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Connecting Justice Communities

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

Most Interesting Takeaways from PLI’s Program on Social Media for Non-Profits and Public Interest Organizations (Post 1 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.

Liz Keith – Getting Started and Growing with Social Media

Liz Keith

Pro Bono Net’s Program Director, Liz Keith, focused on starting and growing a social media program and highlighted ways organizations can identify which tools to use. She broke down a number of sites based on information gather by the PEW Institute and offered her advice. I’ve identified the top three that I felt were the most versatile and widely used.

Facebook

According to studies done by the PEW Institute, Facebook caters to younger audiences, but has been rapidly growing among older populations in recent years. It is a great tool for connecting with audiences in a personal and less formal atmosphere. Liz suggests posting less than three times a day, and including some sort of media rather than just text. For example, the visual component to a Facebook feed is crucial.

According to the PEW study, posts that contain photographs get 53% more likes than those without, and link-shares that include previews of the content and photographs get considerably more attention. With all of the competition on Facebook, getting visual and creative can boost an organizations popularity and success on the platform.

Twitter

According to Liz, Twitter is a platform better suited to timely messaging and personal broadcasting. The Hashtag (#) ability on Twitter helps to focus attention on a specific campaign, issue, or topic and can be a wonderful tool to communicate with your audiences. Building connections and tying messaging in with current events is much easier on Twitter than other platforms due to its fast paced nature.

Liz recommends posting more than once a day and advised that repeat tweeting may be necessary in order to get your message across to audiences. With twitter feeds being so populated, having image content can again help to attract users eyes, but it may still take a few tweets on a subject to garner the attention an organization is looking for.

It is also important to note that Twitter can be seen as more of a discussion based platform, as much of being a part of Twitter is responding, updating and connecting with audiences and the community.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a very different kind of social media platform, with a much more professional edge. While Twitter and Facebook are often seen as an informal conversation, LinkedIn is where your audience connects around professional interests. Since users tend to be more professionally minded your messaging should reflect this.

While media and photos still increase attention, offering resources and connections to professional materials will be of more interest to users and audiences. If your organization is hoping to, or has already, established itself as a “thought leader” this is the platform in which to express it. LinkedIn is a great resource for developing relationships with other organizations, as well as leaders in the industry in which your organization falls.

Other Platforms

Other platforms mentioned and described in her presentation included Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+. Finding the right fit for your organization is very important. However, whether or not your organization decided to participate on a platform, it is imperative to claim the usernames and platform handles associated with your organizations name or nickname to prevent anyone else from using it.

With all of this information in mind, Julia Wilson took the stage to deliver a case study on OneJustice.org. Tune in tomorrow for the highlights of her discussion.

____________

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.

 

 

National Volunteer Appreciation Week: Volunteer Resources from Pro Bono Net

Posted in Legal Services, Libraries, Pro Bono, Social Media, Technology, Uncategorized

Bridge with tagline - volunteer faded

In honor of National Volunteer Appreciation Week 2015, which took place April 12-18, Pro Bono Net would like to recognize the thousands of volunteer lawyers who make a huge difference for those in need. Each day during the week we took to social media to highlight a resource from Pro Bono Net to help volunteer attorneys and legal professionals with their work. Below is a list of those highlights.

We also released a press release thanking volunteer attorneys and legal professionals which can be found HERE. Once again we wish to thank all of the volunteers that continue to make our mission of increasing access to justice a reality.

Sponsored by Points of Light—National Volunteer Week was established in 1974 and has grown exponentially each subsequent year, with literally thousands of volunteer projects and special events scheduled throughout the week.

Pro Bono Opportunities Guide

Volunteer lawyers can connect to opportunities through the National Pro Bono Opportunities Guide, an online, easy-to-use, searchable directory of organizations providing pro bono opportunities across the country available through probono.net, the flagship site and namesake of Pro Bono Net. Legal professionals can search for opportunities through organization, topic and even location. The guide can be found here: http://www.probono.net/oppsguide/

The National Pro Bono Opportunities Guide is a joint project of the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service, its project the ABA Center for Pro Bono, Pro Bono Net and contributing organizations. 

Pro Bono Libraries

Often volunteer attorneys are addressing legal needs that are outside their usual areas of experience or expertise.  The Pro Bono Net network offers a variety of practice libraries where volunteers can find information and resources that include training materials, model briefs and pleadings, case law, videos and other helpful information. The information is sorted based on subject matter, and is state specific to help volunteers access the information they need.

The Library tool is available to members of probono.net in both the national site and state sponsored websites. To become a member go to http://www.probono.net

Pro Bono Training Calendars

Many sites in our network feature calendars with listings of CLE training and other community meetings, lectures, or legal clinics. This tool provides information about training opportunities to assist Pro Bono attorneys and volunteers find the trainings they need since lawyers are not always working within their usual area of legal expertise. These trainings are also geographically sorted to help volunteers find trainings in their area.

The Pro Bono Net National Calendar can be found at http://www.probono.net/calendar/ and categorized by states. The network sites also have their own calendars.

LawHelp Interactive Forms

LawHelp Interactive (LHI) powers online forms that allow low-income people without access to a lawyer to prepare their own legal forms online for free. It can also be used by overstretched pro bono and legal aid attorneys seeking to work more efficiently. LHI supports volunteer attorneys in direct representation, limited scope and referral and screening contexts by helping them to do their pro bono work more efficiently and providing support in new areas of law.

Visit https://lawhelpinteractive.org/FindForms to find out if forms are available for nonprofit advocate and volunteer use in your state.

More Resources

Here is a listing of additional resources that Pro Bono Net helps to provide volunteer attorneys and legal professionals. For more information visit http://www.probono.net

Disaster Legal Aid http://www.disasterlegalaid.org/ – A national site designed to help advocates and volunteers navigate FEMA applications and appeals, and assist disaster survivors facing with other legal needs.

Pro Bono To Go in MN http://www.projusticemn.org/collections/   – A Minnesota statewide mobile tool which provides mobile guides and checklists to Pro Bono volunteers on their smart phones

The National Domestic Violence Pro Bono Directory http://www.probono.net/dv/ – Online searchable directory that provides access to volunteer opportunities related to Domestic Violence

The Immigration Advocates Network Volunteer Opportunities Guide http://www.immigrationadvocates.org/probono/volunteer – Online searchable directory that provides access to volunteer opportunities related to Immigration issues

Military Pro Bono http://www.militaryprobono.org/probono/ – Online resources and searchable directory that provides access to volunteer opportunities related to military and veteran issues

Pro Bono Net is a national non-profit organization 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. 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.

 

 

 

Evolving LawHelp Interactive Through Strategic Discussion: 2015 LHI Tech Summit

Posted in Staff News, Technology, Uncategorized

Mirenda

 

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!