Kara Noel

Graduation Year


Winning Paper


Document Type



This paper addresses the role of law libraries with respect to online sites that give free or low-cost legal advice. In this paper, I will argue that the gap in access to legal services for the lower and middle class needs addressing, and that the public law librarian’s role in facilitating access to justice can be improved by helping pro se patrons access the growing number of free or nominal cost online legal advice resources. The rise in online legal advice sites comes with concerns from the legal profession regarding the possible ethical duties and responsibilities of giving legal advice in a new medium, and the role of the law librarian in referring people to these services is constrained by the values of law librarian’s professional ethics. These concerns are valid and warrant serious consideration, yet they are only beginning to be addressed by the profession. I will argue that as the ethical concerns stemming from the proliferation of online legal advice sites are addressed, regulated, and managed by the legal profession, public law librarians should not ignore their presence but embrace their potential role in facilitating access to the information available to patrons in a new technological medium.

Part 1 discusses the current gap in access to justice for both low and middle class people, and describes the rise of legal advice sites like Avvo and Legal Zoom that fill an unmet need in legal services for the public. Part 2 describes the legal profession’s responses and concerns about online legal advice and legal services sites, specifically regarding the issues that arise in professional ethics. Part 3 discusses how the professional ethics and values of the law librarianship profession are affected by the “unbundling” of legal services, and Part 4 makes a recommendation about how law libraries should respond to these free legal advice sites given the standards.

Citation to Published Version

34 Legal Ref. Serv. Q. 245 (2015)