesses in North Carolina gain pro bono access to the services of registered patent professionals.

INTA’s Pro Bono Clearinghouse: The Pro Bono Clearinghouse program matches eligible clients facing trademark issues with INTA member attorneys so that legal services can be provided free of charge. The clearinghouse is intended to serve low-income individuals, small to medium enterprises, and nonprofit or charitable organizations with low operating budgets (1) who might otherwise not know where to turn or (2) who do not have access to legal assistance in the area of trademarks.  This clearinghouse is the only one currently in existence that is dedicated primarily to trademarks.