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Connecting Justice Communities

Evolving LawHelp Interactive Through Strategic Discussion: 2015 LHI Tech Summit

Posted in Staff News, Technology, Uncategorized



Mirenda Meghelli is the LawHelp Interactive Program Coordinator at Pro Bono Net, where she works as part of a team to support and grow initiatives using LawHelp Interactive, an award-winning national online document assembly platform operated by Pro Bono Net in partnership with legal aid, pro bono and court access to justice programs across the country. Mirenda has been spearheading the LawHelp Interactive rebuild project, along with Doug Carlson, Pro Bono Net’s Director of Technology and Operations.



Each year, Pro Bono Net’s LawHelp Interactive (LHI) hosts a technical summit, a time to meet in-person with various LHI partners, grantors, consultants and stakeholders.  The summit provides an opportunity for these stakeholders, who are spread throughout the country, to meet in the same room and dedicate at least a full day to planning and evaluating various aspects of the LHI project. This March was my third year in attendance and we spent a lot of time engaging in strategic planning on LHI and how to support evolving partner needs and uses, as opposed to previous years in which there was a much stronger focus on coordination and planning of the LHI technical roadmap for the year.

Something that struck me about the 2015 technical summit is how partner presence and participation adds color to strategic discussions about LHI’s future. While LHI Program Manager Claudia and I are in regular contact with LHI partners on day-to-day needs, and have an opportunity to review the annual LHI survey where we hear from partners about their experience with LHI each year, this summit allowed us to really discuss what is working and what needs to be improved with a geographically diverse group of LHI power users from Courts and legal aid organizations. To do this conversationally, in-person, and while looking at the big picture, with LHI partners is invaluable. For instance, we had partners from four of LHI’s top 5 states in usage.

With the continued growth of LHI users and uses and fast-approaching launch of the LHI rebuild environment, 2015 will be an exciting year for LHI. The whole team appreciates everyone who attended the LHI summit*, and the broader community of LHI partners and users who make the platform a success and work with us when we face challenges.

On another note, I feel the opposite of appreciation for a certain airline who diverted me to Pittsburgh en route to the tech summit and who misplaced my luggage for a week. But that’s a story for another time.

*LHI tech summit participants were as follows:

  • Glenn Rawdon & Jane Ribadeneyra (LSC)
  • Josh Goodwin (Southeastern Ohio Legal Services/OSLSA)
  • Bonnie Hough (California Administrative Office of the Courts)
  • John Mayer (Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction)
  • Michael Mills (Neota Logic)
  • Dave Lampert (HotDocs Corporation)
  • Dora Galacatos (Feerick Center/CLARO)
  • Tony Lu (Immigration Advocates Network)
  • Kristin Verrill (Atlanta Legal Aid Society)
  • Ben Carpenter (Community Legal Services of Mid Florida)
  • Rochelle Klempner (New York State Courts Access to Justice Program)
  • Angela Tripp (Michigan Poverty Law Program/ Michigan Legal Help)
  • Teri Ross (Illinois Legal Aid Online)
  • Marc Lauritsen (Capstone Practice Systems)
  • Bart Earle (Capstone Practice Systems)

Staff participants included:

  • Mark O’Brien, ED
  • Doug Carlson, Tech Director
  • Claudia Johnson, LawHelp Program Manager
  • Liz Keith, Program Director
  • Greg Tenzer, Senior Developer
  • Alice Pucheu, Project Manager
  • Kanchana Hedge, QA Engineer

**Special thanks for Davis Polk for hosting the event.

Connecting with Our Community: A Conversation with PBN Board Member and Director of Global Technology at Debevoise & Plimpton, Karen S. Levy

Posted in Legal Services, Pro Bono, Staff News, Technology, Uncategorized

Karen S. Levy

Karen S. Levy, Director of Global Technology at Debevoise & Plimpton, joined the Pro Bono Net Board to help advance our mission of leveraging technology to provide access to effective legal services.  Prior to her leadership position at Debevoise, Karen held senior technology roles Weil, Gotshal & Manges and Edwards Wildman Palmer.  She has also served as a legal industry consultant, advising international law firms on technology strategies and implementations.


PBN: What brought you to PBN?

KSL: I was aware of PBN through my firm’s use of Pro Bono Manager, a software product used to assist our lawyers in identifying and tracking pro bono assignments. I was later introduced to the organization and its mission by Michael Mills, whom I have known for many years through his work at Davis Polk, and former PBN board member John Alber, who I worked with at Bryan Cave some years ago. Through Michael and John I came to gain an appreciation of the full extent of PBN’s services and mission.

