Header graphic for print

Connecting Justice Communities

Mental Health Issues and the New York State Courts 2015: Understanding Risk

Posted in Courts, PLI, Seminar, Webinar
Jax Gitzes Development Associate, Pro Bono Net

Jax Gitzes
Development Associate, Pro Bono Net

In July, I had the opportunity to attend a seminar called “Mental Health Issues & the New York States Courts 2015: Understanding Risk,” offered by the Practising Law Institute (PLI), a nonprofit continuing legal education and professional business training organization. PLI is bronze sponsor of Pro Bono Net’s work and Pro Bono Net is pleased to promote PLI’s efforts to provide pro bono training for the access to justice community, reflecting its deep commitment to the public service work of the legal profession.

The New York State courts utilize various risk assessment tools to determine the appropriate level of services, supervision and treatment that should be provided to those with mental health issues that find themselves in the justice system. PLI’s seminar in July addressed these risk assessments and their integration into the justice system of New York.

The percentage of people in state prisons and local jails that meet the criteria for severe mental illness is almost triple that of the general population. Without proper treatment, many are leaving incarceration much worse off than when they started. For many years policymakers and practitioners have sought ways to expand options, treatment, and alternatives to traditional incarceration to give people a solid chance at rebuilding their lives.

The underlying assumption behind many of these strategies is that the primary reason mentally ill persons became embroiled in the criminal justice system is a lack of treatment for their illness. While new strategies and programs have decreased recidivism and assisted the mentally ill as they reintegrate into society, recent studies show that the base-line assumption is incorrect.

In 2010, studies found no direct correlation between the mental health of a person and their rate of recidivism after going through one of the alternative programs. What they found was that while treatment was helpful and necessary, mental illness was not the primary cause of recidivism or criminal activity. While mental illness is a contributing factor, the attributes involved in determining the risk of recidivism for mentally ill persons are actually the same as those for non-mentally ill persons. The risk factors include a history of antisocial behavior, antisocial personality pattern, antisocial thoughts and attitudes, antisocial associates, family or relationship instability, poor performance at work or school, few leisure or recreational activities, and substance abuse.

Armed with this new information, many policy makers and advocates are supporting a new model that focuses on a consideration of mental health, substance abuse and criminogenic risk factors to determine the correct level of supervision and services for offenders with behavioral health needs. This intersection between accountability and treatment is a difficult rope to walk. There are so many variables at play that each case needs to be evaluated and a decision made bearing in mind as many factors as possible.  PLI’s seminar addressed the risk assessment mechanisms used by the New York courts system to address this need.

The morning panels were devoted to exploring two different types of risk and how they relate to mental illness. The first session focused on the relationship between violence and mental illness, examining the current research, tools used for assessment and legal standards the New York courts use to assess dangerousness. Assessment tools are used to determine the likelihood that the offender will engage in violent acts against himself or others. If there is a risk of violence the courts have the ability to reduce or remove that risk through the services developed in addition to, or as an alternative to, incarceration.

The second session focused on the risks of criminal behavior and activities, the risk-needs-responsivity model, and a new framework for integrating the risk-needs-responsivity model with behavioral health needs. The risk-needs-responsivity model is a framework developed in the 1980’s to ensure that the level of supervision matches the offender’s risk of reoffending (risk), that type treatment and assistance provided matches the offender’s mental and physical health needs based on specific risk factors (needs), and that the level of treatment and assistance provided matches the level the offender will positively respond to (responsivity). This system is used in the New York State courts to assess the services and supervision the system should provide to an offender in order to rehabilitate the offender.

The first afternoon session was made up of four presentations examining examples of how risk assessments are used in NY. The first focused on the risk of failing to appear in court, including a discussion of the research behind bail recommendations in courts and a pilot program for supervised release of defendants who would otherwise be detained while awaiting their trial. The second addressed recommendations of the Mayor’s Task Force on Behavioral Health and the Criminal Justice System that assess the risk of reoffending and/or a failure to appear in court. The third examined a new program that assesses the risk of failure to appear in court and/or reoffending in order to identify eligible pretrial detainees at Rikers Island. The last described how risk and needs assessments are used to determine probation supervision levels.

