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Connecting Justice Communities

In-House Counsel and Pro Bono – Making the Match

Posted in Celebrate Pro Bono Week, PLI, Pro Bono, Webinar

Are you an In-House Counsel with a resolution to do Pro Bono work in 2016? Are you a non profit looking to engage In-House Counsel volunteers? Watch this free webinar provided by the Practising Law Institute, partnered with Pro Bono Net!

To kick off the 7th Annual National Celebrate Pro Bono Week this past October, the Practising Law Institute partnered with Pro Bono Net to host a free webinar about matching up interested In-House counsels with pro bono projects and programs. The webinar, “In-House Counsel and Pro Bono – Making the Match,” was moderated by Pro Bono Net’s Pro Bono and Special Initiatives Coordinator, Niki DeMel, and featured panelists who were able to shed light on partnerships and programs with in-house counsels, including how they encourage participation, effectively run in-house counsel pro bono programs, and work with partners.

Each of the three panelists spoke about their organization’s efforts and they are outlined below.

Rachel Epps Spears, Executive Director for the Pro Bono Partnership of Atlanta, discussed some of the challenges faced by in-house counsel in doing pro bono work, and how organizations can work with them to mitigate some of these challenges and garner participation. The most common issues voiced by in-house counsel include that they are not litigators, have no malpractice insurance, are not licensed in jurisdiction, have no pro bono infrastructure, have fewer colleagues than other attorneys, pro bono is not rewarded/recognized/allowed, and they don’t have enough time. Rachel offered various solutions and considerations to take into account when encouraging participation by in-house counsels. Her solutions, and more about how Pro Bono Partnership of Atlanta works with in-house attorneys, can be found by watching the webinar here: http://bit.ly/1j7MveU.

Beth Henderson, Chair of Pro Bono Steering Committee at Microsoft Corporation, discussed several considerations that need to be made when creating and maintaining a successful in-house pro bono program. This included four very specific questions that should be asked when getting started: How do you define a successful in-house pro bono program; Is this something leadership supports and is willing to promote; Do certain countries restrict the provision of pro bono representation; How will you measure pro bono participation? After addressing these concerns, Beth highlighted some strategies to effectively manage an in-house pro bono program: Work with partners to develop pro bono opportunities that align with company interests and availability of potential volunteers; Develop an effective channel for evangelizing pro bono opportunities; Recognize the contributions and efforts of volunteers and partners; Highlight the value that pro bono service brings to the company. To learn more about these considerations and strategies, watch the webinar here: http://bit.ly/1j7MveU.

Carol Bockner, Director of Pro Bono Initiatives at the City Bar Justice Center for the NYC Bar Association, discussed how Legal Service Providers can partner with in-house counsels to perform pro bono work. These kinds of partnerships present different challenges as partnerships rather than individual programs and so require different considerations and solutions. Carol suggests that there are specific elements that are required for a successful partnership including identifying a point person at the corporation who is managing the pro bono program, and developing strong communication between the Legal Service Provider and the In-House pro bono professionals. To hear more about these elements and best practices for these partnerships, watch the webinar here: http://bit.ly/1j7MveU.

Interested in volunteering?  Check out our “Volunteer Tools” page to learn about the range of resources we have at Pro Bono Net to help mobilize and engage pro bono volunteers, or start searching for opportunities right now by using our national Pro Bono Opportunities Guide!

 


 

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 visitwww.pli.edu/probono. Follow PLI’s Pro Bono Group on LinkedIn, and on Twitter @ProBonoPLI.

 

Online Form Project Ideas for the Current TIG LOI Cycle 2016

Posted in Announcements, Courts, Legal Services, Libraries, Pro Bono, Proposals, Resources, Technology

LHI logo

Online forms are a key tool in the movement to close the justice gap. They can be used from anywhere and at any time and are now a well understood component of a robust and diverse legal services delivery system.  According to LSC’S Report of The Summit on the Use of Technology to Expand Access to Justice, “Technology can and must play a vital role in transforming service delivery so that all poor people in the United States with a civil legal need obtain some form of effective assistance.”

The open Request for Letters of Intent to Apply for 2016 LSC TIG Grant Funding includes document assembly as one of the areas of interest, as well as replication grants. In order to spark your ideas for document assembly projects, I’d like to share some ideas. These are ideal for programs that are new to document assembly and also for programs that had document assembly grants in the past and are now in a position to benefit from the ongoing advances being made.

We understand from our community that an area of particular interest is improving the relationship that user friendly web page design and ancillary tools (such as live chat and short videos) have on the ultimate use of your online form collection and the benefits to end users. We shared some of these ideas on our January LHI Community call. We also shared a current TIG-funded usability A/B testing project that’s being conducted in Minnesota. In case you missed the call, here is a link to the presentation.

Our LawHelp Interactive Resource Center (http://www.probono.net/LHI) includes sample documents from successful past projects that you can use to begin the process. There is a link for sample LOIs as well as sample narratives and budgets.  (Note: the LHI Resource Center requires a login. Please register or contact us if you need assistance accessing it.)

Below is a list of potential projects utilizing online forms. We encourage you to think holistically about your online forms project and reach out either Claudia Johnson (cjohnson@probono.net) or Mirenda Meghelli (mmeghelli@probono.net) to help you scope your project and identify projects that might lead to potential replication in your state.