PBN: What about our mission most interests you?

KSL: I’m continually impressed by the strong commitment to pro bono work at my firm and the opportunities it presents for individuals to contribute to the greater good and experience personal growth. I’d been contemplating ways in which my technology skills could be leveraged to provide similar opportunities for non-lawyers when I was approached by PBN to join the board. PBN’s mission to leverage technology to provide access to legal services to a large population of those who are in need of assistance made it a perfect match.

A large portion of the U.S. population does not have access to a lawyer, however most do have access to the internet. PBN takes advantage of ubiquitous technology as the access point and the lowest cost route to deliver information and resources to a large number of individuals with common needs. An example of this is the online templates that PBN developed to enable Hurricane Sandy victims to appeal denials of FEMA benefits.

PBN: You work in a field where women are often the minority, how did you develop an interest in technology?

KSL: I took a computer science class in high school that piqued my interest. I then pursued it as my college major which ultimately led to a computer science degree and job opportunities requiring technical skills. It’s the working with lawyers part that wasn’t exactly part of the plan!

PBN: What more can be done to make the field more accessible to young women?

KSL: The field is entirely accessible to women. The problem is that women are often not attracted to the field. We need to help girls see past the stereotype, providing them with an understanding of the breadth and depth of skills required to succeed. I hope the emergence of successful female leaders, such as myself, provides more young women with a positive vision.

PBN: Anything else you’d like to share?

KSL: I am married and the mother of three children who make me smile every day.

Reflecting on 15 years: An interview with Liz Keith

Posted in Immigration, Legal Services, Pro Bono, Technology

This year, Pro Bono Net celebrated our 15th Anniversary. As we reflect back on the past 15 years, we caught up with a few individuals who were critical to our early growth and development. Below is an interview with Liz Keith, Pro Bono Net Program Director. 

Pro Bono Net: Tell us about your time and role at Pro Bono Net?

Liz Keith: I’m approaching a decade with Pro Bono Net.Liz Keith That sounds like long time, and in some ways it is! But PBN and the communities we work with are incredibly dynamic. I’ve never stopped learning along the way, and have had opportunities to work on and develop a wide variety of projects over the years. I started as a Circuit Rider, helping our partner organizations around the country develop their LawHelp.org and probono.net initiatives. My role has expanded since then. I’m still very involved in those efforts, but now oversee our strategies and services across our programs.

PBN: What drew you to working here?

LK: I came to Pro Bono Net after completing a self-tailored masters degree in community informatics at the University of Michigan, focused on public interest applications of technology. Before that I had worked for several years at the Maine Women’s Policy Center, where I helped to coordinate advocacy and community outreach initiatives focusing on economic security, freedom from violence, health care, and civil rights. In Maine I had a chance to work on several novel initiatives that used online tools to support participation of rural and under-represented communities in policy formation, as well as educating women about changes in the law.

Finding Pro Bono Net was a little like finding a needle in a haystack. It combined my interests in access to legal information, community engagement, and creating innovative solutions to help people in need. The fact that Pro Bono Net is not just a technology provider was also attractive. It’s equally invested in improving collaboration in the legal sector, and supporting our partners in developing effective content, outreach, and sustainability strategies. At the time there very few nonprofit organizations working across these areas – and we’re still pretty unique in that way. The national scale of PBN’s work was an added draw.

PBN: What have been the most exciting changes to observe as the organization has grown?

LK: The most striking is probably the transformation in how the communities we work with view technology. In my first few years I did a lot of site visits to our field partners. The local project coordinator and I would do outreach presentations about LawHelp.org and probono.net to legal aid program staff, community groups, law schools, and so on. Invariably, about 10 minutes into a workshop, someone would raise their hand and say, “all of these online legal resources are great, but do low-income clients really have access to the Internet?” It was a valid question at the time, and a digital divide still persists in certain areas, so part of our strategy has always been to work with community anchor institutions that help the public access LawHelp.org. But these days, we’re hearing questions like, “these online resources are great, but our clients are asking if they can apply for services online or e-file forms through LawHelp Interactive.” Some of that change relates to how much more interwoven technology is with our daily lives now, but evaluations of PBN’s programs and training initiatives show that we’ve played a key role in helping to grow the capacity of the field in taking innovative approaches to client services and volunteer mobilization. Some of the most exciting ideas I hear these days come from people who once described themselves as Luddites. In our consumer-facing work, we’ve also expanded our longtime focus on plain language to include other critical areas like language access. Another exciting development has been the growth of our immigration work, via the Immigration Advocates Network, from a small pilot to a major national initiative using innovative technology and collaboration to tackle complex issues and expand legal services for low-income immigrants.