The last session of the day looked at the ethical and policy considerations involved in using risk assessments in the court systems. Topics included a consideration for mental health professionals and lawyers on determining whether to break confidentiality when a client presents a risk of committing a violent or criminal act, as well as the differences in standards of professional responsibility for lawyers and mental health professionals in representing or treating an offender with mental illness. Ethical issues for prosecutors in cases involving defendants with mental illnesses, and concerns in regards to applying risk assessments created as an evaluation of probabilities across a wide range of people to an individual, were also major topics.

The morning sessions’ panels included Melissa Lee Mazzitelli, Esq., Virginia Barber Rioja, Ph.D., Joyce Kendrick, Esq., and Merrill Rotter, MD, and was moderated by Carol Fisler, Esq.. The first afternoon session panel was comprised of Sharun Goodwin-Jones, Trish Marsik, Jerome E. McElroy, and John Volpe. The final panel included Julian Adler, Esq., David Kelly, Esq., and Merrill Rotter, MD. The afternoon session panels were moderated by Colleen King, Esq., and Margaret Martin Esq. respectively.

The PLI seminars are comprehensive and informative, focusing on the latest research and contributions from the most experienced names in the field. Many are eligible for CLE credit.

 

pli

This seminar/webcast was hosted by the Practising Law Institute. To register for any webcasts or seminars go to www.pli.edu for more information.

At the core of Practising Law Institute’s mission is its commitment to offer training to members of the legal profession to support their pro bono service. PLI offers pro bono training, scholarships, and access to live programs, Webcasts, and On-Demand archived programs, as well as an extensive Pro Bono Membership program. For more information about PLI’s pro bono programs and activities, please visit www.pli.edu/probono. Follow PLI’s Pro Bono Group on LinkedIn, and on Twitter @ProBonoPLI.

ProJustice MN – Pro Bono to Go

Posted in Legal Services, Pro Bono, Technology
Pro Bono To Go - Checklist Options

Pro Bono To Go – Checklist Options

Volunteer attorneys, paralegals and law students routinely work in field settings such as clinics, courthouses or community legal education events. Providing comprehensive support to legal volunteers in these settings can be challenging, but the ubiquity of mobile devices and tablets makes them ideal vehicles for supporting pro bono in these contexts. In Minnesota, Legal Aid Services of Northeastern Minnesota, Legal Services State Support and the State Bar of Minnesota worked with Pro Bono Net to create new solutions for legal professionals on the go.

Pro Bono to Go” is a mobile-optimized library of Interview Guides and Settlement Checklists designed for pro bono attorneys. The resources are available through ProJusticeMN.org, Minnesota’s statewide advocate site. Interview Guides contain questions that help attorneys and legal service providers navigate a client interview on a selected topic. Settlement Checklists include issues likely to be relevant to a settlement within the selected topic. While these guides and checklists will not cover every situation, the attorneys and legal service providers can adapt to the client’s situation using these resources as a road map.

Pro Bono To Go - Housing Law: Eviction Settlement Checklist

Pro Bono To Go – Housing Law: Eviction Settlement Checklist

The Interview Guides are intended to help gather important information from clients. Each guide contains a series of model questions to solicit information likely to be relevant to the topic area. The Settlement Checklists can help volunteers assist clients in reaching comprehensive settlements with adverse parties. Each checklist contains issues that should be discussed with the client, and issues to consider addressing in the client’s agreement.

By constructing a series of mobile-optimized client interview guides and settlement checklists to help volunteer attorneys and legal service advocates, ProJusticeMN and Pro Bono Net have given practitioners a powerful new tool as omnipresent as their smartphones. With so much information literally at their fingertips, attorneys and legal service providers are better able to serve those unable to afford paid legal services.

ProJusticeMN.org is a unique collaboration of the Minnesota public interest legal community. The Minnesota Legal Services Coalition, Minnesota State Bar Association, Legal Services Advocacy Project, and the federal Legal Services Corporation worked together to develop ProJusticeMN.org.

