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Maine residents who have legal questions about how they are being impacted by the coronavirus pandemic can get free answers from the website, maine.freelegalanswers.org, staffed by the Volunteer Lawyers Project.
The website, created by the American Bar Association, has been available in Maine for about four years, according to Beth Richardson, who recruits lawyers for the project.
Ordinarily, the project operates family law clinics where people meet with attorneys in person in 10 courthouses around the state. Those clinics have been suspended during the epidemic.
Recent changes to income guidelines because of high unemployment make the website available to just about anyone during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There are scared folks out there dealing with things they just don’t understand,” Richardson said. “We want them to know there is free help.”
More than 160 lawyers in Maine have volunteered to answer questions about civil legal matters by email. These attorneys do not represent people in court but give individuals advice on how to proceed on their own.
The majority of people’s questions fall into four categories — family law, housing, unemployment and debt/bankruptcy, Richardson said.
The number of questions being asked through the website has increased steadily since Gov. Janet Mills in late March ordered that all non-essential businesses close and Mainers to stay home. As a result of that, unemployment has surged to unprecedented levels.
Last year, the site averaged 24 questions per week, according to Richardson. During the third week of March, 37 questions were submitted and answered. By last week, the number of questions asked had risen to 46.
Richardson said that in the last month, lawyers have answered questions about divorce and custody arrangements, possible eviction and mortgage payments, unemployment and MaineCare benefits and debt consolidation and whether to file for bankruptcy.
People who feel they need legal representation for upcoming court appearances may call the Volunteer Lawyers Project in northern Maine between 9 a.m. and noon on Fridays at 888-956-4276. People living in southern Maine may call 800-442-4293 between 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. on Mondays.
Watch: Nirav Shah talks about the impact of coronavirus on rural Maine