PBN: What are you most proud of from your time at Pro Bono Net?

LK: I think Hurricane Katrina was a galvanizing moment for Pro Bono Net as an organization and me personally on certain levels. I had done a site visit to New Orleans just a few months before. The impact of Katrina was so widespread it became apparently very quickly that the affected communities, particularly low-income ones, would be dealing with legal issues stemming from the disaster for years to come. We were still a small organization at the time, but were able to mobilize quickly to assist our partners in the region with certain immediate needs, and then in leveraging their LawHelp.org and probono.net projects to deliver critical information to the public and help coordinate response efforts by legal aid staff and volunteers. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to support the work of incredibly dedicated advocates and programs throughout the Gulf Coast in the wake of that event. Since then, I’ve worked with other partners on efforts that use our programs to help people recover from crises – whether natural or industrial disasters, like the BP oil spill or the 2008 economic recession. It’s gratifying to see how our programs can help people get a foothold out of crisis, support the work of legal aid practitioners and volunteers, and advance our partners’ own goals on the ground.

Also – and I can’t take credit for this, but I’m not sure where else it fits in this interview! – I’m really proud of PBN’s staff. They are incredibly talented, committed and deeply engaged in the work we do and supporting our collaborations around the country. They’re also a lot of fun. You can see how we like to spend our spare time in Jake’s summer 2014 round-up.

PBN: Where is Pro Bono Net going over the next 15 years, how will our role change, and how will the second 15 years be different from the first 15?

LK: The only constant is change, right? I think our core mission and approach – developing innovative, sustainable solutions for expanding access to justice – will be a constant. I also think we’ll continue to focus largely on solutions that are scalable and replicable and can have widespread impact, not just one-off projects. That said, I see PBN becoming even more of an incubator, and creating spaces for our staff and partners to develop, test, and learn from small-scale projects. I think increasingly we will mix and match our own technology platforms with cutting-edge commercial tools or innovations in the start-up space. I also see us getting more involved in designing and delivering direct services in certain contexts. We do this now through CitizenshipWorks.org and a few other projects, but other examples might include developing and managing a large-scale remote volunteer initiative for underserved communities, or designing new programs that engage many more non-attorneys and non-legal organizations in access to justice. Looking ahead, I’d love to see us leverage the “network” nature of Pro Bono Net even more – how can we connect the hundreds of public interest organizations and thousands of volunteers in our network in new and creative ways to match resources to needs? And how can we connect individuals facing life-altering issues with these groups, and to each other, in ways that not only solve their immediate problem, but also provide information and resources that have an enduring positive impact on whole communities?

PBN: What are some examples of innovative technologies we hope to support/help develop in the next few years to close the justice gap?

LK: I’m glad you’re not asking me to look 15 years ahead on this one! In the near term, I’m excited about the new capacities we’re building into the next generation of LawHelp Interactive and CitizenshipWorks. On LHI, this includes creating a more scalable platform to better support the creative and diverse ways that legal aid programs, courts, libraries, shelters, and others want to use it. And CitizenshipWorks 2.0 will include new remote consultation tools to bring naturalization legal assistance to smaller and rural communities where resources are scarce. We’re also exploring expansion possibilities for the Debt and Eviction Navigator (aka DEN), a tablet-based screening tool that is used by social workers and nurses to assess the legal needs of the homebound elderly. DEN guides the social workers through a series of questions to conduct consumer and housing “legal health check-ups” for the seniors and then direct them to sources of help. It’s part of a national trend toward partnering with non-legal organizations and lay advocates in solutions for closing the justice gap. I think supportive tools like DEN have a lot of promise, particularly when they draw on the incredibly rich information and referral resources on LawHelp.org sites. We’re also expanding our mobile strategies through several LawHelp.org and probono.net projects. So, a lot to look forward to. Stay tuned to Connecting Justice Communities for updates!