NY Courts Honored with LTN Innovation Award for the Most Innovative Use of Technology in a Pro Bono Project

Posted in Courts, Legal Services, Pro Bono, Technology

Each year, thousands of individuals facing domestic violence in New York seek to protect themselves from abuse with an order of protection. Last month, ALM’s Legaltech News recognized The New York State Unified Court System with an LTN innovation award for the Most Innovative Use of Technology in a Pro Bono Project for the Advocate Family Offense Petition Project.  On Tuesday, Pro Bono Net and LegalTech News presented the award to the New York Courts.

photo 4

Pictured: L-R: Pro Bono Net Executive Director Mark O’Brien, Honorable Fern A. Fisher, Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for New York City Courts and Director the NYS Courts Access to Justice Program; and Erin Harrison, Editor in Chief at Legaltech News.

The project reduces barriers for individuals seeking protection from abuse. By leveraging Pro Bono Net’s LawHelp Interactive online document assembly solution, the project allows advocates across the state to complete and electronically file petitions for litigants from any location, including from trusted domestic violence agencies and shelters. Since the program’s launch in 2014, more than 8,000 petitions have been filed using this program in 45 of NY’s 62 counties. The project streamlines the procedures for petitioners seeking protection orders, making the process less stressful for litigants. Pro Bono Net nominated the NY Courts for this honor, believing they should be applauded for implementing technology  which makes the justice system more accessible  for unrepresented litigants who are seeking critical support under the most difficult of circumstances.

“It’s been a real privilege for Pro Bono Net to be a part of that journey and evolution in the way the court has thought about providing services and equipping its staff and partnering organizations to be able to do the hard work that they’re charged with every day,” said Pro Bono Net’s Executive Director Mark O’Brien at the ceremony.

During her speech on Tuesday, the Honorable Fern A. Fisher acknowledged the collaborative effort it took to get to the end of this journey, saying that it took a lot of hands to make this happen. Collaborators included Pro Bono Net, the New York Court’s Access to Justice Program, NYC Family Court, the Court’s Division of Technology, and the Center for Court Innovation and domestic violence advocacy groups. At the end of her speech, Judge Fisher acknowledged that though this a huge feat, it’s not the end of the battle, and added that she hopes to see statistics on domestic violence reduced in her lifetime.

Honorable Fern A. Fisher (pictured center) with the 2015 LTN Innovation Award for Most Innovative Use of Technology in a Pro Bono Project. LTN presented the award to the courts at a ceremony at the Courthouse yesterday. Pictured with Judge Fisher are from Left to Right: Mike McLoughlin, First Deputy Chief Clerk, Family Court Administration, City of New York; Mark O’Brien; Erin Harrison; Chip Mount, Director of Research and Technology at New York State Unified Court System; Mike Williams, Clerk of Court, Bronx Family Court.

The project leverages LawHelp Interactive (LHI), a national online document assembly service that provides support to access to justice initiatives by legal services, court, pro bono, and law school programs in more than 40 states. LHI is operated by Pro Bono Net, in partnership with Ohio State Legal Services, and together they have received generous support for this work from the Legal Services Corporation’s Technology Initiative Grants program, as well as from the HotDocs Corporation.

 

Unaccompanied Children Resource Center Responds to Need for Legal Information

Posted in Immigration, Legal Services, Technology

The UnUCRCaccompanied Children Resource Center launched in early 2015 as a joint project of the Immigration Advocates Network and the American Bar Association. The new website responds to the crisis of unaccompanied immigrant minors in immigration court proceedings. They are leaving their homes for many reasons: to escape abuse, discrimination, gender-based violence, poverty, trafficking, or other desperate situations. Some may qualify to stay in the United States, but the laws and processes are complicated. In FY 2014 almost 70,000 children from Mexico and Central America crossed the United States’ southern border; a 77% increase from the previous year. Many of these immigrant minors do not have access to a lawyer, and the government is not mandated to provide one. Many children—toddlers through teenagers—arrive at court alone, and insufficient knowledge of their legal options is a barrier that often leads to deportation.

The site shares trusted legal information and referrals with advocates, children, and their guardians. Features include a legal directory where children can search for organizations providing pro bono services, as well as a number of plain-language Spanish and English documents on what to expect in immigration court, how to work with a lawyer, how to enroll in school, and more. The site also serves as a resource for lawyers new to immigration court; lawyers can access practice advisories and manuals and connect with organizations to volunteer with children.

