Volunteer Lawyers
for the Poor Foundation

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

COURT COSTS, REIMBURSEMENT, AND REDUCED FEES

Q: Does VLP pay or reimburse litigation expenses?

Yes. If the client does not have the ability to pay litigation expenses, the VLP may reimburse or advance those expenses on the client’s behalf. Covered expenses may include, subject to prior approval by VLP, deposition or transcript costs, expert fees, and investigations or reports.

Q: How much can VLP pay toward litigation expenses?

Prior to incurring an expense for which you will seek reimbursement, contact the VLP team. The VLP must approve all expenses. Once the VLP approves an expense, you may direct your payment request us. Payment requests must include an itemization of expenses and receipts for any bills already paid. If a client receives a money award as the result of the VLP case, the client is expected to repay expenses incurred during his/her case. Again, please contact the VLP team in situations where the VLP should consider an exception.

Q: Does VLP pay court costs?

No. In most cases, VLP clients are eligible for waiver of court costs, including filing fees.

Clients with income at/below 187.5% of the Federal Poverty Level and expenses at/above their income are eligible for Ohio’s mandatory court costs waiver, per R.C. 2323.311(B)(4). To calculate a client’s FPL, visit https://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty-guidelines. To secure a mandatory court costs waiver, file a Fee Waiver/Affidavit of Indigency. If the Court denies a mandatory waiver, please contact the VLP immediately.

Clients who do not meet the criteria for a mandatory court costs waiver may receive a discretionary waiver. To request a discretionary court costs waiver, file a Fee Waiver/Affidavit of Indigency and Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis.

If the Court denies a discretionary waiver, advise the client of his/her responsibility for costs. If the client cannot pay court costs, contact the VLP. The VLP may pay, subject to possible repayment by the client. Note: The VLP does not ordinarily pay fees to initiate administrative proceedings.

Q: How can I help my client get their court costs waived?

Clients with income at/below 187.5% of the Federal Poverty Level and expenses at/above their income are eligible for Ohio’s mandatory court costs waiver, per R.C. 2323.311(B)(4). To calculate a client’s FPL, visit https://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty-guidelines. To secure a mandatory court costs waiver, file a Fee Waiver/Affidavit of Indigency. If the Court denies a mandatory waiver, please contact the VLP immediately.

Q: What can I do if my client’s income is above 187.5% of the Federal Poverty Level but they still cannot afford court costs?

Clients who do not meet the criteria for a mandatory court costs waiver may receive a discretionary waiver. To request a discretionary court costs waiver, file a Fee Waiver/Affidavit of Indigency and Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis. If the Court denies a discretionary waiver, advise the client of his/her responsibility for costs. If the client cannot pay court costs, contact the VLP. The VLP may pay, subject to possible repayment by the client. Note: The VLP does not ordinarily pay fees to initiate administrative proceedings.

Q: If my pro bono case generates attorneys fees, is it still a VLP pro bono case?

Yes. While the VLP expects you to represent VLP clients on a pro bono or “reduced fee” basis, there is an exception. A volunteer attorney may collect a fee from the opposing party. If the attorney believes fees are collectable, the attorney and client should enter into a separate representation agreement covering those fees.

Q: If the case referred to me is the kind of case I’d accept on a contingency basis, can I enter into a contingency fee representation with the client?

Yes. Our main goal is always for the clients to find representation at no cost. If a volunteer attorney wishes to accept a VLP referral on a contingency basis, the volunteer must notify the VLP. The volunteer attorney and client then enter into a private representation agreement and VLP will close the referral. The volunteer cannot receive VLP reimbursement for expenses nor be covered by the VLP Legal Malpractice Policy.

Q: When are reduced fees available to volunteer lawyers?

Upon request, the VLP will pay a reduced fee to an active volunteer. The volunteer may not charge the client; the reduced fee is paid by the VLP. The VLP’s reduced fee rates vary by type of legal matter. Click here to see the reduced fee schedule. To receive your first reduced fee payment, email a W-9 form to the VLP Managing Attorney. Please note, you cannot receive CLE credit for a “reduced fee” case.

Q: If my pro bono case generates attorneys fees, is it still a VLP pro bono case?

We consider a volunteer “active” when, in a calendar year, they have:

  1. accepted two pro bono cases;
  2. led one uncontested divorce clinic; OR
  3. served four, 2-hr. shifts at one of our brief advice clinics.

CLE CREDIT FOR YOUR PRO BONO WORK

Q: Can I receive pro bono CLE credit for a reduced fee case?

No. Even though VLP considers “reduced fee” cases to be pro bono work, the Supreme Court of Ohio does not allow you to receive CLE credit for a case where VLP pays you a reduced fee. 

Q: Can volunteer lawyers receive CLE credit for pro bono work?

Yes. Lawyers may receive 1 hour of CLE for every 6 hours of pro bono legal service they perform. Lawyers must apply for CLE credit the same year they worked those pro bono hours, regardless of when their biennial reporting deadline is. Lawyers may receive up to a maximum of 6 CLE hours in a biennial compliance period. For more details, visit the Supreme Court of Ohio website on pro bono CLE credit: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/AttySvcs/CLE/proBono/default.asp

Q: What counts as "pro bono"?

