Buck Lewis is a Partner in the law firm of Baker Donelson and has dedicated his time and effort to access to justice issues and improving the legal profession and the justice system.
Category of Humanitarian Benefit: Knowledge Sharing
He served as president of the Tennessee Bar Association, president of the Tennessee Legal Community Foundation and was appointed by the Tennessee Supreme Court to chair the Tennessee Access to Justice Commission. In 2013, and again in 2019, Mr. Lewis received an American Bar Association President’s Citation for his work on equal access to justice. Mr. Lewis’s 2019 ABA Presidential Citation followed three years of his service as chair of the ABA Pro Bono and Public Service Committee, during which time he was instrumental in the launch of the ABA’s national pro bono website, FreeLegalAnswers.org.
Project Name and Description
For a nation with one of the world’s highest concentrations of lawyers, the United States does a poor job of meeting the civil legal needs of low-income families. A full 71 percent of America’s most vulnerable households reported at least one civil legal problem in the past 12 months but 86 percent of those had no legal assistance in these matters, which involve basic human needs such as shelter, sustenance, safety, health and child custody.
freelegalanswers.org is a groundbreaking platform that connects lawyers who want an easy and simple way to perform pro bono services with needy clients who have legal questions they need answered. Free Legal Answers operates as a virtual legal advice clinic. Qualifying users post their civil legal question to their state’s website. Users will then be emailed when their question receives a response. Attorney volunteers, who must be authorized to provide pro bono assistance in their state, log in to the website, select questions to answer, and provide legal information and advice.
Lawyers provide information and basic legal advice without any expectation of long-term representation. The purpose of the website is to increase access to advice and information about non-criminal legal matters to those who cannot afford it. There is no fee for the use of the system or for the advice and information provided by the lawyer.
Instead of requiring clients and lawyers to meet en masse at a legal aid clinic in person in a church basement or a bar office, the platform makes it easy for clients to get help and lawyers to provide answers in their free time.
Buck Lewis was the driving force behind the program. He started it in the state of Tennessee first and personally oversaw the software development at Software developers at Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz PC in Memphis, Tenn.
From its humble beginnings in the state of Tennessee Free Legal Answers has seen explosive growth. It is now in use in 41 states and in Great Britain and Australia. In 2018 alone 5,300 lawyers contributed their time and expertise through the platform. those lawyers answered over 58,000 questions! Prosocial Valuation estimated that Free Legal Answers generated over $7.3 MILLION dollars in value in 2018.
Here’s what on grateful client said about the service: “I am frankly astonished at the clear, concise, and very thorough response that I received from [the attorney]. I now understand the depth and specificity of the information that I should provide for my specific need. I could not be more grateful. Whether or not I am successful in my aim, I know that I am now on track to make the best case for myself possible, and I am certain that I would not have done so without [the lawyer’s] very practical suggestions and questions for me to consider. Again, I am very grateful to him and for your service in general.”
The platform has also been adapted to allow lawyers to work with the Red Cross and other disaster relief organizations to provide immediate and fast legal services to clients in disaster areas. In 2018, disaster legal services were provided on the following state sites: Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.
For a full accounting on the spectacular impact of Free Legal Answers, see either or both of these reports: https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/probono_public_service/abafree/afla-prosocial-valuation.pdf