Dial-A-Lawyer Day: Mass. Bar Connects Lawyers With Public for Free Legal Advice
Massachusetts Bar Association members have packed schedules, but they still want to give back to the community. So the organization created the Dial-A-Lawyer program to let them do just that.
Associations often have the ability to find unique volunteer opportunities for their members in their local communities. The Massachusetts Bar Association (MBA) knows this, so for the last two decades the group has put its members’ skills, and eagerness to give back, to good use.
The biannual Western Massachusetts Dial-A-Lawyer event, which takes place this Wednesday, brings together 20 to 30 lawyers who will spend three hours in the evening fielding phone calls from local residents who need legal advice on a variety of issues. The calls (and advice) are free of charge. A spinoff of a monthly Dial-A-Lawyer event in Boston—also organized by MBA—the program sees, on average, several hundred residents call in with questions.
“The attorneys are kept quite busy,” said Elizabeth O’Neil, director of community and public services for MBA. “People will call on assorted issues, family-law related, divorce, support- and custody-related, bankruptcy, real estate, mortgage, foreclosure—usually the things that are happening in the world are what people are calling about.”
Besides their willingness to help out in the community, the draw for members who participate is the ability to provide legal assistance to people who might not otherwise ever reach out to a lawyer, O’Neil said.
“A lot of times, people are uncertain whether or not they need legal assistance, and I think the general public doesn’t really want to bother attorneys unless they think they have an issue,” she said. “From the attorneys’ perspective, they can either point them in the right direction or say, ‘Yes, you do have a legal issue, and here are some options for you.’ They really feel like they can do a lot in that short period of time.”
And for MBA, the event fits right into one the organization’s missions: to provide public service. “We know that there is a huge need and unmet legal services out there, and this is the way the association can give back to the community, by putting the attorneys and the public together,” said O’Neil.
Throughout the year, and as crises and other tragedies arise—the Boston Marathon bombing, for example—MBA opens its doors to provide pro bono services to those who need them most. For other groups, finding similar ways to give back is just a matter of understanding your members, O’Neil explained.
“As an association, you need to figure out in what kinds of ways your members are interested in getting involved, what they want to provide, and then match that up with their skillset—for us, being lawyers, their main commodity is legal services,” she said. “From there, it’s all about coordination and meeting the demands of their busy schedules. But when it comes down to it, if it’s something that really matters to them, they’ll find the time because they’re helping themselves and they’re giving back to the community. That’s a win-win for everybody.”