The process by which unaccompanied children access services in the U.S. differs across city and immigration court jurisdiction. In Minnesota, volunteer attorneys coordinated by three major service providers gather at the Fort Snelling Court on Tuesday and Thursday mornings for case screening interviews for the unaccompanied children’s docket. In the coming months, the UAC site will expand information about collaborative efforts, such as this one, to explain how children access services in different cities and how volunteers can join the effort.

Visit the site at uacresources.org

IAN logo

LSNTAP/PBN Webinar: 2015 50 Tech Tips

Posted in Legal Services, Libraries, Technology, Webinar

Jillian Theil has been the Training and Field Support Coordinator for Pro Bono Net since 2011. She manages the LSNTAP/PBN Community Training series. 

Pro Bono Net and LSNTAP kicked off their 2015 LSNTAP Community Training series with the recurring favorite, “50 Tech Tips for Getting You Started on Summer Projects.” The training featured 50 tech tips for project management, collaboration, communication and more, including resources to help legal aid techies get started on that summer project they’ve been putting off. It also included “homegrown” tools and resources developed by and for the legal aid community, and sources of nationally-relevant content and videos that programs have made available for community use.

Tim Ng of the Legal Aid Association of California kicked things off by highlighting some great general tech tips for the legal aid community. Some of these included Ninite, a program to install and update all your programs at once and tinypng, a compression tool for .png files.

Jenny Singleton of Minnesota Legal Services State Support highlighted some great tech productivity tools including Workflowy, a workflow tech tool and Wunderlist, a great to-do list tool.

Jessie Posilkin of the Legal Services Corporation kicked off her presentation with a great reminder – sometimes, the most helpful tech tips don’t involve tech at all, but are rather about getting back to basics. Take a step back and go on a walk to reset your mind, make sure to pick up the phone to talk directly to your colleagues, and be sure to take time to orient your team to any new technology. These small tips will enhance your tech experience.

Not to forget some of the great homegrown tech tools the legal aid tech community has created, Anna Hineline of LawNY talked about WriteClearly and ReadClearly, two great plain language tools. She also discussed other useful products, such as IFTTT, which allows for automated actions between different tech tools.

Rounding out the tech tips was my presentation on tools that have made my life easier working in legal aid technology. A few of my favorites include device mode and mobile emulation in Chrome and the Google Analytics plugin for Chrome.

To view the other tips mentioned on this webinar, be sure to check out materials available on the SWEB Support Site and join us for the next LSNTAP/PBN webinar, “Process Mapping for Civil Legal Services: Small Investments with a Big Impact!”

NTAP helps nonprofit legal aid programs improve client services through effective and innovative use of technology. To do this, we provide technology training, maintain information, create online tools, and host community forums such as the LStech email list. Read about us, or contact us at info@lsntap.org for more information.

Join Pro Bono Net Executive Director, Mark O’Brien, for a panel discussion

Posted in Pro Bono, Staff News, Technology
Mark O'Brien Pro Bono Net Co-Founder & Executive Director

Mark O’Brien, Pro Bono Net Co-Founder & Executive Director

“I Don’t Have a Pro Bono Coordinator in My Office, How Can I Do Pro Bono?”

This Tuesday, June 23rd, the NYC Bar Committee on Pro Bono and Legal Services and the Encouraging Pro Bono Outside Big Law Sub-Committee is offering a CLE-credited event entitled “I Don’t Have A Pro Bono Coordinator in My Office, How Can I Do Pro Bono?” to discuss the ways in which firms and attorneys with limited resources can still contribute to pro bono activities.

The panel will identify “how-tos” and best practices for attorneys seeking to perform pro bono services without institutional assistance, and provide an opportunity to network with people who are already doing it.

Pro Bono Net’s co-founder and Executive Director, Mark O’Brien is one of the panelists. In addition to participating in the panel, O’Brien will present a tutorial on the Pro Bono Net platform and how it can be used to overcome some of these challenges.