  • Replicate LHI Connect for pro bono unbundled clinics and attorney use. This new LHI functionality will be available for replication by other groups this year. LHI Connect facilitates the sharing of documents through the back-end of LHI between a lawyer and client or pro bono coordinator. In September 2015, we showcased the Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma project that partnered with Pro Bono Net to develop this new LHI capacity. 2015. To learn more about LHI Connect, go here.
  • Replicate Oklahoma’s new approach to pages for specific content.  As part of its expungement project, Oklahoma redesigned how it displays the information about expungement on its statewide website, OKLaw.org. Other states could take this project’s design, simplify areas of law where the process or requirements are complex, and apply it, providing users with initial information and forms in short paragraphs and a guided navigation to facilitate understanding of the issue.  More information about this project can be seen at the LHI Connect link above.
  • Produce a mini-guide for your high volume areas. “Mini-guides” (or “mini-portals”) are statewide website pages that have a dedicated URL and contain the essential resources and forms for a particular civil legal issue. This enables a person seeking information about that issue to find all the information in one place rather than in a list, or on multiple pages. They have been very successful in increasing the visibility of resources and in getting users to the online forms available for that subject area. For examples, visit http://www.washingtonlawhelp.org/dissolution or http://www.lawhelpny.org/consumer.
  • Reinvest in your collection! Several states have seen form use go down. This may indicate that it is time to reinvest in your collection of online forms and come up with up a more strategic approach to using online forms. This might include updating your document assembly authoring software (HotDocs or A2J Author) to ensure a better user experience, or coming up with new approaches to content creation now that your project is mature. Part of this would include moving to authoring with HD 11 and A2J 5 for creating forms, sprucing up your forms based, updating them for changes in the law, and conducting  user testing to ensure the updates have maximum benefits for users.
  • Add Live Chat support for your form projects (either within LHI or through your statewide website). Live Chat is a powerful tool to help more people find and make use of what they are searching for online. It also supports multilingual users. Live Chat can be used in information and referral settings, and also in advice and counsel settings. Added to  online forms, this is a powerful combination.  Here is an example of a recently launched Live Chat collaboration focusing on foreclosure.
  • Evaluate your project in more depth. Replicate parts of the groundbreaking Michigan Legal Help project evaluation in order to see if cases filed with LHI forms take longer, get better outcomes, and help your program and their partners serve the public better. Answer the question: do forms empower end users? Find more information here.  The Michigan full report can be found here.
  • Add depth to your collection – beyond initial pleadings or answers – and also add LEP content. Add more public benefit tools, more self-help letters, civil rights and disability documents or complaints – think outside the box. There are many areas that online forms can enhance, outside of litigation. What are the unmet needs of your communities where an online form might offer a solution?
  • Replicate the New York Consumer/Bay Area Legal Aid Legal Consumer projects. There is now an increasing awareness of the needs of debtors. I’d encourage you to look at Human Rights Watch report on debt collection for more information. Here are two examples of consumer law projects that are modern and state of the art.  Other resources for consumer law projects can be found here.
  • Create an LHI-Powered Expungement project. Many states are using LHI forms to help youth and adults clear their records in order to have better access to jobs, housing, and equal opportunities under the law. Consider creating an expungement project for a particular demographic, language, or age group. There are many examples of projects doing this. Please reach out if you want more information.
  • Leverage library and community partners: Stand up virtual self-help centers and beyond! Illinois and Michigan have done an outstanding job creating self-help centers in remote locations and virtually with their statewide online forms as a key component. If your legal aid organization can’t have an office in a rural location consider a project where online forms are completed at public libraries or local community colleges and reviewed remotely by volunteers or attorneys. This increases the footprint of your legal aid work without an office.  An example of a virtual self-help center opening from Michigan can be found here.
  • Add videos to your forms collections to support users or advocates. Guides, tutorials, and visual tools go farther than written content. Help your users understand their case and process forms with great video stories.  See examples here.

In addition to these projects, there are many more ideas on how you can invest or reinvest in your online forms projects that can be found here.  If you are interested in online form integration with your case management system, e-filing, custom email projects, integration with other platforms (Neota Logic) or other platforms or mobile tools, please reach out to Claudia Johnson cjohnson@probono.net.

Put on your thinking caps and reach out if you need support!

Happy New Year, A Note from Our Chair of the Board

Posted in Legal Services, Pro Bono

Dear Friends,

As we enter 2016, the mission of Pro Bono Net, a national nonprofit dedicated to increasing access to justice, is more important than ever before. We are a nation of laws, yet we do not provide legal support in any comprehensive way for the millions of people who cannot afford a lawyer when they really need one—victims of natural disasters, battered women, children fleeing persecution in their home countries, and many others. Through innovative technology solutions and expertise in building and mobilizing justice networks, Pro Bono Net is helping address the access to justice gap.

In 2009 Mark O’Brien, Pro Bono Net’s Executive Director, came to Seattle to urge Microsoft to get involved in promoting access to justice through technology.  His pitch was simple: technology can act as a “force multiplier,” enabling volunteer lawyers to reach people in need far more efficiently and enabling people to help themselves.

That message certainly resonated with Microsoft, and with me. Six years later, I’m proud to serve as the Chair of the Board of Pro Bono Net. I have seen the impact of Pro Bono Net’s technology solutions firsthand, and am more convinced than ever in the efficacy of these solutions. At the same time, technology alone can’t really achieve anything—we need people to contribute their time, talent and resources. (Technology is just a tool.) The networks and partnerships Pro Bono Net has cultivated over the years with other legal services organizations have been crucial in getting vital resources and legal information to volunteer lawyers and people who represent themselves.

Today Pro Bono Net is running multiple programs, including probono.net, LawHelp.org, LawHelp Interactive, and the Immigration Advocates Network. These programs help people to help themselves and help volunteer lawyers to be far more effective. This year alone more than 8 million people used Pro Bono Net’s resources to help address their legal needs. We look forward to another productive year in 2016!