Reflecting on 15 years: An interview with Michael Cooper

Posted in Legal Services, Pro Bono

This year, Pro Bono Net celebrated our 15th Anniversary. As we reflect back on the past 15 years, we caught up with a few individuals who were critical to our early growth and development. Below is an interview with Michael Cooper, Pro Bono Net Founding Board Chair. His understanding of the justice gap and support for new ideas were critical during Pro Bono Net’s early years. Mr. Cooper continues to sit on the Pro Bono Net board, and we are very grateful for his continued passion for our mission. 

Pro Bono Net: How did you first become involved with Pro Bono Net?

Michael Cooper: My recollection is that, as I was finishing up a term as President of the New York City Bar Association around May of 2000, Mark and Michael just asked to meet with me. I didn’t know either one of them— I didn’t know their names, I didn’t know anything about them.  But they just asked to meet with me and I said sure.

Michael Cooper

Michael Cooper accepting his award for dedicated service to Pro Bono Net as the Founding Board Chair.

They described their concept of facilitating the connection between the users of legal services and the providers of those services, whether they be lawyers in private practice or the Legal Aid Society or any other organization. And I’m a luddite, I do use the laptop, but I don’t have an iPhone, I don’t have an iPad – I’m really not technology-oriented. But I have devoted a lot of thought, for a long time, to the justice gap.

I guess it was just before I became President of the City Bar in the late 90s, Chief Judge Judith Kaye asked me to chair a task force to try and find permanent funding for legal services. I don’t remember the names of many of the people from the task force, but we got this idea, which I thought was brilliant, to tap the Abandoned Property Fund.  In New York, because there are lots of bank accounts, insurance policies, and dividends that don’t get claimed, this fund is $300 million a year. So we said okay, let’s assign $25 million a year to legal services, and we drafted a statute. I went up to Albany with this idea, and I went to see the Governor’s Secretary and he said, “That’s a really good idea why don’t you go to see the Senate Majority leader.”  So I went to see his Chief of Staff, and he said, “Well that’s a very good idea, see how it strikes the Speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver.”  So I went to see Sheldon Silver and he said, “That’s a very good idea, why don’t you run it by the governor.”  And then I realized I was never going to get anywhere.

So I had this awareness of the gap and frustration with efforts to fill it.  Although I’m not technology-savvy, I intuited that Pro Bono Net had an idea that was potentially invaluable. If you can’t diminish the needs, and they never seem to diminish, and you can’t increase the resources, then you have to make them connect more effectively. So intuitively, I said this is a great idea and I signed up. They asked me if I would be the Board Chair, I signed on, and then it just grew.  I looked away and then looked back and all of a sudden there were two new national sites, and other great leaps.

PBN: How was Pro Bono Net different from the other legal services organizations you had been involved with?

MC: The other legal services organizations that I knew, they all gathered lawyers together, but they basically were providing or arranging for the provision of the service – they were only one part of the equation. The genius of Pro Bono Net was that it connected both parts, originally through probono.net and LawHelp, and then we had this dramatic incident – the World Trade Center attack.  Pro Bono Net created a site for volunteer lawyers, there were more than 2,000 of them at the City Bar, who were willing to help but didn’t know how to find people in need.  Then it has gone on to create sites for Katrina, the tornadoes, and Sandy. That was a very dramatic example of this new concept of using technology to bring together the consumers and the providers.

PBN: How has Pro Bono Net evolved over the years?

MC: It seems like it grew up without my being aware of it. Gradually it accumulated more and more state sites, and two sites in Canada. I have been very interested the relationships that Pro Bono Net has established with the courts, in New York and elsewhere. There’s a huge potential for having a simple work station in a court house where somebody can get help.

PBN: As someone who is not a big technology user, could you discuss how you knew technology could have a powerful effect?

MC: I intuited it. I sensed that there was immeasurable potential there. But I didn’t really understand what it could do.

PBN: What role has PBN played in the broader access to justice movement, especially in terms of bringing technology to the movement?

MC: Well, I don’t know of anybody that was promoting the use of technology to bridge the justice gap – it’s really a very apt phrase – before Pro Bono Net. There was growing interest and capability in getting lawyers to volunteer their services, but there was some connector missing. It’s like having a power station in one place and 100,000 consumers with no electricity in another place and no wires between them.  There was no connection, and that’s what Pro Bono Net has provided.

PBN: What has motivated you to stay involved over the past 15 years?

MC: It’s the only organization where I wasn’t present at the birth, but I saw it in the nursery.  I just watched it grow and it has been such a joy to be there from day one and I want to continue.

PBN:  Is there any part of the growth that has surprised you?

MC: The connection with the courts – that may be the one thing that I didn’t see, or didn’t see it happening as fast, but it didn’t surprise me.