Other Panelists include:

Yacine Barry-Wun, Special Counsel for Housing Court Initiatives, New York State Courts Access to Justice Program;

  • Russ Bleemer, Program Coordinator, Monday Night Law Program, City Bar Justice Center;
  • Scott Kohanowski, Director, LGBT Advocacy Project, City Bar Justice Center; Staff Attorney, Foreclosure Project, City Bar Justice Center;
  • Sarah Diane McShea, Law Offices of Sarah Diane McShea.
  • Moderator, John H. Ogden, Of Counsel, Falcon & Singer P.C.

There will be an introduction by Debra L. Raskin, President of the New York City Bar Association and Partner at Vladeck, Waldman, Elias & Engelhard, P.C.

We encourage you to join this important discussion. In addition to providing best practices, the event offers an opportunity to network with people doing pro bono work. Event information and registration details are available here.

 

Themes and Takeaways from EJC 2015

Posted in Conferences, Legal Services, Pro Bono, Technology

 

Xander Karsten

LawHelp Program Coordinator Xander Karsten

 

 

Each year I and a cadre of Pro Bono Net staff have the privilege of attending the Equal Justice Conference.  It provides a time to connect in person with partners and community members, share innovative projects, and meet new people from across the country.  This is my fifth EJC, and watching themes emerge, morph and change remains one of my favorite parts of the conference. Below are a few of these themes from this year’s conference from a technology minded perspective.

 

Going Where Clients Are

Whether it is collaborative justice models, taking legal services to the suburbs, expanding pro bono engagement to nontraditional partners, or bringing on development staff to explore additional resources this year the traditional themes of engaging clients continued to evolve as the conversations and the tools also evolve.  No where is this more true than in the technology-enabled access to justice sphere, where sessions focusing on reaching out to client populations through websites, videos, SMS campaigns and other methods joined sessions exploring virtual legal clinics and innovative partnerships to  continue the dialogue focused on delivering information and services into the hands of those who need it most.

Once you’re there- Know how to engage!

This year, more than almost any other in my memory, workshops focused on a variety of cultural competency needs and lessons, and explored the needs of different client populations to integrate into our approaches. This is true in the in-person and online contexts, and this year’s session line-up reflected the unique needs in both these arenas.

Don’t divide and conquer- Identify and unite

This year, more than any other, the inner workings of decentralized collaborations seemed to be on everyone’s mind.  These types of collaborations, where each partner is encouraged to play to their strengths and rely on others whose strengths complement their own, have long provided a staple of direct services collaborations, and continue to move to online spaces and partnerships.  This was crystallized in the phenomenal keynote address by the Department of Justice’s Access to Justice Initiative Director, Lisa Foster when she posited:

We need to assess our community’s strengths and weaknesses and then coordinate and integrate services.  We can’t afford to be duplicative or competitive.

These word have never been more true in direct services, national strategy, and in our next steps to implement technology-enabled solutions to address the needs of low-income individuals. The full text of this speech can be found at accesstojustice.net at  http://accesstojustice.net/2015/05/08/doj-atj-initiative-director-lisa-foster-keynote-at-equal-justice-conference/ with a great blog by Richard Zorza focused on this keynote and other aspects of EJC.

These are just a few of the many themes heard around EJC this year.  As always, it was a great conference with great conversations, and we are all looking forward to Chicago in 2016!

 

Clear Communications Improve Outcomes for Low-Income and Spanish-Speaking in Texas and California Courts

Posted in Legal Services, Pro Bono, Technology

Press Release Posted on May 6, 2015  (http://bit.ly/1EH4D3K)

New York, NY (May 6, 2015) – For victims of rape, assault, and sexual assault who go to court without an attorney, just navigating the court system can be daunting, never mind understanding complex court orders. Roadblocks intensify for those with low English proficiency. Thanks to the efforts of nine legal services and nonprofit organizations, new resources have been created and have shown their ability to improve outcomes for low-income and Spanish-speaking litigants in courts in Texas and California.

Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid (TRLA) and Pro Bono Net led this effort, funded by the Legal Services Corporation Technology Initiative Grant program, which creates court orders in plain language and Spanish and as a result, provides low-income and limited-English court litigants and opposing parties with greater clarity and understanding about what the order includes and requires. This way, victims are protected and the other side can better understand how not to break the order. The two sites chosen for the project, Austin, TX and Sonoma County, CA both have significant and growing Spanish-speaking populations. Across the country the percentages of households speaking languages other than English at home are growing, and courts have had difficulty providing translated orders.