Sincerely,

Dave signature_crop

 

 

 

David A. Heiner, Pro Bono Net Board Chair

 

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Dave is Vice President of Regulatory Affairs at Microsoft. Dave’s team focuses on privacy, telecommunications, accessibility, Internet safety and human rights. In addition to serving as Pro Bono Net’s Board Chair, Dave encourages Microsoft lawyers to take on immigration cases through Microsoft’s partnership with Kids In Need of Defense, and works with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project to assist “Dreamers” in qualifying for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status. Pictured above with Dave (far right) at Pro Bono Net’s Annual Event at Latham & Watkins are (L-R): Mark O’Brien, Pro Bono Net’s Executive Director; LeeAnn Black, Latham & Watkins & Pro Bono Net Board; Wendy Atrokhov, Latham & Watkins; and Niki DeMel, Pro Bono Net Staff.

 

 

Groundbreaking Collaboration Helps New Yorkers Facing Foreclosure Get Live Chat Assistance

Posted in Courts, Launch, Legal Services, Pro Bono, Technology

Yesterday, LawHelpNY (www.LawHelpNY.org), a family of online legal information and referral Internet portals for low and moderate income New Yorkers, announced the launch of its LiveHelp chatting service for visitors to the New York State Unified Court Systems website, CourtHelp (www.nycourthelp.gov).  The LiveHelp service will allow site visitors  to chat with operators who can guide them to legal resources and organizations that may be able to assist them in their case. The initiative is a collaborative effort of multiple organizations working to create a more seamless and integrated help system for vulnerable New Yorkers seeking assistance with legal problems.

Since 2010, LiveHelp operators, primarily trained law student volunteers, have assisted individuals visiting the LawHelpNY website who are often facing serious legal problems, but can’t afford a lawyer. LiveHelp will now be available to visitors on the foreclosure pages of the CourtHelp website, primarily homeowners facing foreclosure, as well as tenants of buildings in foreclosure.

Overwhelmingly, homeowners in foreclosure cases in New York State appear in court without counsel, while 100% of the plaintiffs are represented. It is this disparity, as well as the potential devastating impact on families of losing their home in foreclosure, that led to the selection of this particular topic for which to offer LiveHelp assistance on the CourtHelp website. Visitors to the website can click the button (shown below) to access the service. The button is available on 10 foreclosure-related webpages on CourtHelp. An example can be found at the following link: http://nycourts.gov/courthelp//Homes/foreclosures.shtml.

Press Release Image LHNY

 

 

 

The project is funded by an LSC (Legal Services Corporation) Technology Initiative Grant awarded to Legal Assistance of Western New York. The initiative serves as a pilot to explore the effectiveness of providing real-time assistance to unrepresented litigants visiting the CourtHelp website to further close the justice gap in New York State Courts.

This project is a groundbreaking collaboration in the provision of assistance to unrepresented litigants, bringing together LawHelpNY, the New York State Courts Access to Justice Program, and Pro Bono Net. These organizations collaborated closely to launch the initiative – installing coding, developing operator scripts, and training LiveHelp operators.

“We believe that for individuals going to court on their own who face the very real prospect of losing their home, having the ability to make a connection with an individual who can help, even if it’s in some small way, pointing them to resources or information, can have a significant impact,” said Rochelle Klempner, Chief Counsel, New York State Courts Access to Justice Program.

In making LiveHelp available to visitors on the foreclosure pages of the CourtHelp website, LawHelpNY hopes to expand its reach to serve even more low and moderate-income New Yorkers, in particular those who are facing the dreaded prospect of losing their home.

__________

An article appeared today in the New York Law Journal about the project. You can view that article here on probono.net courtesy of New York Law Journal.

 

Providing Legal Assistance in the Aftermath of Disaster 2015: PLI Training & Webinar

Posted in Legal Services, PLI, Seminar, Webinar
Halimah Elmariah Development & Communications Intern Fall 2015

Halimah Elmariah Development & Communications Intern

 

Halimah is a sophomore at Seton Hall studying International Relations with a minor in Middle Eastern Studies and French. Passionate about social justice and empowering Muslim women, she regularly blogs for MuslimGirl.net. Halimah is a Development & Communications intern for the Fall of 2015 at Pro Bono Net’s New York Headquarters.

The Practicising Law Institute, PLI, recently held a seminar aimed to train volunteers who are interested in helping people affected by disasters entitled “Providing Legal Assistance in the Aftermath of Disaster 2015.” Tiela Chalmers, the Chief Executive Officer of the Alameda County Bar Association, and member of Pro Bono Net’s Board of Directors, hosted the highly informative training. It took months to create and featured various segments that covered a wide range of topics concerning disaster relief.

In the process of establishing this seminar, Chalmers and other collaborating agencies spoke to several legal service individuals, who worked in various disaster-struck locations, to consult them on the most pressing issues that needed to be addressed in the aftermath of disasters. They concluded that there are numerous issues to address, however, the most urgent needs were: landlord and tenant problems, foreclosure and mortgage concerns, insurance, Federal Disaster Assistance, and consumer issues.

Julia Price Rosner, the Unemployment Insurance Coordinator at Manhattan Legal Services, explained the long and tedious process of applying for FEMA to compensate for personal loses after disasters.

She articulated two preconditions that need to happen to mobilize FEMA. First, the governor must request a presidential disaster declaration. Following this declaration, the president declares a disaster, which would consequently authorize a series of programs aimed to alleviate disaster-struck regions. Although Rosner’s explanation seemed simple and straightforward, she stressed the difficulty of actually acquiring aid from FEMA.

Rosner instructed the trainees to ensure that their clients have necessary documents required to complete the FEMA application form, including total household income, social security number, previous address and post-disaster address, bank routing number, insurance information, and a description of losses.

