By Tom Jarvis

This month marks the five-year anniversary of the Free Legal Answers (FLA) program launching in the Granite State. There are currently more than 100 attorneys in eight counties across the state who volunteer for the program. Since launching in New Hampshire in March 2019, participants have answered 2,258 of 3,255 questions asked, which translates to a 69 percent answer rate.

FLA is a virtual legal advice clinic, administered by the American Bar Association (ABA), in which eligible users post non-criminal legal questions to be answered by volunteer attorneys at no cost. To qualify, an asker must fill out a financial application to show their income is zero to 250 percent of the national poverty level. They also need to provide their name and, if applicable, the opposing party’s name, for a conflict check. Once their question is posted, a volunteer attorney will provide anonymous advice via the online portal. If their question remains unanswered for more than 35 days, it is withdrawn, and they receive an email with additional resources such as LawLine.

“It’s a quick, easy way to help somebody who needs help and doesn’t know where to go to get it,” says attorney Martha Davidson, who was named a Pro Bono Leader by the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service (the Committee) for answering more than 50 questions in 2023. “It’s sort of a jumping off point where you’re usually telling people the next step to take like, ‘This is who you need to contact. This is the next thing you need to do.’ Sometimes my job is to tell them they don’t have a case. But the best part about it is that you can legitimately help somebody and it’s very quick and very easy.”

Two other New Hampshire attorneys, Tony Soltani and L. Phillips Runyon, received the same honor for answering more than 50 questions in 2023.

“I wasn’t going for an award but it’s something that is so easy and convenient to do that I’m not sure why everyone doesn’t do it,” says Runyon, a solo attorney who served as an 8th Circuit Court judge for 27 years. “It’s easy in that you pick subjects that you know something about. Often, just a few sentences are all it really takes to give somebody some help in the right direction. If you can’t answer the question specifically, you can usually tell them where to go to get it – or give them some input that gets them on the right track. I answer a question or two nearly every day and it never takes more than 10 or 15 minutes at most to answer one of these things. And I don’t have to leave the office. It’s very convenient. It takes nothing away from your day’s normal work and yet you can make a huge difference to the people that you’re responding to. So, it’s a win-win.”

Soltani says that helping people on FLA is very convenient and rewarding.

“You can do it at anytime, anywhere, even if you’re waiting for your case to be called in court or you have some downtime at the office during the day,” Soltani says. “All of us have downtime and this gives us several opportunities to answer questions. It’s very rewarding knowing you have helped someone, your knowledge has been put to work in a very convenient and automated way, and there is no commitment to continue to represent the client. If you have only spots of time and you want to do some good and give back to your community, this is the best mechanism.”

Launched in 2016 by the ABA, FLA was modeled after a Tennessee website called Online TN Justice (created in 2011 as a web-based pro bono clinic for low-income Tennesseans), which was the brainchild of Tennessee Access to Justice Chair George “Buck” Lewis, a shareholder of the national law firm, Baker Donelson. In partnership with the ABA, the site’s code was rewritten in 2016 to become a national site and the IT department of Baker Donelson continues to help maintain the site to this day.

According to the ABA’s January 2024 Free Legal Answers Program Report, FLA is now available in 43 states and territories, and since its launch eight years ago, 13,550 volunteer attorneys have registered and 336,464 questions have been responded to in those locations.

Bringing FLA to New Hampshire in 2019 was a bit of a challenge at first due to an existing ethical rule regarding limited-scope representation being only a one-time meeting. As questions sometimes require follow-up in the FLA portal, this posed a problem.

      “Our Rule 6.5 regarding one-time transfers really kind of limited what we would be able to do,” says attorney Rory Parnell, who was on the New Hampshire Pro Bono Referral Program Board of Directors at the time. “The original rule made it difficult if someone asked a follow-up question whether a lawyer can answer that. There was a push on our end to modify Rule 6.5 because it involves one-time consultations. The Supreme Court, through a very thorough process both with the NHBA Pro Bono Referral Program and the New Hampshire Ethics Committee, allowed the modification of the rule to allow follow-up to one-time consultations. They really worked hard to make sure that the rule was written in a way that both protected lawyers and allowed people to volunteer.”

After the 603 Legal Aid merger in 2021, the NHBA Lawyer Referral Service (LRS) took over the administration of the FLA program for New Hampshire. LRS Committee Chair Kate Morneau says there were very few concerns about FLA when she first began using it.

“The fact that the American Bar Association backed it – it wasn’t like some rogue program; it had been vetted by a national organization – and the fact that so many other states were participating in it, left very few concerns on my part,” she says. “Everything is very anonymous, and once you get in there it’s actually really enjoyable and fun. There are a lot of very generic and easy-to-answer questions like, ‘My ex is late on child support, what do I do?’ You send them some resources, send them to the court’s website, or point them in the direction to file a petition. It’s just about as easy as it gets. Our intern could answer a lot of these questions. It’s that basic.”

Parnell says his office sets aside time every Friday to answer questions on the FLA portal.

“We have a Free Legal Answer Friday where in the morning before we get started, we try to answer one or two or three questions – provided our schedules allow it,” he says, adding that it’s also a great way for new lawyers to help low-income Granite Staters. “One of the things that I think it does for young attorneys is it gives them an opportunity to get involved and not have the same time commitment that it would be with a full representation pro bono commitment. A lot of young associates have minimum hours they must bill, and they have restrictions on what cases they can and can’t take. So, if they spend 30 hours on a few pro bono cases that may impact them in a negative way.”

As an associate at her firm, Davidson agrees.

“I became an attorney because I wanted to help people, but I have to make a living, too,” she says. “And I must justify my existence at my firm. I need to be doing billable time. I’ve always been an associate at a firm and as such, my hands are a little tied as to what I’m allowed to do free for people. So, Free Legal Answers is a great opportunity for me to do something to help people for free without getting overly involved in a case, which I think is great on both ends for the potential clients and the attorneys.”

The ABA also provides malpractice insurance for volunteer attorneys who answer questions through the FLA portal.

The top three categories of questions are family law at 39 percent, housing and property owned at 31 percent, and debts and purchases at nine percent. There are also several other categories, including employment and unemployment, wills and inheritance, taxes and IRS, personal injury, special education, and more.

In 2023, New Hampshire volunteers answered 520 out of 855 questions, which is an answer rate of 61 percent. To help bring that percentage higher by providing quick, easy, and anonymous advice to low-income Granite Staters at your convenience and from any location, become a volunteer today by visiting

In March 2019, former NHBA Legal Services Director Virginia Martin wrote an article to announce the implementation of Free Legal Answers in New Hampshire.