Frequently Asked Questions – What You Need to Know

Q: What is the Virtual Legal Services Program?

A: The Virtual Pro Bono Legal Services Program connects volunteer attorneys with community members to provide a free 20-minute limited scope consultation over a range of topics.

Q: Who is presently a partner to this Program?

A: The development of the Virtual Pro Bono Clinic was made possible through the support of our Founding Partners: Fenwick & West, DLA Piper, Cisco Systems and the Pro Bono Project, in addition to our other supporting partners Baker Botts, Detati Communications, Duane Morris, Haynes & Boones, I.O.L.T.A., Ko Sharper Foundation, Lenovo, Paragon Legal, The Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich, & Rosati Foundation, Winston & Strawn, and Xerox.

Q: How does the program work?

A: The volunteer attorney and the community member will meet online via WebEx, a video conferencing program. The community member will be in a private room at one of our Virtual Clinic locations, such as at the Morgan Hill Library or the Santa Clara County Bar Association. The volunteer attorney and the community member will use WebEx to meet “face-to-face” and Google Drive to exchange documents over the internet.

Q: Do I or the community member need to provide our own computers?

A: All the necessary hardware for the community member is provided by the Pro Bono Project which includes a laptop, a webcam, and a multi-function printer/scanner. The volunteer attorney needs only a computer with a webcam and internet connection to meet with the community member virtually.

Q: Can I view and exchange documents with the community member?

A: Yes, the community member uses the scanner that automatically uploads the community member’s documents to the shared Google Drive, which the attorney has access to. Likewise, the attorney can use WebEx to print documents directly to the community member’s printer.

Q: Is there training provided?

A: Yes, the Pro Bono Project provides training on the following topics that commonly arise at the Virtual Clinics:

  • Family
  • Civil Litigation
  • Immigration
  • Small Claims
  • Employment
  • Real Estate
  • Consumer
  • Debt Relief

Training videos are available.

Q: Do I offer legal advice?

A: Yes, you offer legal advice directly to a community member. You will be trained in the general nature of the legal advice sought in advance of your virtual clinic as the community member will complete a short intake form on which they will indicate the nature of their question. The Virtual Clinic is advice only, and you will not enter into representation of the community member.

Q: Do I represent the community member once the session is over?

A: No. Each appointment during the Virtual Clinic sessions lasts only twenty minutes. The purpose is to offer legal advice, not provide legal representation. Given the nature of the Virtual Clinic as an advice clinic, the scope of questions are relegated to general legal advice and not to questions related to actual legal representation. In the future, the Virtual Services Program plans also to offer community members limited scope representation with pro bono attorneys.

Q: Do I need to have experience in the field?

A: No, you simply need to be licensed to practice law in California and willing to help and willing to learn. Many issues that routinely arise in the Virtual Clinics are covered in the free online training provided by the Pro Bono Project.

Q: What if I cannot answer a question?

A: There are several resources available to our volunteer attorneys to help them understand and respond to inquiries about the general area of law the community member is seeking help with. However, even experienced attorneys with ample training cannot answer every question a community member may have.

Volunteer attorneys are encouraged and expected to use the reference lists provided with the online training to refer community members to organizations or other attorneys who can further assist them. The volunteer attorney may also may the supervising attorney from Pro Bono Project if there is another Virtual Clinic that may be more suited to the community members’ needs (the community member may have legal questions about other areas of law that were not disclosed on their initial intake) and have them sign up for the appropriate Virtual Clinic.

Q: Is there a supervising attorney available to help me out?

Yes, there is a supervising attorney from the Pro Bono Clinic overseeing every Virtual Clinic. The volunteer attorney can chat privately with the supervising attorney (via WebEx) and ask questions. Both attorneys have access to the internet and available legal research tools to help find answers to an unresolved question or referrals to additional service providers.

Q: Do I need malpractice insurance?

A: No, when participating in the Virtual Clinic volunteer attorneys are covered under the Pro Bono Project’s malpractice insurance. This includes any legal advice given through the Virtual Clinic and does not include actual representation of the community member outside of the Virtual Clinic.

Q: Can I get M.C.L.E. credit for my training?

A: We currently do not offer M.C.L.E. credit for our training.  However, as our training develops we will likely seek accreditation in the near future.

Q: Tell me a bit about the community members receiving services?

A: The Virtual Clinic has hubs located at partner sites throughout Santa Clara County. These sites, such as the Morgan Hill Library and the Santa Clara County Bar Association, advertise the Virtual Clinic and make appointments for community members needing legal help.

Q: How can I volunteer?

A: Attorneys can volunteer by signup up for a virtual clinic on our webpage here volunteering. Interested attorneys with nay additional questions can contact Cameron Day, Program Manager of the Virtual Legal Services Program at the Pro Bono Project. Cameron can be reached via phone at (408) 998-5298 ext. 367 or via e-mail at cday@probonoproject.org.

Q: How long is my volunteer commitment?

A: There is no minimum commitment required, but we ask our volunteer attorneys to pledge to staff three Virtual Clinics. Each Virtual Clinic lasts for two hours which consists of four 20-minute community member sessions. Before volunteer attorneys begin to offer legal advice they must be adequately trained in the relevant area of law which will require some additional pro bono time. We will work with our volunteer attorneys to find the right clinic that works both with their schedule and their familiarity of various areas of law.

Q: Can I work in a team?

A: Yes, you can work as a team. The Virtual Clinics are set up to be one-on-one meetings between the volunteer attorney and the community member. However, a supervising attorney from the Pro Bono Project will always be overseeing the Virtual Clinic and is available via private chat during the session. Also, volunteer attorneys may have another volunteer attorney present on their side of the meeting. The second volunteer must also be a licensed attorney who is adequately trained and involved in the Virtual Pro Bono Clinic Program. Teaming may allow the primary volunteer attorney to offer better legal advice, particularly attorneys new to a legal advice clinic setting.

 

Making a Difference

“Mentoring volunteer attorneys and certified law students is a great experience. The energy and commitment they put into every case inspires me as well.”
Julie Saffren
, Pro Bono Project Mentor Attorney