Free legal services provide opportunity for advice, classes |

Free legal services provide opportunity for advice, classes

by Natalia Vander Laan

Two pro bono services, the Lawyer in the Lobby program provided by Volunteer Attorneys for Rural Nevada and the Ask-a-Lawyer program provided by Nevada Legal Services, offer free legal clinics to the community where attendees have the opportunity to consult one-on-one with pro bono attorneys for legal advice regarding civil cases, such as family law and general law, and assistance with legal forms.

A colleague best described these clinics as a combination of the Bar exam and speed dating because the attorneys encounter varying complicated legal issues that must be addressed within the limited time available during each appointment before assisting the next attendee. For example, Lawyer in the Lobby appointments are restricted to 20 minutes. Consequently, for attendees to be able to effectively communicate the case and for the attorney to provide beneficial legal advice, it is imperative that attendees thoroughly prepare before attending the clinics. As a participating pro bono attorney in both of these programs, here are my recommendations for attendees to follow before the appointment to get the most out of their limited time.

Know Your Case: The attendee’s case may be pending for months or years making it difficult for the attorney to review the documents and to become familiar with the case within the allotted time. As a general rule, the more time the attorney spends reviewing documents to develop a general idea of the case, the less time is available for the attorney to advise the attendee on the case itself. Therefore, it is important that the attendee be able to outline the chronology of the case, is familiar with the documents filed in the case, knows the content of any orders issued by the court in the case, and is able to explain the main issues of the case.

Bring Documents: It may be difficult for the attorney to render legal advice based on the attendee’s recollection or summary of a motion, order, or even a letter. Any and all documents filed or issued in the case should be brought to the appointment to help the attorney gain more insight about the case. The documents should be organized in such a manner that any document be readily retrievable if requested by the attorney.

Write Down Questions and Concerns: New, unfamiliar, and important information is disseminated during the appointment which can cause questions and concerns that the attendee had going into the appointment to be forgotten or misconstrued. Therefore, prior to the appointment, the attendee should brainstorm and write down any and all questions and concerns they would like addressed by the attorney.

Be Mindful: Having the attorney fill out information on legal forms that the attendee was capable of doing prior to the appointment reduces the time available for the attorney to address the actual legal portions of forms. To benefit the most from an appointment regarding legal forms, the attendee should have certain information filled out prior to the appointment, such as any names, addresses, or the personal information of any parties to the case.

In conclusion, help the pro bono attorney help you by being thoroughly prepared for your appointment.

To learn more about times and locations of Lawyer in the Lobby or to sign up for an appointment, visit VARN online at or call 775-883-8278; for Ask-a-Lawyer, visit NLS online at or call 775-883-0404.

Natalia Vander Laan is a Carson Valley attorney