PBN: Where do you see Pro Bono Net going in the future?

MC: I think it’s going to be doing more of what it’s doing.  I’m sure that there will be development of additional national sites – take an example of something that’s been recognized fairly recently, so called human trafficking, there will be additional sites as additional needs arise. I suspect that there are still going to be additional states that will want to work with Pro Bono Net as well. Where else it’s going, I just don’t know, but I sure as hell would like to be along for the ride.

Inspirational Dispatches from the LHI Mailbox

Posted in Legal Services, Libraries, Technology

Non-lawyers writing words like Petition and easy in the same sentence? You got to be kidding me!

Everyday I come to my home office in Eastern Washington looking forward to opening our LawHelp Interactive inbox support box. Why? Because I want to read emails from end users and staff at libraries, self-help centers, and clinics that tell us what a difference being able to create legal documents online makes. I feel that from here I connect to the world via these emails.  And I do mean the world, since LawHelp Interactive creates forms for people in Germany, India, UK, and by people living or serving abroad. From being here over 6 years, I know the LHI statistics intimately – I am a self described data hawk. For example, I know that each day we support over 3,000 sessions, and that people are creating 1,300 documents per day using our system—including Saturday and Sunday. I am also acutely aware that the number of users keeps increasing thanks to the creativity of our legal aid partners and their outreach efforts – including greater use and adoption of LHI-powered forms in self-help centers, brick and mortar centers run by courts, legal aid, or libraries, and also in remote clinics. We also recently confirmed that 70% of our users want to create their forms and go—they don’t want to create accounts and come back to edit a long interview. We also know that shows that 15% of the documents are created by lawyers and court accounts working through pro bono events, run by legal aid staff attorneys, or pro bono lawyers. So, I got the numbers down—and I love the numbers.

But numbers are not enough. At the Goldman School at Berkeley, I learned that good policy looks at both qualitative and quantitative factors. In an effort to look at qualitative feedback from a different perspective, I went into our user inbox and pulled emails from 8/30/2014 to 9/15/2014 and stopped when I had 100 words. I used the feedback to create a word cloud. This is how it looks!

LHI Word Cloud

The LHI Word Cloud

It amazes me to see words like “helpful,” “Thank,” “Divorce,” “Support,” and all in relative similar sizes. The email forms asks “was this useful”—“Yes” is almost always in the emails we get—and also “Thank you so much.” Some people use the word awesome; “easy” is another word that comes up a lot. Seeing this word cloud, confirms to me that online, easy-to-use forms, and the platform that serves them play an indispensable role in the access to justice continuum. Without the forms or LHI to serve them, save them, store them, and allow people to edit them when they need to, many legal aid, court, and access to justice initiatives would not be able to provide such high quality assistance to so many who are in need.

Personally, to me this is reaffirmation that contributing to LawHelp Interactive, and being part of the Pro Bono Net team—is meaningful. My great grandma used to tell me in Spanish, “Tiempo perdido, hasta los angeles lloran,” which roughly means even angels weep for the time that they lose. Or in other words, wasting time is terrible. Time is the only resource in life we control absolutely – how we spend our time, what our mind and body do with the time we have, and how we share it with others. I spend everyday in the Pacific Northwest connected to NY, the South, and the Midwest and supporting LHI and the projects the amazing legal aid and Justice community run through LHI; it does not get any better than this. Seeing the word cloud—and seeing the words our end users use to tell us if the LawHelp Interactive forms were helpful makes my day many times over. I hope it makes your day too. If anyone wants to talk data, numbers, and LHI statistics for their projects and initiatives, and/or have me pull a word cloud from feedback on their online form projects, reach out to me. I would love to share our feedback with others.

Pro Bono Net Staff to Present at the NLADA Annual Conference

Posted in Conferences

The annual National Legal Aid & Defender Association’s conference, Blueprint For Justice: Designing a New Paradigm for Impact, will take place in Arlington, Virginia starting today.  Pro Bono Net’s Executive Director, Mark O’Brien, along with Liz Keith, Program Director, and Claudia Johnson, LawHelp Interactive Program Manager, will present on a variety of panels about innovations in civil legal aid.

Fifty years after the launch of the War on Poverty, poverty remains a persistent problem in America, however, innovations in technology have allowed for significant progress in the provision of civil legal aid. With ever-expanding caseloads for full time attorneys and dwindling resources for legal services and courts, Pro Bono Net staff will join speakers from across the country to focus on how these innovations in technology have allowed for broader access to legal assistance.