Perhaps the most difficult thing to do from the list is to compile a record of lost items. Recovering from a disaster that claimed much of one’s personal possessions is a harrowing experience that most don’t anticipate or prepare for; thus, recalling all the small and large items that stored some of the most valuable memories is not an easy task.

In order to be eligible for FEMA, Rosner notes that the homeowner or whoever is living in the affected house must be a US citizen, a non-citizen national, or a qualified alien. For the undocumented immigrant population affected by disasters, they can apply for FEMA if they have kids who are US citizens or if anyone living in the home with them is a US citizen.

The Federal Disaster Assistance segment closed with a discussion about Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA), a federal program only eligible for people who lost work or income directly due to a disaster. Rosner highlighted that DUA is a program of last resort, meaning that it’s difficult to obtain and only granted under certain conditions.

An individual who’s unemployed as a result of a disaster must first apply for state unemployment insurance. If the individual is denied, then he or she can apply for DUA provided that they prove denial of state unemployment insurance.

The key element Rosner repeatedly underscored is that Federal Disaster Assistance programs should be considered only after exhausting all other disaster relief options. She maintained that the federal government will ensure that there are no other disaster relief alternatives before granting it to disaster affected individuals.

To learn more about how to prepare for representing Disaster Victims, or view the “Providing Legal Assistance in the Aftermath of Disaster 2015” webinar, visit the Pracitising Law Institute’s website www.pli.edu.

 


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.]

 

Commemorating the International Day of Persons with Disabilities: Highlighting OlmsteadRights.org

Posted in Legal Services, Pro Bono, Technology
Halimah Elmariah Development & Communications Intern Fall 2015

Halimah Elmariah Development & Communications Intern

 

Halimah is a sophomore at Seton Hall studying International Relations with a minor in Middle Eastern Studies and French. Passionate about social justice and empowering Muslim women, she regularly blogs for MuslimGirl.net. Halimah is a Development & Communications intern for the Fall of 2015 at Pro Bono Net’s New York Headquarters.

In honor of this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities, I would like to highlight OlmsteadRights.org. It has been a little over a year since Pro Bono Net partnered with Atlanta Legal Aid, and the National Disability Rights Network to launch Olmsteadrights.org. The resourceful website features an array of helpful resources, including a self-help segment, a legal advocacy section for lawyers, personal stories of people with disabilities, and a brief history of Olmstead.

The stories featured on Olmsteadrights.org illustrate an intimate portrait of the lives of disabled people, who successfully overcame imposed difficulties that hindered their quality of life. A consistent theme of resilience and perseverance manifests in the various poignant and motivational stories of disabled people meeting their needs with the help of Olmstead, pro bono lawyers, and various legal aid societies.

One story tells of a well-educated banker, who suddenly started to fall more and more frequently, until he eventually fell into a month-long coma due to a nerve damage disease.  After recovering from his coma and regaining some of his physical capability, the banker no longer wanted to stay in the nursing home. He remembers feeling depressed in the first couple of years during his stay in the nursing home. Fortunately, he was able to obtain a Medicaid Waiver, a federal program that provides domestic help for disabled people, and Money Follows the Person, also a federal program that permits people to return to their community.

The story of the Olmstead decision dates back to 1999, when the Supreme Court decided on a landmark case that still impacts millions of Americans with disabilities. Two Georgian women, Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson, both of whom had a mental condition, filed a lawsuit against the state for keeping them in mental institutions, after their doctors cleared them to live in the community.  Lawyers at the Atlanta Legal Aid helped them advance their case that went to the highest court in the United States. Under the American Disabilities Act, the Supreme Court found that the state cannot discriminate against people with disabilities.

Personally, the success of Olmstead hits home. I grew up with an older deaf brother, who luckily was afforded the same opportunities as me, to be able to lead a normal, healthy, and successful life. Fortunately, he received quality education from his pre-school years up until college that helped him improve his speech and work on his interpersonal skills. Additionally, he was offered unparalleled health services to meet his physical needs.

My parents often contemplated what my brother’s life and our family’s fate would have been like if we didn’t live in the United States. When I learned of Olmsteadrights.org, I was grateful that my brother would have access to legal support if he ever required it to meet his legal needs.


 

OlmsteadRightsThe Disability Integration Project of Atlanta Legal Aid Society created OlmsteadRights.org in collaboration with our partners and funders to be a place for everyone to learn about the Olmstead decision. The website also provides resources and information for self-advocates, family and friends of people with disabilities, and legal advocates alike. The website was created by the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Inc. in partnership with the National Disability Rights Network and funded by a Technology Initiative Grant (TIG Grant) from the Legal Services Corporation (LSC).

 

Are you an attorney that can help? Find an Opportunity at UACresources.org

Posted in Immigration, Legal Services, Pro Bono, Technology

Author: Abigail Krusemark, Immigrant Youth Resources Coordinator (AmeriCorps VISTA), Immigration Advocates Network

Over 100,000 unaccompanied children (UACs) have crossed the United States’ southern border since October of 2013. With more than half of these cases still pending in the nation’s immigration courts and nearly 70% of children unrepresented, the need for pro bono is great. The Unaccompanied Children Resource Center responds to this need by offering free legal resources and highlighting volunteer opportunities for advocates and attorneys.screen shot

In some cities, local service providers are collaborating to meet the legal needs of UAC. The UAC website has the latest information on collaborations and volunteer opportunities in Baltimore, New York, Minneapolis-Saint Paul, and San Francisco. For each city there is a description and the volunteer coordinator’s contact information. Write-ups for children describe, in simple language, the services these collaborations offer and how to find the organizations at the court. These write-ups simplify the often-confusing court process.

These collaborations use different models of screening, referral, and representation, but most operate out of the court, cover a particular docket or dockets, rotate attorneys of the day, screen children for relief, and refer cases. These collaborations are made possible by attorneys and non-legal professionals who volunteer their time to greet families, conduct intake, translate, and more. Volunteer mentoring is often available.

