Below you’ll find answers to commonly asked questions about our Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts of Massachusetts (VLA) program and services.
Who exactly does the VLA serve?
The VLA serves Massachusetts and Connecticut artists and arts and cultural organizations, as well as artists and organizations with Massachusetts, Connecticut, or arts-related legal issues. For our Patent Pro Bono Program of New England, we serve low-income inventors based in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. Inventors in Connecticut are served by the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts of New York’s Patent Pro Bono Program.
I’m an artist but I’m not located in Massachusetts or Connecticut. Can your office still help me?
For New England-based artists outside of Massachusetts and Connecticut, we may be able to assist on a case by case basis. Generally, however, if you are an artist located outside of Massachusetts or Connecticut, we would refer you to the nearest VLA organization to you. The Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts of New York maintains an up-to-date list of all the VLA providers throughout the country.
How long will it take for me to get an attorney?
It depends! Once we receive your application for legal services, we review it to ensure you have provided us all the necessary information. Our internal review of your application may take between a day to a week depending on whether we have follow up questions, need clarification, or need additional information from you.
Once we have approved your application, we will anonymously publish your case to our panel of volunteer attorneys. We publish this list every other week. Depending on the nature of your case, attorneys may inquire about your matter within the same day, or it may take a couple weeks depending on their availability and interest.
Because our panel attorneys are all volunteers, and most attorneys practice in specific, limited areas of law, we cannot guarantee a referral for your case.
Can’t your office represent me?
Whether the VLA represents applicants directly depends on our internal caseload and falls within the discretion of the Executive and Deputy Directors. The VLA most frequently represents clients in matters involving copyright, trademark, business formation, and contracts, and public art projects. The VLA cannot represent applicants directly in litigation and criminal matters.
If I get a pro bono attorney, does that mean I pay nothing at all?
If you are matched with a VLA pro bono attorney, then you are not required to pay for the attorney’s time or professional services. However, you may still be required to pay any out-of-pocket expenses, such as filing fees and copying and printing costs. Your attorney should discuss any out-of-pocket costs prior to starting the work on your case.
What is the financial eligibility criteria for pro bono services?
For individual artists and inventors, your income must be at or below 300% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. The U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services publishes updated guidelines every January. For partnerships, LLCs, and unincorporated associations, each partner or member must separately qualify for pro bono.
For nonprofit organizations, generally, organizations with annual revenues of $500,000 or lower are eligible. However, this is an initial threshold, and based on your organization’s total assets or other measure of the financial health of the business, it might not qualify for pro bono.
We will ask you to provide proof of financial eligibility with your application. However, we recognize there are always exceptions to the rule. If you have questions about whether you qualify for pro bono, please feel free to contact us.
I qualify for pro bono. Why do I still have to pay an application fee?
Our office charges an application fee to cover the costs of providing our legal services, including the lawyer referral service. For every $1 the VLA earns, we’re able to provide $10-15 in free legal services! Not only does your application fee help us keep the lights on, but it also supports our charitable mission!
If paying the application fee would be unduly burdensome to you, please include a note saying so and briefly explaining the reason in your application. The Executive and Deputy Directors have discretion to waive the application fee on a case-by-case basis.
Can’t you just give me the list of your volunteer attorneys?
I’m not looking for pro bono services. Do I still need to file an application?
Yes, you would still complete an application and send it to us along with the application fee. However, you do not need to complete the financial portion of the application or provide proof of income.
The online application form isn’t working.
If you have any problems with the online form, please contact us at VLA@artsandbusinesscouncil.org.
I mailed an application to your office but haven’t heard back. What should I do?
Make sure you sent your application to the correct address:
Arts & Business Council of Greater Boston
℅ Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts
15 Channel Center St. Ste. 103
Boston, MA 02210
If you did send the application to the correct location, contact us!. It is possible your application is still on its way or that it was mistakenly filtered into a spam folder.
I’ve been matched with a VLA attorney. Now what?
Once we confirm a match, we will provide you with your attorney’s name and contact information with instructions to reach out to them directly. Some attorneys prefer to reach out to applicants themselves. In those cases, we will typically advise you in advance to expect a call or message from your attorney shortly.
I’m having trouble getting in touch with my VLA attorney.
Let us know if you are having trouble getting in touch with your attorney or if you are otherwise having issues with your placement.
Can I ask my VLA attorney to help me with a different matter?
Your VLA attorney is representing you solely for the matter described in your application. Your attorney is not your general counsel, so please do not expect them to provide additional counsel on different or unrelated matters. If you would like counsel on a separate matter, you are welcome to submit an additional application for legal services.
I have an urgent matter. Can I get counsel now?
We always try to ensure we place our cases in a timely manner. However, because our VLA attorneys are all volunteers, we cannot guarantee referrals for immediate, time-sensitive matters, and we may need to refer you to another legal services provider. If you are aware of an upcoming deadline, please note it in your application.
I’ve been told my case is “pending conflicts.” What does that mean?
All attorneys have ongoing ethical obligations to both current and prior clients. This means all attorneys have to confirm that representing you would not place them in an adverse position to a past or present client. When your case is “pending conflicts,” it means the attorney or firm is conducting a “conflict check,” confirming they have no legal or ethical issues with representing you. The duration of the conflict check depends on the nature of your legal matter as well as the prospective law firm, but most do not take more than a week.
Questions? Email us at VLA@artsandbusinesscouncil.org
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