Pro Bono Net staff are slated to participate in the following panels:

  • The Role of Forms and Interviews in Supporting the Work of Lay Advocates –  Mark O’Brien, Pro Bono Net; Alex Rabanal, Chicago-Kent College of Law; Glenn Rawdon, Legal Services Corporation
  • Innovations in Civil Legal Aid  – Sarah Frush, Legal Aid Bureau, Inc; Liz Keith, Pro Bono Net; Jan May, Legal Counsel for the Elderly; Patricia Pap, Management Information Exchange;  Alison Paul, Montana Legal Services Association; Jonathan Pyle, Philadelphia Legal Assistance
  • Expanding Expungement: Leveraging Technology & Implementing Innovative Strategies – Sharon Dietrich, Community Legal Services; Michael Hollander, Community Legal Services;  Liz Keith, Pro Bono Net
  • The War on Poverty: Doing It with Modern Tools – Michael Hollander, Community Legal Services; Claudia Johnson, Pro Bono Net; Tanina Rostain, Georgetown Law School ; Gordon Shaw, Community Legal Aid

We hope to see many of our partners and stakeholders at the conference, in panels, and at our PBN Affinity Group Meeting on Thursday from 12-2:00pm!

PBN & JASA Collaborate on Innovative App to Help the Homebound

Posted in Courts, Launch, Legal Services, Technology

Earlier this year, Pro Bono Net partnered with JASA of Legal Services for the Elderly in Queens to develop a new web app that enables social workers to perform quick legal screenings for homebound and disabled seniors. JASA assists many at risk Queens seniors with their emergency issues, in particular housing, consumer debt, and elder abuse cases. However, many seniors are homebound or face significant obstacles getting to legal help and a courthouse. In many ways they personify the broader justice gap in America.

In January, Donna Dougherty, Attorney-in-Charge at JASA, heard about Chief Judge Lippman’s new Court Navigator program and joined the Task Force to Expand Access to Civil Legal Services in New York to work on a model creating a similar pilot for social workers assisting seniors and the disabled. In February, we partnered with JASA and began working with Georgetown law students in Professor Tanina Rostain’s course, “Technology, Innovation, and Legal Practice” to develop the app. Our Executive Director, Mark O’Brien, had been invited by Professor Rostain to teach the spring semester along with Kevin Mulcahy, the Training Director for Neota Logic. A generous technology donation from Neota Logic allowed the students’ app design to become reality.*

App Development

Before beginning the development process, Donna asked JASA’s social workers what they wanted and just as importantly what they did not want in an app. The social workers were nervous about crossing the line between providing support and legal information and giving legal advice. They are in a client’s home for a limited time so the app had to be easy-to-use, quick to identify potential issues, and provide concise and clear suggestions for action.

The other crucial consideration was practical – many of JASA’s clients do not own computers and/or do not have Internet service. Initially JASA and PBN looked at using iPads – they’re portable, user friendly, and can access the Internet over a cellular network. However, the team quickly realized that they could also be limiting and that making a more universally accessible app was a better use of resources. Thus, they settled on a web app! Social workers would carry small, lightweight laptops and use iPhones as mobile hotspots to access the app.

With these needs in mind and a budget of about $5,000, Donna and Pro Bono Net’s Adam Friedl began working with the Georgetown students in March and had a completed app by the end of Spring Semester. Donna acquired all the tech equipment within two months of starting the project and so the project roll out was ready to begin within 6 months of the start-date. Over the summer, the app, christened the Debt & Eviction Navigator (or DEN), launched.


As the roll out began, the social workers were apprehensive and in some cases resistant about using technology – some had never used a laptop or a hotspot. After a small amount of training however, they quickly realized 1) how easy the DEN is to use and 2) its massive potential to help streamline services and allow JASA to provide more holistic assistance. They can now give their clients information easily, quickly, and clearly. Most importantly they can help people who otherwise cannot access the court system.

Over the past several months, JASA social workers have used the DEN to interview over two hundred people. About five were homebound and had an immediate legal issue (e.g. they had a lawsuit pending against them in court). Without the DEN, these clients might not have known that their issue was pressing. Without the new navigator program, they would not have been able to access the court system.

After identifying that a homebound client has a legal issue, JASA brings the situation to the court’s attention and the client is able to access the justice system remotely. For example, the social worker can assist a client to file an answer online, verify their identity and intentions with the court via VoIP and online video calling, and then have their filing marked as “homebound” and sent to judges who are familiar with the new system.