Find a volunteer opportunity with a collaboration under “Regional Efforts” on the home page, locate a lawyer and resources for clients under “Do you Need Legal Help?”, and learn from practice advisories, webinars, and more under “Are you an Attorney that can help?.”

Do you want to feature your regional collaboration? E-mail akrusemark@immigrationadvocates.org


 

The Unaccompanied Children Resource Center offers free legal resources and information for advocates and immigrants. This website is a project of the Immigration Advocates Network, American Bar Association, and Pro Bono Net. It includes resources developed by our partners and other immigrants’ rights advocates.

 

probonoFor other pro bono opportunites visit Pro Bono Net’s National Pro Bono Opportunities Guide, an online, easy-to-use, searchable directory of of over 1,400 programs providing pro bono opportunities across the country available through probono.net, the flagship site and namesake of Pro Bono Net

Technological Innovation in Public Interest Practice and Access to Justice: An Interview with Claudia Johnson

Posted in Legal Services, Technology, Webinar
Stanley Ramdhany Pro Bono Net Development & Communications Intern Summer 2015

Stanley Ramdhany Pro Bono Net Development & Communications Intern

 

Stanley Ramdhany is a senior at Columbia University majoring in Sociology with a particular interest in the field of law and society.   He interned at the New York office of Pro Bono Net in the summer of 2015 as a Development & Communications Intern. 

On July 16, 2015, I had the privilege of attending a webinar hosted by Lauren E. Aguiar and Susan B. Plum at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher, & Flom LLP entitled “Innovative Uses of Technology in Your Public Interest Practice.”  Skadden Arps is part of our Leadership Circle, an elite group making a significant investment in the work of Pro Bono Net to increase access to justice. The webinar was presented by and addressed towards Skadden Fellows, distinguished lawyers devoted to innovative public interest work who are recipients of a fellowship from the Skadden Foundation.  Claudia Johnson, Pro Bono Net’s Program Manager of Law Help Interactive, was one of the panelists on the webinar, and graciously discussed some of the issues raised during the event with me.

In the field of public interest work, Claudia Johnson is renowned as one of the first law professionals to address the union between technology and legal aid.  On the topic of how she first entered the field, Claudia stated, “I decided to go to law school at U Penn, and there I fell in love with public interest work, by working with DV victims in Northern Philadelphia. At this point, I was very interested in national origin discrimination and LEP advocacy, so I did my Skadden Fellowship on language access for Medicaid/disabled communities with focus on LEP groups.”  It was there that Claudia first focused on the union of legal services and technology:  “I wanted to have a way to track patterns by health care plan, zip code, and client demographics. So I was looking for a relatable multidimensional database—in 1997. That did not exist in legal services, so we had to build our own.”

For Claudia, the focus on LEP communities is a personal investment.  “I am one of the few Central American public interest lawyers I know in the US. I grew up in El Salvador and due to the civil war, my family moved to San Juan PR. […] I am usually the only Latina in the room, the only person who speaks languages other than English at home, often the only first generation immigrant.”

Claudia has spent her whole career in public interest work, having achieved other important successes with technology.   She spent eight years in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she “had the chance to work at VLSP with Tiela Chalmers who is now on our Board, and also with Haydee Alfonso who is now leading the legal advice line at Bay Legal. At Bay Legal, the LAL changed the way law was practiced in the Bay Area using 1930s technology in a good way, so that confirmed my interest in technology as a game changer to bridge the gap.”

Claudia later joined Pro Bono Net as the Program Manager of Law Help Interactive in 2008.  She stated that she joined PBN “to make online forms a ‘go to’ tool to improve access to justice.”  Very satisfied with her work thus far at PBN, she added, “The number of states using LawHelp Interactive has more than doubled since I started. Our usage rate is fantastic, and every day legal aid groups and their court partners rely on online forms to serve hundreds of persons per day. LHI is now integrated with court e-filing systems, legal aid CMS systems.”

Left to Right: Susan B. Plum, Director, Skadden Fellowship Foundation; Brooke Richi-Babbage, Founder & Executive Director, Resilience Advocacy Project; Adam Stofsky, Executive Director, New Media Advocacy Project; Dora Galacatos, Executive Director, Ferrick Center for Social Justice; Claudia Johnson, LawHelp Interactive Program Manager, Pro Bono Net.

Left to Right: Susan B. Plum, Director, Skadden Fellowship Foundation; Brooke Richi-Babbage, Founder & Executive Director, Resilience Advocacy Project; Adam Stofsky, Executive Director, New Media Advocacy Project; Dora Galacatos, Executive Director, Ferrick Center for Social Justice; Claudia Johnson, LawHelp Interactive Program Manager, Pro Bono Net.

Like Claudia, the other panelists at the webinar represent innovative and successful ventures in uniting technology with the delivery of legal aid to those most in need.  Each panelist in the seminar presented aspects of their work in legal services and public interest projects which related directly to technological innovation.  Claudia presented alongside Brooke Richi-Babbage, Founder and Executive Director of the Resilience Advocacy Project, Adam Stofsky, Executive Director at New Media Advocacy Project, and Dora Galacatos, Executive Director of the Ferrick Center for Social Justice.

The focal issue of the webinar, as stated by Claudia, is that “there aren’t enough lawyers for all of the people that have legal needs.”  These panelists advocate technology as a means to bridge the gap in access to justice between the disadvantaged populace and the limited number of lawyers available.  In particular, Claudia outlined three forms of traditional legal services that technology can supplement: information and referrals, advice or counsel in the form of online services, and legal representation.

