Free legal help line in Alaska expects lots of pandemic related questions this year

The Alaska Legal Services Corporation, Alaska Court System and Alaska Bar Association will have a free legal clinic on Monday, Jan. 18. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Because of COVID-19, this year’s free legal clinic for Alaskans will be done differently and it will likely tackle issues related to the pandemic.

The MLK Free Legal Help Day event on Monday is organized by the Alaska Legal Services Corporation, Alaska Court System and Alaska Bar Association. The event is for low- or moderate-income Alaskans who cannot afford to hire lawyers.

“Volunteer service, while it’s important year-round, as a nation we come together on MLK Day as a day on, not a day off. And the (Alaska Bar Association) feels that it’s important for us to participate,” said Krista Scully, pro bono director with the Alaska Bar Association.

In the last 11 years, lawyers might answer questions in person at the local courthouse. Not this year.

Scully says this time, they are using a statewide call center. Volunteer lawyers will answer calls about civil issues like family law, public assistance, employment law, probate, estate planning and landlord-tenant issues. They may also refer people to another agency that can better help them with their problems.

“What tends to be one of the most difficult issues are for people to just navigate a system that they’re not familiar with. And lawyers are so well suited for listening, and then untangling what it looks like to move forward on something that feels incredibly overwhelming to a person,” Scully said.

Ben Hofmeister, president of the Alaska Bar Association, expects to hear from Alaskans who can’t pay their rent because they lost their job during the pandemic.

“I would imagine this year, there’s going to be a lot of questions about housing. That’ll probably be a big issue, given what’s been going on with evictions and eviction moratoriums over the last year,” Hofmeister said.

The MLK Free Legal Help Day runs from noon to 4 p.m. on Monday. The call center number is 844-263-1849.

Scully says they’ll have a limited number of volunteer lawyers standing by and she asks Alaskans to be patient when dialing in. Volunteers won’t be able to answer any questions about criminal cases.

In addition to Monday’s clinic, there is a virtual legal clinic in which any Alaskan can log in and ask volunteer lawyers questions about civil issues. Scully says the website will stay up all year round.