Donna is really excited about the potential to use similar apps to increase access to justice for homebound and otherwise isolated Americans. The development process was fast, easy, and inexpensive. As providers and the courts gain experience they will be able to make more powerful and efficient apps in the future. Investments today will also decrease future development costs; iPads, hotspots, video conferencing technology only have to be bought once.

The combination of technological advancements and a court system willing to experiment enables gatekeepers – those with the most consistent contact with hard-to-reach people – to extend access to justice to often-neglected populations. Donna envisions apps that could help in foreclosure cases, disaster relief work (where computer access is often limited or non-existent), and with language issues. The DEN is just the first iteration in the exciting future of access to justice apps!

*Editor’s note: Michael Mills, President and Chief Strategy Officer of Neota Logic, is a Pro Bono Net board member.

probono.net Expands to Massachusetts

Posted in Celebrate Pro Bono Week, Legal Services, Pro Bono, Technology

In honor of National Celebrate Pro Bono Week, Pro Bono Net is highlighting innovative and inspirational pro bono stories.Visit the Celebrate Pro Bono site to learn more about Celebrate Pro Bono.

Below, we are pleased to provide an overview of MassProBono, one of our biggest projects of the past year.

In the late 1990s, in the midst of the technology boom, the legal aid community in Massachusetts sat down to talk about the need for statewide websites. They planned to have three websites: MassLegalServices, to support legal aid advocates; MassLegalHelp, to provide general legal information to the public; and MassProBono, to connect private attorneys to volunteer opportunities. MassLegalServices and MassLegalHelp were built into successful sites over the years. While the URL for MassProBono was reserved, the site never came to fruition.

MassProBono, a site 15 years in the making, launched in late April. Barbara Siegel, Project Manager at the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association, discussed with us the history behind the site and the exciting plans for how it will bolster legal services in the Commonwealth.

Three years ago, legal aid coordinators from across the state began meeting together again after a long hiatus. The renewed idea for MassProBono grew out of these conversations, and the Volunteer Lawyers Project (VLP) received a Technology Initiative Grant from the Legal Services Corporation to help the idea finally become a reality. Pro Bono Net was the natural choice to help build the site. While Massachusetts has a strong existing legal services network, MassProBono will fill a critical void in pro bono needs, efficiently matching volunteer lawyers with legal services organizations across the state.

The site is also a product of coordination with the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and the Massachusetts Bar Association (MBA), which for years has maintained a pro bono opportunities guide that lists organizations needing volunteers. However, the MBA was using an antiquated listing system and agreed to collaborate with VLP on an Opportunities Guide for MassProBono that will encompass all existing listings from the decommissioned MBA guide.

The new MassProBono site will serve primarily to match pro bono volunteers with opportunities. “It’s giving pro bono programs a forum where they can be very visible to a wide population,” explained Siegel. “The other side of that,” she noted, “is letting people out there who are interested in pro bono really see the wide array of what is available and the different ways that they might be able to volunteer based on their background and how much time they have.” Like other Pro Bono Net sites, MassProBono also raises awareness of the need for pro bono and highlights the great work that the legal community is undertaking.

MassProBono strives to involve organizations from across the state. The Greater Boston area is typically well served thanks to easy access to a large legal community; however, other areas of the state have the potential to gain great benefits from the new site. Siegel explained that the site also makes geography less of a barrier through online mentoring functions and pooled resources.

In addition to an attractive new layout, Pro Bono Net developed several exciting features for the Massachusetts site. Resources can now be directly submitted to the site library using an email form, allowing for easier and more efficient sharing. The site also features a new projects tool that allows volunteers to find short-term pro bono opportunities such as walk-in legal clinics. This tool grew out of a shift in the pro bono field towards more unbundled and limited assistance representation. The availability of these short-term opportunities has proliferated and the projects tool on MassProBono will connect volunteers with limited available time to these projects. The opportunities guide for the site has also been integrated with the projects and cases tools, allowing members to quickly discover all available opportunities.

The launch of the site was met with excitement from the Massachusetts legal community. Programs that are not already tied into the legal community were particularly eager to begin utilizing the new site, according to Siegel. These programs are now able to connect with the greater pro bono community in Massachusetts and gain access to the wealth of available resources. On the other side of the equation, lawyers in the community are also excited about the new site – particularly those not employed by large firms. “A lot of pro bono is done by people in small firms and people who are unemployed and they don’t have access to a pro bono coordinator who will give them a list of opportunities,” said Siegel. “I’m really excited about what the site can do for those folks.”