Claudia specifically advocated for online services such as videos and web chats or forums.  When I followed up with her afterwards on these ideas, she discussed their utility in relation to filling out legal forms online: “Videos and graphics supplement the forms.  […] Before they start the form, they can watch a video about what the form will do for them, and what they need to complete it. Once they get the notice of hearing, they can watch a video for that. The beauty of videos is that they can be short and to the point. A good video can convey a lot of information in 2 minutes. Videos can be stopped and rewatched. So I think that videos that supplement forms (not inside forms) are the way to go. Also forms and webchat—not to answer questions about how to fill out a form, but to guide people to the forms and help them find other resources about the process the forms invoke are also a great combination.”

Even simple graphics do a great job of translating complicated legal procedure into universally comprehensible information.  Reviewing Pro Bono Net’s own use of graphics in its online services, Claudia remarked, “the mini-guides that LawHelp.org has created do this extremely well. But originally, I think it was the icon designs that Pro Bono Net first introduced in the early 2000s in its LawHelp platform that were genius. Those icons have survived 15 years, and replicated across the country. I hope the mini guides will continue to be created for the high volume areas of law.”

The utility of graphics and videos in facilitating the delivery of legal information was made salient in the comments of other panelists at the webinar also. Brooke Richi-Babbage underscored how the Resilience Advocacy Project used videos produced in conjunction with Adam Stofsky’s New Media Advocacy Project to explain the barriers faced by young urban fathers in the New York court system.  Visual media plays the dual role of making invisible individuals visible to legal services providers and making information accessible to navigate the legal system.

This observation led the panelists to emphasize the importance of knowing the context of access to justice in a given community.  On one level, this means networking with other public interest organizations in the area.  Claudia mentioned Richard Zorza’s Access to Justice Blog, where she serves as a commentator, as one such resource for the most cutting edge methods of technology integration in access to justice.   She also praised The Access to Justice Index, which gives metrics of where a state is ranked in access to justice in different categories, such as for LEP communities and those without lawyers.

The final topic addressed by the webinar was the issue of data and cyber security.  From my discussion with Claudia I learned that this is an especially delicate matter for legal services professionals who integrate technology into their work.  Claudia referenced the 2012 Model Rules of Professional Practice, which she interprets to mean that lawyers cannot be ignorant of tech security if they intend to use it to communicate with their clients.

Remote interaction between lawyers and clients is a trend Claudia forecasts for the future of the legal profession.  She argues that “by and large for most poor people, if they are going to be lucky enough to get a free lawyer most of them will still need to schlep to the court or the legal aid office, take the afternoon off from work, spend time and money to get there, park and walk and figure out what to do with the kids, to work with the lawyer. Through hotlines, advice is done over the phone and via fax and that is an established model. The challenge now for public interest law firms is to develop remote practices using online and hand held technology.”

However, there is a trade-off between security and convenience as there is in all areas of online services.  For Claudia, she encourages lawyers to think carefully about how they will employ technology in their communications with clients: “I don’t imagine clients who retain a lawyer to advise them expect lesser protection when they use Gmail or text messages to communicate with their lawyers. Clients are not aware there might be trade-offs between convenience and cyber risks. And I don’t know if lawyers tell their clients or give them the choice and the pros and cons of using SMS texting, email, or new and emerging technology to communicate with them about confidential matters or even if they give the clients a choice. They should.  In practice, I don’t know if retainers now include standard language on methods of communication and options for clients describing the trade-off between convenience vs. security. I hope so.”

Others in the panel had advice on the topic: firms and non-profits in the legal sector should identify the types of information being held internally, control who has access to it and know which systems are most vulnerable.  However, the issue of cyber security remains unavoidable if the legal profession is to move forward with continued integration of technology, and Claudia is right to start the discussion now.

The uncertain future aside, Claudia is optimistic about what organizations like Pro Bono Net had accomplished already.  “These concerns should not stop innovation. We just need to be thoughtful about it and clear and purposeful,” she advocated.

And indeed, I feel that panels on the integration of technology into legal services and public interest practice fulfill this goal of being thoughtful about innovation.  I hope to see more from Claudia and others in the field on the subject of access to justice and technology to promote remote services soon!

 


 

 

 

The Skadden Fellowship Program, described as “a legal Peace Corps” by The Los Angeles Times, was established in 1988 to commemorate the firm’s 40th anniversary, in recognition of the dire need for greater funding for graduating law students who wish to devote their professional lives to providing legal services to the poor (including the working poor), the elderly, the homeless and the disabled, as well as those deprived of their civil or human rights. The aim of the foundation is to give fellows the freedom to pursue public interest work; thus, the fellows create their own projects at public interest organizations with at least two lawyers on staff before they apply.

Young New Yorkers & Intralinks: Keeping Participant Information Confidential

Posted in Legal Services, Pro Bono, Technology
Damilola Kolade, Development & Communications Intern, Summer 2015

Damilola Kolade, Development & Communications Intern, Summer 2015

 

 

Author: Damilola Kolade is an Undergraduate student in her senior year at Binghamton University, currently studying English Literature and Rhetoric. Passionate about the work of advocacy and witnessing vulnerable and marginalized populations receive access to justice, she previously interned in ProBono Net’s Development and Communications department, and is now a student intern with the Legal Aid Society of Mid-NYC, Inc.

 

 

 

Young New Yorkers is an art-based restorative-justice intervention program founded by Columbia School of Architecture graduate, Rachel Barnard. Aimed at 16 and 17 years olds in the justice system who have been charged as adults, the initiative initially centered on empowering youth through art, to voice on issues concerning them and advocate for change. Since its successful startup in 2012, Young New Yorkers has soon evolved in a court-mandated program, wherein it serves as an alternative to adult sentencing upon its participants’ successful completion.

