Pro Bono Volunteer Law Program

Volunteer Law Program

Rhode Island Legal Services encourages and supports the efforts of Rhode Island attorneys to provide pro bono assistance to low income and elderly Rhode Islanders through the Volunteer Lawyer Program, and effort funded by Rhode Island Legal Services, Inc. and the RI Bar Foundation. The Volunteer Lawyer Project staff may be contacted at (401) 421-7758.


Monday - Friday, 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

What is the Volunteer Lawyer Program?

The Volunteer Lawyer Program (VLP) is a public service program of the Rhode Island Bar Association designed to help people who have low-incomes obtain legal help when they need it. Its purpose is to provide legal assistance to those who cannot obtain legal representation either on their own or through other existing agencies.

Who is Eligible?

To be eligible for assistance through the Volunteer Lawyer Program, your income must qualify under federally-determined guidelines. In addition, your legal problem must fall within certain areas of law.

How Does the VLP Work?

When you have a legal problem, call the Volunteer Lawyer Program at 421-7758 or 1-800-339-7758. You will speak with a staff member who will ask you some questions about your legal problem and your financial status. Any information you give will be held in strictest confidence. The program coordinator is fluent in both English and Spanish.

After your initial interview, the VLP staff will determine whether you are eligible to receive assistance through the program. A staff member will then contact an attorney who has expertise in handling cases such as yours. If your case is accepted, and certain requirements are fulfilled, you will be given the attorney's name and telephone number and instructed to call his/her office to arrange your first appointment.

If you are found to be eligible for VLP assistance, all services provided to you by the attorney will be free of charge. You may be required to pay court fees or other minor litigation costs. These can be discussed with your attorney.

What kind of Legal Help is Available?

The Volunteer Lawyer Program handles non-criminal civil cases, including the following areas:

  • Consumer -Housing/Landlord/ Tenant
  • Benefits -Collections
  • Bankruptcy -Guardianship
  • Special Education -Employment
  • License Registry -Family Law
  • Tort Defenses -Wills

Cases in which you are suing for a monetary award are not eligible for VLP assistance.

Who Are the VLP Attorneys?

Approximately l,000 private attorneys located throughout the state and practicing in all areas of law belong to the VLP referral panel. The panel includes members who are fluent in several languages, and who have interests in many specialty areas. All the panel attorneys donate their time to help people in need through the Volunteer Lawyer Program.

The Volunteer Lawyer Program is funded by Rhode Island Legal Services, Inc. and the RI Bar Foundation and is offered as a public service by the Rhode Island Bar Association.

The Pro Bono Collaborative

The Pro Bono Collaborative mobilizes Rhode Island law firms, law students, and community organizations to provide legal assistance within the community.

To date, six large Rhode Island firms have teamed with community-based organizations (CBOs) and School of Law students to provide legal assistance to these CBOs' clients - low-income, at-risk individuals and families.

Current projects, all of which include the pro bono services of RWU law students, are as follows:

  • Partridge Snow & Hahn LLP is providing rights education and direct legal assistance to parents of at-risk children with special education needs, through Casey Family Services and Meeting Street School. Professor Nancy Cook is the project's faculty advisor.
  • Brown Rudnick Berlack Israels LLP has been working with students to research legislation and draft legal documents to ensure R.I. affordable condominium units remain affordable. The clients for this project are Church Community Housing Corp. and Housing Network of Rhode Island. Professor Jorge Elorza is the project's faculty advisor.
  • Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge LLP is providing rights education and direct legal assistance to poor urban parents, clients of Children's Friend & Service R.I.
  • Hinckley Allen Snyder LLP has adopted three projects:
    • - Incorporating the Mariposa Center as a non-profit organization;
    • - Providing rights education and direct representation to Women's Center of R.I. clients (Professor Emily Sack is the project's faculty advisor);
    • - Providing rights education and direct representation to Institute for the Study & Practice of Nonviolence Streetworkers (Professor Andrew Horwitz is the project's faculty advisor).
  • Motley Rice LLC is working with students and the George Wiley Center staff to research, draft, and advocate for utility shut-off legislation. Professor Carl Bogus is the project's faculty advisor.
  • Adler Pollock & Sheehan P.C. is working with Rhode Island Legal Services, Inc. to help make R.I. tax code consistent with federal, thereby providing relief to the poor and elderly. Professor Anthony Santoro is the project's faculty advisor.

A History

  • May 2004: School of Law hosted the Racial Justice Colloquium, which was funded by the Rhode Island Foundation and which brought together attorneys and community representatives to focus on issues of racial justice. Primary among these issues was the dire need for pro bono legal assistance in low-income communities, and especially communities of color.
  • June 2005: School of Law published "Addressing Unmet Legal Need in Rhode Island: Barriers and Incentives to Pro Bono Participation," also funded by the R.I. Foundation, which reported findings from a voluntary survey of R.I. attorneys about contributing factors to pro bono participation.
  • June 2005: School of Law presented survey results at R.I. Bar Annual Meeting, and brought attorneys from the Pro Bono Initiative in Chicago to talk about the success of their program, which was designed to increase the availability of pro bono legal services in that state.
  • January 2006: Pro Bono Collaborative Pilot Project, supported by a generous grant from the R.I. Foundation, was launched at the School of Law's Feinstein Institute for Legal Service.
  • January 2007: Pro Bono Collaborative received additional funding from the R.I. Foundation.
  • October 2007: Pro Bono Collaborative held the first meeting of its new Advisory Board. Comprised of leaders in the legal, non-profit, and law school communities, the Advisory Board has been asked to bring ideas, wisdom, and experience to the table as the Pro Bono Collaborative continues to extend its reach into the community.

For additional information about the Pro Bono Collaborative, please contact Eliza Vorenberg, Director ( or 254-4597), or Leslie Gifford, Administrative Coordinator ( or 254-4559).

The Homeless Legal Clinic

The RI Coalition for the Homeless established The Homeless Legal Clinic (HLC) in the Spring of 1990 in an effort to address the legal needs of homeless people in Rhode Island. The HLC relies on volunteers to provide legal services to the homeless without charge. The objective of the HLC is to serve in an outreach capacity by seeking out homeless and at risk clients at RI shelters. The HLC can provide direct legal services to those who cannot afford an attorney or may be unable to travel to a legal assistance office, are unaware such services exist or may be apprehensive about visiting a lawyer's office.

The Homeless Legal Clinic Program is funded largely in part from a generous grant by the Rhode Island Bar Association and the Coalition is very appreciative of the Bar Association for their support and the volunteer attorneys without whom the Homeless Legal Clinic could not exist.


Legal Clinics are currently held in six shelters statewide. Attorneys visit the shelters on a biweekly or monthly schedule depending on the shelter's need and attorney availability. Some attorneys volunteer regularly, others only a few times each year. Clients are screened and supervised by shelter staff, and shelters that do not have clinics can easily make referrals.

The RI Volunteer Lawyer Program (VLP) works closely with the clinic program assisting with recruitment and training, and provides insurance and recognition to clinic attorneys who are also members of the VLP.

Clients who are homeless and in need of legal services should call Carla Schneider at 421.6458 for dates and times of availability.

Legal Clinics and Shelter Contacts

  • Crossroads Rhode Island - (Carla Schneider - 421-6458)
  • Welcome House/Megan Burke - 782-4770
  • RI Coalition for the Homeless/Carla Schneider - 421-6458
  • RI Family Shelter/Kate Solulliere - 739-8584
  • Warwick House of Hope/Kathy Caito - 463-3324

LSC Programs in Your Areas

This listing will provide you with information about the various LSC-funded legal services programs around the country.









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