Pro Bono for the Courageous: Working with Human Trafficking Survivors

Posted in Celebrate Pro Bono Week, Pro Bono

In honor of National Celebrate Pro Bono Week, Pro Bono Net has lined up a variety of guest bloggers from law firms, legal aid organizations and elsewhere to share their pro bono ideas and experiences.Visit the Celebrate Pro Bono site to learn more about Celebrate Pro Bono.

Below, we are pleased to present a guest post from Audrey Roofeh, the Training and Technical Assistance Director at Polaris and a Pro Bono Net partner on the Human Trafficking Legal Access Center.

Audrey Roofeh

Audrey Roofeh

Since 2011, I’ve worked at Polaris, a leading non-profit organization in the global fight to eradicate modern slavery and restore freedom to survivors. When I started, I worked at the hotline that we operate, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. Every day, we got calls from people living in trafficking situations across the country, looking for help. Sometimes it would be a farmworker whose boss seized his passport, wouldn’t pay him for his work and told him if he left he’d get busted by immigration authorities. Other times the call would come from a brave teenager who’d had enough of her abusive pimp and wanted to find a way out of the life. There were all sorts of calls in between, from women held in domestic servitude, young men in traveling sales crews, and others.

What I learned from these calls was that a lot of the time what a survivor of human trafficking is looking for involves the help of a good lawyer. Many survivors of trafficking work without getting paid and need help seeking back wages. Some are from foreign countries and, despite being trafficked in the U.S., want to stay here and need help applying for immigration remedies like a T or U visa. Others have rap sheets with prostitution-related crimes on their record – arrests that happened while they were victims of sex trafficking – and want to have those convictions vacated so they can move on with their life.

What I’ve seen at Polaris is that the legal needs of trafficking survivors have a wide range, from the above issues to family law, juvenile justice, and even tax issues, calling for various kinds of legal expertise. When we’re able to connect a survivor of trafficking to an attorney who can help right a wrong, those attorneys work to empower survivors to build a strong, sustainable life after their trafficking situation. Seeing that survivors of trafficking get pro bono legal assistance is a great feeling.

The Importance of Being Present

Posted in Celebrate Pro Bono Week, Pro Bono

In honor of National Celebrate Pro Bono Week, Pro Bono Net has lined up a variety of guest bloggers from law firms, legal aid organizations and elsewhere to share their pro bono ideas and experiences.Visit the Celebrate Pro Bono site to learn more about Celebrate Pro Bono.

Below, we are pleased to present a guest post from Malorie Medellin, a third year associate at Latham & Watkins.

Malorie Medellin

Malorie Medellin

Like all new associates, I was nervous when I began my legal career three years ago. My own insecurities in my first real job made each assignment difficult. In order to avoid my discomforts and self-doubts I focused on working hard and completing each task quickly and thoroughly. I pursued my work in a discrete, obligatory manner, addressing the issues at hand and moving on. My focus was the finish line.

Then I took on my first asylum case. I had no idea when I volunteered to work on this case that it would become such a formative milestone for me. It was a new type of law with a new type of client. I was not dealing with a contractual dispute or commercial litigant, instead my client was a young man who had endured unspeakable hardship and was trying to stay in the United States. With this case, the finish line seemed uncertain, and that uncertainty left ample room for fear and anxiety.

It was then that I realized my self-doubts and fears affected my ability to truly be present in the moment. True, I had always worked hard on every task on every case, but mentally a part of me always pined for that moment of completion. With this case I saw for the first time that the part of me holding out for the finish line, was affecting my ability to cope in the present and, more importantly, to truly be there for my client.

Releasing myself from this mentality enabled me to reach my greatest potential as a lawyer. Overcoming my insecurities allowed me to face all possible outcomes. I realized that staying present sometimes meant sitting and listening to my client’s story—allowing them to get it all out without trying to skip steps or jump to conclusions. It meant that I might not always have an answer right away, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t seek out the answer effectively.

Most of all, my asylum case has taught me about endurance—the calm and steady kind that gets you through anything. My client has taught me how to be courageous, how to be present in the face of your fears and not turn away. So now, I don’t just focus on the finish line, I look around, I take it in, and I am present. And I rest easy knowing that no matter what the outcome, I will be there for my client every step of the way.