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Connecting Justice Communities

LSNTAP Community Training Series: Next Generation Advocacy and Advocate Training Tools

Posted in Legal Services, Technology, Webinar

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



In August, Pro Bono Net and LSNTAP held a webinar in the 2015 LSNTAP Community Training series, “Next Generation Advocacy and Advocate Training Tools.” The training, moderated by Claudia Johnson of Pro Bono Net, covered a new generation of online tools designed to support communities of advocates (lawyers and non-lawyers) that go beyond self-help. Additionally, the webinar explored a new generation of virtual classrooms used to train staff attorneys and volunteers.

Johnson explored how shrinking resources, a better understanding of technology, and utilization of user-centric, collaborative practices has resulted in great legal tech community projects focused on advocacy and advocate training.

Kathy Daniels, of Statewide Legal Services of Connecticut kicked off the presentation by demonstrating her organization’s creation of an online classroom module which provides on-demand training for pro bono attorneys, law students and legal aid clients at LearnTheLaw.org. Courses include applying for a temporary restraining order, changing a child support order and more and help learn about a legal process that may be long or difficult.

Talley Wells of Atlanta Legal Aid Society  next talked about the digital tools available at OlmsteadRights.org for disability rights self-helpers. Talley highlighted the importance of abiding by LSC regulations and goals in providing do-it-yourself resources before covering how self-advocacy materials can be presented strategically on the web in a variety of engaging ways, including video, podcast, photography, social media, and story-telling. Talley also discussed how the site utilized a document assembly tool to create a self-help assessment which can return useful resources, and if appropriate, information on filing a disability rights complaint.

To view the other great tips mentioned on this webinar, be sure to check out materials available on the SWEB Support Site and LSNTAP.org




17th Annual Supreme Court Review: Voting Blocks

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

Jax Gitzes
Development Associate, Pro Bono Net

At the end of July, I had the opportunity to attend the Supreme Court Law Review offered by the Practising Law Institute (PLI), a nonprofit continuing legal education and professional business training organization. PLI is bronze sponsor of Pro Bono Net’s work and Pro Bono Net is pleased to promote PLI’s efforts to provide pro bono training for the access to justice community, reflecting its deep commitment to the public service work of the legal profession.

The focus of this year’s Supreme Court Review was on the tendency for this Court to make liberal leaning decisions while the conservative Justices Roberts, Kennedy, Alito, Thomas and Scalia hold the majority of seats. This year saw a fair share of conservative Justices vote with the liberal minority on decisions that have greatly affected the US population. The opening presenter, Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the School of Law at the University of California, Irvine, warned participants not to be deceived into believing that Justice Roberts now leads a liberal court, but that we’ve only had a more liberal year than usual.

Why are we seeing such a liberal year when the conservatives hold the majority of seats? According to Chemerinsky, the reason lies within the cohesiveness of the liberal Justices Ginsberg, Sotomayor, Breyer and Kagan. With the four liberal Justices voting almost exclusively as a block, they need only sway one other justice in order to gain the majority on a decision. So who has been voting with the liberal block?

Justice Kennedy has, several times this year, sided with the liberals. On occasion both Roberts and Thomas have defected to create a majority vote. But, when it comes down to it, it is the case itself that will determine the decision of the court. The panelists discussed a myriad of cases that exemplified this, but three stand out: Obergefell v. Hodges, King v. Burwell, and Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans.

As is widely known by now, Obergefell v. Hodges has effectively made it illegal to deny same sex couples the right to a marriage license. The majority for this decision was reached by the four liberal Justices and Justice Kennedy. In fact, Kennedy wrote the Opinion of the Court, primarily stating that marriage is a fundamental right which are afforded to all citizens without discrimination. While his opinion garnered much criticism from the writers of the dissenting opinions, Kennedy’s opinion was fully supported by the four liberal judges.

Justice Kennedy’s decision was not necessarily based on liberal principles, but rather acknowledged that the Court had protected the right to marry as a fundamental right for a long time, therefore making it protected under the due process and equal protection clauses. Chemerinsky warns that while Kennedy sided with the liberals on this particular case and others this year, he has also voted with the more conservative view point in other cases. It really comes down to the arguments of the case.

There have been several cases in the Supreme Court concerning the Affordable Care Act. King v Burwell specifically focused on the ability for citizens to utilize tax-credit subsidies when purchasing healthcare insurance through the federal exchanges. Since the text surrounding the eligibility of these subsidies discusses state exchanges and doesn’t make specific mention of eligibility in the federal exchange, the states claimed that those purchasing healthcare coverage from the federal exchange were ineligible for the assistance. However, this would mean that a state could deny their constituencies the ability to qualify for the assistance program simply by refusing to create their own state exchange.