Young New Yorkers needs to be able to access and work with the confidential information in the youths’ files in a secure and convenient manner in order to provide the best and most successful experience for the youth involved. In order to accommodate the need for access to confidential files on the individuals in the program, the initiative utilizes Intralinks, a secure digital information sharing platform. Using Intralinks, all parties who need to can access the youth’s confidential information for a limited time while the youth is involved in the program. This technology allows Young New Yorkers to keep the confidential information in their care safe and secure, and properly run their program.

Rachel Barnard is a Percival and Naomi Goodman Fellowship recipient from Columbia University’s Advanced Architectural Design Program, and Executive Director of the public art project, Young New Yorkers (YNY). Adam Licht previously worked with Pro Bono Net for 8 years (2006-2014) as Director of Product Management and Business Development. He is currently the Director of Business Development at Intralinks. He has worked with various non-profit organizations, including Young New Yorkers, to provide state of the art security vital to protecting sensitive information involved in such environments.

We asked Rachel and Adam to answer a few questions on the work of Young New Yorkers and the role that the Intralinks technology has played in making this program a success.

Rachel, upon graduating from Columbia University’s Advanced Architectural Design Program, you received the Percival and Naomi Goodman Fellowship. How did your educational journey culminate into the Young New Yorkers initiative, which seeks to intervene on behalf of youth with misdemeanor through the use of art?

Rachel Barnard (RB): The proposal for which I won the Goodman Fellowship was for a public art project that I had called Young New Yorkers. The project’s goal was to give voice to 16- and 17-year-olds being prosecuted classified as adults and who are facing the life long collateral consequences of an adult criminal record. That we provided a platform for the young people to be heard on this issue was particularly important to myself and the YNY team given 16- and 17-year-olds are too young to vote and meaningfully impact change on an issue that effects them the most.

On winning the Fellowship I was struck by the significant responsibility of working with young people in the criminal justice system. The first ten months of starting Young New Yorkers was focused mostly on research and development. A working committee formed of 10-12 people, made up of public defenders, social workers, therapists, advocates, artists and architects. We met every three weeks to discuss this issues surrounding young people who are justice involved and exploring what a public art program could look like.

Young New Yorkers as a court-mandated program came out of this work, and out of Chief Judge Lippman’s call to “Raise the Age” from 16-years-old to 18-years-old when being prosecuted as an adult. We introduced our program to Judge Gubbay and to the Center of Court Innovation, and with their partnership it evolved into an alternative to adult sentencing rather than simply a project for young people to advocate for change.  However to this day the young people’s voices are central to our mission which is to provide arts-based transformative justice programs to court-involved young people, with the ultimate goal of transforming the criminal justice system through their own creative voices.

What is the vision behind YNY and how does it aim to bridge the gap in our criminal justice system?

RB: To provide court-mandated programs which provide a space for young people to take responsibility for their actions while giving them an opportunity to advocate for themselves, their communities and a social issue that is important to them. All of our programs culminate in a YNY Finale, a public art exhibition that is designed and implemented by the young participants. Members of the criminal justice system—including judges, defense attorneys, social workers, district attorneys, and court officers—are invited to attend YNY Finales, and to re-meet the young participants as creative, worthy contributors to their communities. Central to our commitment to a transformative justice model, our programs serve to shed light on the system, though the voices of the young people that we serve.

A recent article on InformationWeek suggests the uniqueness of the Young New Yorkers program, by highlighting a strong relationship between art and technology to in contributing to a successful impact. Why is this relationship of particular importance to you?

RB: Young New Yorkers makes use of powerful technology, like Intralinks, to maintain the integrity of our programming. Its secure systems ensures that the sensitive information of our young participants remains confidential, and the leaders of particular programs are the only ones who are able to access such information.

Adam, YNY has partnered with Intralinks VIA in this regard.  Could you elaborate on Intralinks’ role in this program and the decision to utilize this specific service?

Adam Licht (AL): The challenge that YNY has is that it must share information with third parties while protecting the sensitive information of minors, and a secure platform is needed to do this. The question to ask is: how secure is the platform? Intralinks has been around since 1996, handling the most sensitive information in the business world and has never been breached in its 18 years of supporting the largest commercial Merger and Acquisition deals in the world. A consumer grade platform, like DropBox does not have the level of security that would be needed for such sensitive and personal information. A hypothetical to describe this: someone shares out a document to someone in your program. If you email it, or someone downloads it from the traditional platforms, you no longer have control over that document, and they will be able to do whatever they’d like with it.” Intralinks, particularly Intralinks VIA, one of its product lines, helps to provide control over that information by allowing the owner of the document to control permissions at any time, even if it’s been downloaded.

Intralinks’ product can prevent screen capturing and printing. Unsharring is another feature, which allows the owner to revoke access to particular information; the document “calls home” to the server and if that individual no longer has permission to access the document, it will be denied. In these ways, Intralinks helps Young New Yorkers to maintain a high level of security while still being able to share sensitive information with those who need it within the program.

RB: All our files are stored in the Intralinks Cloud and are highly secure. Intralinks facilitates two essential things: First, it allows us to share files with different work groups with ease, and helps our teams to function seamlessly, even when many of our collaborators are working remotely; second, it has high levels of security so that information of the participants involved in our programs remain confidential. YNY’s primary purpose is to offer a space for the creative self-expression of our young, court-involved participants, and in doing so, facilitate the movement of our young people out of the criminal justice system. A significant part of our job is in keeping their participation confidential, IntralinksVIA ensures that that happens with relative ease on our part. There’s peace of mind knowing that those files are secure.

Young New Yorkers is in its early stages. Do you see any adjustments that might need to be made on the part of technology to better accommodate the program’s aims?