For CLE purposes, “pro bono” means legal service provided by a lawyer to a client of limited means, when that client’s case has been assigned by an organization recognized by the Supreme Court of Ohio CLE Commission. VLP is recognized by the Commission.

Q: Who is responsible for submitting my application for pro bono CLE credit?

Volunteer lawyers are responsible for requesting CLE credit from VLP. If VLP receives a request from a volunteer lawyer, VLP is responsible for submitting the attorney’s CLE credits to the Ohio Supreme Court CLE Commission.

Q: How do I apply to get CLE credit for my pro bono hours of work?

To receive CLE Credit for time spent on one or more VLP cases, please:

  1. submit a record of your time (for this calendar year only) to VLP
  2. complete and send Form 23, Part 1 to VLP

VLP will complete Part II of Form 23, calculate the number of CLE Credit hours to which you are entitled, and submit to the CLE Commission.

PROFESSIONAL SUPPORT FOR VOLUNTEERS

Q: I work from home – how do I meet my client?

For work that cannot be conducted by email or phone, volunteers may use Legal Aid meeting space. Volunteers may contact VLP to reserve Legal Aid conference rooms to meet with their clients.

Q: I do not carry malpractice insurance (ex: new or retired attorney). Is my pro bono work covered?

The VLP’s Legal Malpractice Policy covers all volunteers while they work on a case referred by the VLP. If you completed a case and wish to perform additional work for the same client, please notify VLP. We can assign the additional work to you. Otherwise, our policy will not cover your subsequent work for that client.

Q: How can I get training to be more comfortable with my pro bono cases?

VLP offers periodic training to volunteers and an annual CLE which is free for our active volunteers. Check our News & Events page for upcoming trainings, or contact the VLP team to be connected to an experienced Legal Aid attorney or fellow VLP volunteer attorney with expertise in the area of law at issue.

ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP

Q: Is the client referred to me… my client?

Yes. The pro bono nature of your work does not change the attorney-client relationship. However, since some of VLP’s funding comes from the Legal Services Corporation, VLP is required to ask for case updates and closing outcomes. VLP sends an “Acknowledgment of Referral” form to each client, and the client agrees that their attorney can share information about their case with VLP.

Q: What if I can’t reach the client VLP referred to me?

Sometimes it can be challenging to reach low-income clients. They may run out of minutes on their cell phone plans; they may have limited data and unreliable internet access; and they are more likely to experience delays or interruptions in mail service. Please try contacting your client via multiple methods (call, text, email, mail) and communicating a generous deadline for them to reach out to you. If you have not made contact by that deadline, please indicate “no client contact” on the VLP Closing/Update Form and return to VLP.

Q: What are some alternative ways to contact my client?

Even if their cell phone is out of minutes, a client may still be able to text. Try texting the client so they know you are trying to reach them. The client will likely be able to make arrangements to call you on another phone line. You don’t have to text from your personal cell. See these easy instructions on how to “text” a cell phone by sending an email.

Q: What if my client doesn’t have transportation to my office or to court?

Lack of reliable transportation is problem for low-income clients in our urban and rural service areas. If a client knows transportation to your office or to court will be an issue, please contact a member of the VLP team. There may be alternative options (video technology, a central meeting space). If not, VLP may be able to refund the cost of ordering a rideshare service for the client. Transportation should never be a barrier to legal services.

LIFE OF A VLP CASE

Q: Where do VLP referrals come from?

Legal Aid receives calls from people seeking legal assistance. Legal Aid sends certain cases to the VLP for referral to a volunteer attorney. A VLP team member reviews the case; calls the client again, if necessary; and writes a referral summarizing the essential facts as told to us by the client. VLP reviews our roster and identifies an attorney who has volunteered to take a case in that particular legal area. VLP emails a volunteer the referral information and any pertinent documents we may have.

Q: Do I have to take every referral VLP sends me?

Within 48 hours of receiving the referral, please let us know whether you are able to take the case. Until we hear back from you, we are not searching for another attorney. Time is sometimes of the essence. It is fine if you cannot accept a particular referral; the most important thing is that you let us know one way or the other. Case acceptance means you agree to investigate the facts and research the legal issues.

Q: What if I determine the client has no viable defenses or claims?

If, after investigating and researching, you determine the case has no merit, please explain your assessment to the client. Your counsel and advice is a valuable service to the client.

Q: Can I contact VLP for help with my pro bono case?

Absolutely! VLP can provide training materials, samples and templates for most types of referrals. We can answer your questions about court costs and litigation expenses. And VLP can connect you to an experienced Legal Aid attorney or fellow VLP volunteer attorney with expertise in the area of law at issue. Please contact the VLP or the Legal Aid attorney listed on your case referral summary for substantive back up support.

Q: What does VLP need to know while my casework is ongoing?

While your casework is ongoing, please provide a brief (one to two sentences) quarterly update to the VLP Managing Attorney via email or the VLP Closing/Update Form.

Q: What should I do when I close the case?

Once your casework or representation ends (for any reason, including no contact from client), complete and return the Closing/Update Form. Include your time spent on the case and a brief (one to two sentences) description of the outcome of your representation. VLP is required to track your donated pro bono hours and your case outcomes. Return the form within 30 days of closing.

Volunteer Lawyers for the Poor Foundation

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