In Texas, automated forms are used by victim’s advocates and the Travis County Attorney’s Office to ensure that forms are clear and easy to understand. In California, the forms give appointments and instructions to custody litigants starting a case, explaining what to do next and where to show up for their next hearing. In both states, the forms are powered by LawHelp Interactive (LHI), an award-winning online national online document assembly platform in use in over 40 states. LHI is a program of Pro Bono Net, a national nonprofit working to increase access to justice through technology.

“The innovations driven by this project help to protect those most vulnerable. No one should have their security and safety threatened because they cannot understand complex court orders,” said David Hall, Executive Director at TRLA.

The partners set out to show that an increased understanding of court orders would lead to less violations and lower no-show rates. This would improve judicial effectiveness in already busy courthouses.  More importantly, it would result in better protection to victims and their children in the long-term. An evaluation completed in 2014 by NPC Research found positive results at both testing sites, as orders were routinely issued in both languages, a feat that otherwise would have an incredible cost to the states. More importantly, in Travis County, Texas, plain language forms reduced contempt filings in sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking cases, helping protect victims. Additionally, this saves precious resources, including police department engagement, jail time, and additional shelter resources.

“Domestic violence orders are very specific, and they are critical to protecting a victim’s safety. If the person restrained, or the victim, cannot read and understand the order after they leave the court, the order is ineffectual. This project demonstrates that plain language and translated copies can go a long way in ensuring orders are followed, victims stay safe, and courts don’t waste valuable resources issuing orders that won’t be followed,” said Richard Zorza, an attorney and consultant on access to justice issues for over 15 years.

To date, this project is the largest and most ambitious online forms project with a multilingual component ever done in the LHI system. LHI’s technology automatically produced the plain language orders in English and translated custom copies to Spanish when individuals completed an interview.

“The Legal Services Corporation (LSC), through its Technology Initiative Grants program, has made many strategic investments in access-to-justice technology. Since 2010, LSC has invested almost $1.5 million in language access technology to improve access to justice regardless of national origin. We are very pleased to support this project, which uses the national online form capacity provided by LawHelp Interactive (another LSC-funded project). The outcomes show that when Spanish-speaking litigants receive an order and instructions they can understand, they are significantly more likely to benefit from the order,” said Jim Sandman, President of LSC.

The nine partners in the project were Pro Bono Net and its LawHelp Interactive program; TRLA; the Travis County Law Library and County Attorney in Austin, TX; Sonoma County court staff; Transcend; and the Self Represented Litigation Network forms group. The evaluation was done by NPC Research, and the forms automation done by Capstone Practice.

# # #

About Pro Bono Net

Pro Bono Net is a national non-profit organization, founded 15 years ago, dedicated to increasing access to justice for the disadvantaged. Through innovative technology solutions and expertise in building and mobilizing justice networks, Pro Bono Net transforms the way legal help reaches the underserved. Today, we work with a broad network of access-to-justice partners to close the justice gap.  Our comprehensive programs, including www.probono.net, www.lawhelp.org and www.lawhelpinteractive.org, enable legal advocates to make a stronger impact, increase volunteer participation, and empower the public with resources and self-help tools to improve their lives. For more information, visit www.probono.net.

 

 

Most Interesting Takeaways from PLIs Program on Social Media for Non-Profits and Public Interest Organizations (Post 3 of 3)

Posted in PLI, Social Media, Technology, Webinar

IMG_3007-001 (1)Last month, I was fortunate enough to attend the Practising Law Institute’s program on Social Media for Non-Profits and Public Interest Organizations. The Practising Law Institute is a Bronze Sponsor of Pro Bono Net and we are very pleased to partner with them. Liz Keith, Program Director at Pro Bono Net, and a Faculty member at PLI spoke with attendees in San Francisco, CA and was also broadcast LIVE via webcast to over 350 registered participants! Liz was joined by the Executive Director of OneJustice.org, Julia Wilson, and Pro Bono Net’s very own LawHelp Program Coordinator, Xander Karsten. The program offered three presentations meant to help non-profit organizations and public interest organizations start, maintain and grow their social media programs and campaigns. Below I’ve included a discussion on each presentation highlighting what my favorite pieces were within their presentations.

