Frequently Asked Questions

Who is eligible for VLP services?

VLP provides help to low-income Maine residents or low-income people living in other states who have civil legal problems handled in Maine Courts. VLP clients must have a household income that falls within guidelines established by our federal and state funders and have a legal problem which VLP handles. Typically, VLP clients must have a household income below 200% of federal poverty guidelines. Determining income eligibility is quite complex - please don't assume you are not eligible without talking to VLP.
You also must be a United States citizen or a qualified non-citizen to get help from VLP. We cannot help people who are currently in prison.

What kinds of cases does VLP handle?

VLP provides help with a variety of civil legal problems that are handled in Maine
courts, including family matters, consumer law matters and benefits matters. We
cannot provide help for criminal matters including drunk driving cases or traffic
violations.

What happens when I call VLP’s intake line?

When you call our toll free 1-800-442-4293 number during the designated intake hours for your specific legal issue, you will be asked to specify whether you have called us before and to identify what type of legal problem you have. You will then be placed in the appropriate cue with other callers and will be told what number caller you are in the cue. So long as you stay on the phone, your spot in the cue will be reserved and your call will be taken by an interviewer as soon as possible.

What questions will I be asked during the intake interview?

We need to determine 1) whether you are eligible for services from VLP and 2)
what your legal problem involves. We need to know basic information about: how
to contact you, about your household and your annual gross income, and the
person on the other side of your legal case. We will also ask you a number of
questions about your legal problem. Please have any legal documents such as
court notices, orders or judgments available for the intake interview.

How does VLP decide which cases to refer for a free lawyer?

All of VLP's lawyers volunteer their time and are not paid for their services. Even if
every lawyer in Maine volunteered for an entire month every year, VLP would not
be able to provide a free lawyer for everyone who needs one. Right now, we are
able to provide a lawyer for less than 10% of our eligible clients.
We use a set of case referral priorities to decide which eligible clients we will try to
refer for free representation with the goal of maximizing the impact of our
volunteers' time. Some of the factors we consider are:
• Does the case threaten the client's basic safety, health or well-being?
• Is the client at risk of losing a home or the family income?
• Does the case involve threats to the well-being of children?
• Does the client have a disability that limits his or her ability to take action by
him or herself?
• Is there an attorney on the other side of the case?
• Do we have volunteer lawyers available in that region of the state or with
experience in that area of the law?
• How strong are the legal merits of the case and what will happen if the client
loses?

We can never guarantee a free attorney for any client. Once we have accepted a
case for referral, we still have to find a volunteer lawyer who will agree to take the
case. We can't always find a volunteer lawyer for every case that meets our
priorities or in time to meet the deadlines for a case.

I have been given an appointment on the family law helpline. What does this involve?

The Family Law Helpline provides telephone appointments with trained law
students and lawyers who give hands-on help with court forms and preparing for
court hearings for people who are representing themselves in divorce, child
custody and child support matters. These lawyers are not representing you, but
they can give you legal advice about your case and help you prepare a strategy
for your case. You may ask for appointments on the Helpline at various points in
your case.

Our volunteers' time is limited and valuable and there are many people who need
appointments. Please be organized for your appointment by preparing a list of
questions in advance and having all your legal documents with you. If you are not
home or not available for your appointment and have not contacted us to let us
know, we reserve the right not to provide you with future services.
VLP Helpline telephone appointments are scheduled on either Wednesday
evenings from 5:30-8:00 or Friday afternoons from 1:00-4:00. You will be
representing yourself in your case but your Helpline law student or attorney
volunteer can assist you in understanding and planning for upcoming court
appointments, filing out court forms and making decisions about your case. You
may have more than one Helpline appointment to help you at different stages of
your case.

My case has been selected for referral to a volunteer lawyer. What happens next?

You will receive several forms in the mail which you must complete, sign and
return to us before we will start looking for a lawyer for your case. For certain
cases you may also be required to save up enough money to pay the court fees in
advance. Once we receive your forms, our volunteers will call lawyers in your area
of the state to see if they can find someone willing and able to represent you. It
may take several months to find an lawyer for you; sometimes we are not able to
find someone in time. It is important that you keep us updated on any changes to
your contact information, your household, and the status of your case while your
case is pending referral. Often we provide assistance via our Family Law Helpline
while a case is awaiting referral.

I thought your services were free; why is my attorney asking me to pay?

 
Our volunteer lawyers provide their services for free; however, there are a variety of fees and 
costs involved in legal cases which are your responsibility. These costs can include: court filing 
and paperwork fees, fees for medical or other records, fees for expert witnesses, court reporters 
or other professionals, and your lawyer's out-of-pocket costs for telephone, postage, copying and 
travel. If you are unable to pay these costs, please talk with your lawyer. If you are unsure about 
what you are being asked to pay, please call the VLP paralegal who is assigned to your
case.

VLP policies allow volunteer lawyers to collect reduced fees from the client in a limited number of 
cases, primarily those where the client receives a significant financial award as a result of 
winning the case. (This does not include property settlements in a divorce.) If your case falls in 
this category, you will be informed of this when we accept your case for referral to a volunteer 
lawyer and you will need to consent to this condition.

A volunteer lawyer may also ask the Court to order the opposing  party to pay attorney's fees in a 
wide range of cases. If the Court approves this request, the person on the other side of the case 
will be required to pay your attorney if you win your case.

I am not eligible for VLP help. What do I do now?

You may not be eligible for help from VLP because your household income is over
our limits, because of your citizenship status, because you are in prison, or
because your legal problem is not one that VLP handles. Whenever possible, VLP
will refer you to another Maine legal services provider who can help you. You can
also call the Maine Lawyer Referral Service for a short consultation with a lawyer.
The HelpMELaw website can help you find additional information and resources
about civil legal issues and Maine's court system. You can also ask friends and
family for recommendations for a lawyer or you can consult the Yellow Pages.

If I need to make a complaint, what do I do?

Maine Volunteer Lawyers Project Grievance Policy

If you have a complaint: If you have a complaint about the VLP, you should write to or talk this over with the VLP Director.  She can be reached at P.O. Box 547, Portland, Maine 04112 or by phone to 1-207-828-2317, x1270. If you are still not satisfied, write to the Executive Director, Pine Tree Legal Assistance, P.O. Box 547, Portland, Maine 04112.  Give the details as you see them.  If there is an emergency, call the Executive Director at 1-207-774-4653.

If you still cannot work things out, ask that the facts be reviewed by the Board of Directors.  The Executive Director must tell the President of the Board of your request.  If you were denied services and you thought this unfair, the President can decide the question or send it to the committee if you like.  If the complaint is something else, the President will ask the Grievance Committee to review your case.

Grievance Committee: The Committee will ask you to write or tell about your problem as you see it.  You can ask another person to help you do this, if you like.  If you ask, the VLP will type up a short statement in your own words to put in the file.  The VLP keeps a file on each complaint.  If you make a written statement, it will be kept - along with the decision in the matter.

You have a right to be heard.  Don't be afraid to use that right.If you have a complaint