RB: Intralinks caters to large, complex organizations, with thousands of staff members. I don’t envision any challenges that will come up with IntralinksVIA, since their technology is powerful – I envision that we will simply be able to grow into it. 

AL: Intralinks handles issues that are much bigger in scope than this program. The company works with most of the largest banks in the world. These banks demand the highest level of security. Luckily, this means that any foreseeable accommodations and needs for the Young New Yorkers’ program have most likely already been met!

In the work of Young New Yorkers, the arts, the justice system, and technology come together to offer a powerful platform by which young students who had been prosecuted as adults may have an opportunity to creatively express themselves, develop emotionally and behaviorally, and through the integration of technology, be assured that their records are secured throughout the program, to the closing of their case.


About Young New Yorkers 

Young New Yorkers is a restorative justice, arts program for 16- and 17-year-olds who have open criminal cases.  The curriculum is uniquely tailored to develop the emotional and behavioral skills of the young participants while facilitating responsible and creative self-expression. 

About Intralinks

Trusted globally for nearly two decades, we bring collaboration and document sharing that’s safe, secure, compliant and fully auditable. Whether it’s documents or files, you can get work done quickly regardless of what you’re using at your desk or on the move — all you need is a browser and a web connection.

 

Pro Bono Week Volunteer Profile: Fiona Finlay-Hunt, Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP

Posted in Celebrate Pro Bono Week, Legal Services, Pro Bono, Volunteer Profile
Pro Bono Net would like to recognize the thousands of volunteer lawyers who make a huge difference for those in need. We are celebrating Pro Bono Week, October 25-31, by honoring those dedicated volunteers. Each day we are spotlighting a pro bono volunteer in the community on our organization’s website in the Volunteer Profile section. Our final spotlight is of Fiona Finlay-Hunt at Davis Polk. She responded to some questions about her pro bono work.

Fiona Finlay-Hunt, Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP

Fiona Finlay-Hunt is an associate in the New York office of Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP. She is a member of the Intellectual Property & Technology group and her practice focuses on intellectual property issues arising from corporate transactions, such as mergers and acquisitions, securities offerings and credit transactions. Ms. Finlay-Hunt has participated in pro bono work spanning the arts and entrepreneurship, elder law, criminal appeals and corporate governance.

 

Why do you feel it’s important for you to do pro bono work? What motivates you?
I feel the importance of pro bono work relates directly to why a functioning society needs lawyers at all. It is my obligation as an attorney to understand and interpret the law and to translate this understanding into action for my clients. Without an advocate to guide clients through the often very complicated legal process, the rights and protections provided by law are rendered almost meaningless. It is important for those who are persecuted, discriminated against, impoverished and otherwise in need to know that they have a recourse in the law and a friend and ally in their attorney.

What do you see as some of the most important area of need? What kind of cases does your firm/company prioritize?

I believe that the most important areas of need for pro bono legal services currently are immigration and refugee services and issues relating to gender and sexuality. The law is evolving to better serve marginalized communities, such as new and undocumented immigrants, the LGBTQ community and those that have been displaced by persecution or violence, but without a lawyer these communities may not be able to access the protections afforded by the law, if they are even aware of their rights.

My firm, Davis Polk & Wardwell, is heavily involved in serving these communities. For example, we run clinics and long-term projects relating to transgender name change, uncontested divorces, veteran care issues, elder law, and small business. Additionally, we run a number of collaborative projects to serve asylum seekers with Sanctuary for Families and Human Rights First, as well as an asylum workshop that we conduct with Columbia Law School’s Center for Public Interest Law. Davis Polk’s reach in terms of pro bono offerings is truly extraordinary.

So it is obvious that the need is overwhelming, but so is a busy work day: how do you find the time?

I treat my pro bono clients’ needs the same as those of any of the firm’s clients. In many cases, urgent matters that arise in the context of pro bono work may have a disproportionate impact on the client because they relate to an acute personal issue. I try to balance my urgent work so that I can serve my pro bono clients with the same responsiveness, accuracy and care as any of the firm’s clients. The firm encourages as much pro bono work as possible, so my pro bono work and my billable work are one and the same to me.

How do you find cases or issues that interest you? How do individuals at your firm/company find cases?

In certain cases I have been sought out by a senior associate who has an interesting project for a long-standing pro bono client, or someone has referred a matter to me because of my practice area. On the other hand, the firm’s resources and support for pro bono are such that one may easily sign up to participate in any of the workshops and clinics that the firm hosts or sends attorneys to attend. For instance, I have participated multiple times in the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts clinic that the firm hosts every summer.

Another means by which I have become involved in pro bono work is by working closely with a partner with a robust pro bono practice. As a member of Davis Polk’s Intellectual Property and Technology Group, I have been fortunate to become involved with Pro Bono Net through Frank Azzopardi. These client relationships are one of the best ways for junior associates to become essential team members on interesting and impactful pro bono matters, and to get to know the wonderful people who have dedicated their lives to giving underserved communities vital access to justice.

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Pro bono work is a core responsibility of Davis Polk. We are committed to serving the public good and providing legal services to those who cannot otherwise obtain legal representation. Our lawyers work on pro bono matters throughout their careers at the firm, and we champion pro bono work through partner mentoring, training opportunities and the commitment of resources. We consider pro bono work to be of equal stature to billable matters, and our lawyers offer the same caliber of service to our pro bono clients as we do to our paying clients.


 

Once again we wish to thank all of the volunteers that continue to make our mission of increasing access to justice a reality. Come back each day this week to view the next Volunteer Profile spotlight!

Interested in volunteering?  Check out our “Volunteer Tools” page to learn about the range of resources we have at Pro Bono Net to help mobilize and engage pro bono volunteers, or start searching for opportunities right now by using our national Pro Bono Opportunities Guide!