 

Xander Karsten – Institutionalizing Effective Policies and Practices

Pro Bono Net’s LawHelp Coordinator, Xander Karsten, discussed the policies, procedures and ethical questions involved in participating on social media platforms. Since there are so many options and variables out there, each organization really needs an official social media policy, not only to keep all employees on the same page, but also to construct and carry out a proper plan that fits the organization’s unique needs and audiences.

Xander Karsten

LawHelp Program Coordinator Xander Karsten

Policies create a framework to govern the creation of content, responses to communications, and conduct of employees on social media. Most policies are written within an ‘if X then Y’ framework to make following policy easier and more direct. Xander focused on four specific sections that are commonly found within social media policies. The key is to consider some of the commonly used sections that have been found to be useful and determine the best policy for your individual organization.

The Introduction & Purpose section of the policy is a great place to address the overall context, feel, and voice of the organization on social media, and help to define what goals are integral to the policy itself. This section can also be a great place to discuss the expectations and evaluations of success that the organization is going to rely upon moving forward. Since change is inevitable in social media, this section can provide a context and framework for those changes, and should be updated accordingly.

Content creation should be given its own section within a social media policy as the intentions, goals, branding and tone will directly affect the type and frequency of content being shared on each platform. Copyright in social media differs than traditional materials as it is designed to allow users to take and share all materials freely. In this regard, your organization should ensure that the material they share either has some sort of branding, or the story/image or other content that’s been preapproved for use.

Policies regarding responding to comments and questions should also be addressed in the Content section, as they include responsive content, and should be updated and changed according to the organization’s need. For example, Pro Bono Net doesn’t provide direct services to clients, so our policy is to provide the person with alternative means of finding what they need. Many people who contact us are looking for referrals or legal help so we send them to LawHelp.org in order to find local assistance and information according to their area.

The Accounts & Platforms section of the policy is the perfect place to address what platforms your organization will participate on. Branding and identification can be discussed in this section as well. Every organization needs to have a policy regarding the type of information and images that will be shared under the brand name and where that content will be shared. All disclaimers should be worked out in this section and maintained on appropriate platforms. The tone and branding can vary depending on what platforms your organization is on.

It is crucial to put in the policy what position or person will be responsible for the administration of the site, content creation, monitoring and responding. Some organizations may have a dedicated team to work on their social media campaigns, while other organizations have a single person responsible for all of the above. It is important to make these decisions ahead of time and create an Administrators/Roles section within your policy. This is also a great place to put policies regarding problems and incidents like hacking or communications blunders. Knowing who is responsible for taking action and what actions should be taken can help an organization maintain a professional face on social media and prevent a small glitch or mistake from becoming a serious problem.

The options discussed above are important to consider when creating a policy, but it is not an exhaustive list by any means. To learn more Xander suggests visiting www.socialmediagovernance.com/policy.

_____________

pliThis seminar/webcast was hosted by the Practising Law Institute. To register for any webcasts or seminars go to www.pli.edu for more information.

At the core of Practising Law Institute’s mission is its commitment to offer training to members of the legal profession to support their pro bono service. PLI offers pro bono training, scholarships, and access to live programs, Webcasts, and On-Demand archived programs, as well as an extensive Pro Bono Membership program. For more information about PLI’s pro bono programs and activities, please visit www.pli.edu/probono. Follow PLI’s Pro Bono Group on LinkedIn, and on Twitter @ProBonoPLI

Most Interesting Takeaways from PLIs Program on Social Media for Non-Profits and Public Interest Organizations (Post 2 of 3)

Posted in PLI, Social Media, Technology, Webinar


IMG_3007-001 (1)Last month, I was fortunate enough to attend the
Practising Law Institute’s program on Social Media for Non-Profits and Public Interest Organizations. The Practising Law Institute is a Bronze Sponsor of Pro Bono Net and we are very pleased to partner with them. Liz Keith, Program Director at Pro Bono Net, and a Faculty member at PLI spoke with attendees in San Francisco, CA and was also broadcast LIVE via webcast to over 350 registered participants! Liz was joined by the Executive Director of OneJustice.org, Julia Wilson, and Pro Bono Net’s very own LawHelp Program Coordinator, Xander Karsten. The program offered three presentations meant to help non-profit organizations and public interest organizations start, maintain and grow their social media programs and campaigns. Below I’ve included a discussion on each presentation highlighting what my favorite pieces were within their presentations.

 

Julia Wilson – Social Media and OneJustice.org

One Justice long

Julia Wilson is the Executive Director for OneJustice.org, and offered participants a case study on her own organization’s social media work for the past two years. Along with many other pieces of advice and insights, she spoke of the planning that must go into a social media strategy before content should be generated.

The very first thing her organization did was define specific goals to be met by the social media strategy. Be it awareness and participation, or direct campaign contributions, an organization should be very clear about the purpose of their social media work and how they plan to accomplish that purpose.

Whenever there are goals, there must be a method of determining success Programs such as Google Analytics help measure certain statistics about social media pages and can easily be integrated with the social media sites an organization is using. However, some goals may not be measurable in such a statistical way. While the amount of involved users is important, measurement should also have a human component to gauge whether those who are being reached by this post are actually reacting in a positive way.

For example, OneJustice.org wanted to encourage their constituency to get to know the employees. To do this, Julia and her employees brought in baby pictures and asked social media followers to guess which employee belonged to which picture. After all of the votes were in, they released the answers along with additional information about the work that employee performs for the organization.

This project didn’t directly generate donations, nor did focus on the direct work of the organization. Instead, it provided information in a fun and creative way that inspired participation while also offering information about the employees. A project like this takes a lot of planning and dedication, and clearly set goals with predetermined measurements of success.

Secondly, one must define their target audiences. An organization must determine their target audiences prior to creating content, so that the content can better resonate with the intended audiences. While organizations cannot reach everyone, this doesn’t mean that it cannot appeal to multiple audiences in multiple ways. This is why organizations have multiple platforms in which to engage their constituents. OneJustice.org found that Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram worked really well for their needs.

Speaking of platforms, deciding on the target audiences will help an organization to choose which platforms and tools are right for their organization. As certain audiences like lawyers are most likely on LinkedIn, organizations with similar audience targets should have a LinkedIn page and find ways to engage on that platform. A student audience is more likely to be on Twitter or Instagram, so a nonprofit attempting to reach student audiences should consider interacting on those platforms.

Once your organization has clearly defined goals, audiences and tools, it is time to determine the organization’s voice on each platform. The social media tool may help to define a type or tone for the organization on that platform, but an organization still needs to determine a voice for itself. For example, LinkedIn is more of a professional social media platform and requires a more formal tone when speaking through that platform. However, the tonal quality isn’t simply defined by professional. What is the goal of your organization on LinkedIn? Are you speaking to colleagues or donors? All of these decisions must be made on each platform based not only on what that platform details, but also what your organization’s goal is for that platform.

OneJustice.org defined its overall voice and then pieced out what they needed for each platform. This offers some flexibility because there can be some overlap between the platforms. For example, while the organization wants to be seen as an expert on the issues on the LinkedIn platform, they do NOT want to have a professorial tone. They want to be a contributor to a conversation without being overly pretentious or condescending. By defining their overall voice and then choosing which attribute fits best on which platform, OneJustice.org has both a defined strategy as well as flexibility to adapt in particular situations.

All of this strategizing will help an organization determine appropriate content for the various platforms they interact on, but in order to ensure that all employees are on the same page and all of the bases are covered, it is important for every organization to have their own social media policy. Tune in Monday to find out some key attributes of developing a social media policy from Xander Karsten!

___________

pliThis seminar/webcast was hosted by the Practising Law Institute. To register for any webcasts or seminars go to www.pli.edu for more information.

At the core of Practising Law Institute’s mission is its commitment to offer training to members of the legal profession to support their pro bono service. PLI offers pro bono training, scholarships, and access to live programs, Webcasts, and On-Demand archived programs, as well as an extensive Pro Bono Membership program. For more information about PLI’s pro bono programs and activities, please visit www.pli.edu/probono. Follow PLI’s Pro Bono Group on LinkedIn, and on Twitter @ProBonoPLI