The Court ruled in favor of the United States by 6-3. Who were the two conservative Justices to side with the liberals? Justices Roberts and Kennedy both decided to uphold the eligibility of low income households to access these tax-credit subsidies when purchasing through the federal exchanges. Their decision was based on the purpose of the law regarding those subsidies. They agreed that the purpose of the law was to assist low income individuals to afford health care coverage regardless of the actions of the States. Again we see a decision being made on the substance of the law that placed all four liberal Justices on the same side, along with two of the conservative Justices.

However, neither Kennedy nor Roberts voted with the liberal Justices in Walker v Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans. Justice Thomas sided with the majority on this case, to the surprise of many. The court was tasked with deciding whether the state government of Texas refusing to issue a requested Confederate Battle Flag license plate option infringed on the freedom of speech of those wishing to have those license plates. The Court decided that the license plates, in this case, indicate a level of government speech, which by nature cannot be in violation of the first amendment.

In the end, it seems Chemerinsky’s version of events holds weight. While the liberal Justices tend to agree with each other, making a strong voting block possible, the conservative judges have disagreed on various issues. This is not to say that they won’t be able to create a solid voting block in the future. This year we have seen cases that attempted to split the court along party lines, only to have the merits of the case favor a more liberal decision. Next year’s cases may see a stronger cohesiveness on the conservative side. Chemerinsky’s warning to essentially ‘not get comfortable’ definitely seems like good advice.

The Practicing Law Institute provides some of the best panelists to provide insights. The panelists for this conference included the following:

  • Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean and Distinguished Professor of Law, Raymond Pryke Professor of First Amendment Law, University of California, Irvine School of Law
  • Joan Biskupic, Editor-in-Charge for Legal Affairs, Reuters News
  • Professor Michael C. Dorf, Professor of Law, Cornell Law School
  • Professor Leon Friedman, Special Professor of Civil Liberties Law, Hofstra Law School
  • Professor Burt Neuborne, Norman Dorsen Professor of Civil Liberties, New York University School of Law; Founding Legal Director, Brennan Center for Justice
  • Professor (Emeritus) Martin A. Schwartz, Chair, Practicing Law Institute’s program on Section 1983 Civil Rights Litigation and Trial Evidence
  • Kannon K. Shanmugam, Partner, Williams & Connolly LLP
  • Jeffrey B. Wall, Co-Head Appellate Litigation Practice, Sullivan & Cromwell LLP
  • Professor Sherry F. Colb, Professor of Law & Charles Evans Hughes Scholar, Cornell Law School



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

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

Rebuilding LawHelp Interactive: An Interview with Mirenda Meghelli

Posted in Launch, Pro Bono, Technology, Website Launch



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.


LawHelp Interactive (LHI), Pro Bono Net’s award-winning online legal document assembly platform, allows low-income individuals without access to a lawyer to prepare their own legal forms online for free. It’s also used by volunteer attorneys, legal aid advocates and court staff seeking to work more effectively and provide innovative models of service delivery.

Thanks to grants from the Legal Services Corporation Technology Initiative Grant program to Blue Ridge Legal Services and the Booth Ferris Foundation, Pro Bono Net has finished a complete overhaul of the current LHI platform that modernizes and streamlines the application architecture.

LHI-powered forms are being produced and used in court and legal aid office settings, at homes, shelters, and in public libraries, for remote legal assistance where advocates may be miles away from a client they are supporting, and in large group clinics where a number of participants complete forms simultaneously with advocate and volunteer support. The forms are available in over 40 states, and in many places available in multiple languages.

Released in April of this year, the rebuild platform promises to be a vast improvement, while still maintaining the previous system’s functionality. We interviewed Mirenda Meghelli, LawHelp Interactive Program Coordinator, about the LHI rebuild and her important role in the process.


Can you give me a brief background on LawHelp Interactive?Welcome page LHI

LHI became a project of Pro Bono Net in 2006 and since that time, the project has grown at a rapid pace – from 76,000 documents completed in 2007 to more than 509,000 forms completed in 2014. The LHI team maintains a national server where these forms are hosted.  We also train and support local legal aid, pro bono, and partner courts design the forms on LawHelp Interactive. Legal experts make the templates that are used to create the forms and documents with HotDocs and A2J Author.

The service is being used in ever more creative and compelling ways to empower self-represented litigants and increase the capacity of legal services and pro bono attorneys.  Interactive forms enabled by LHI are now used at remote court and law library kiosks, in online and brick and mortar self-help centers around the country, and in large group clinics. None of these models of service existed 10 years ago; however, this increasing activity is taking place on a system that reflects legacy architectural and software choices made almost a decade ago.

LawHelp Interactive increases opportunities for people to get justice on their own. It also improves efficiency for access-to-justice programs. LHI has grown quite rapidly in the past few years, and yet it was still running on the same technology. We definitely needed to upgrade.

How many states use LHI? Courts? How many users per year?

Over 40 states use LawHelp Interactive. In 2014, more than 509,000 forms we assembled on the LHI platform. We are used by courts, legal aid advocates, pro bono lawyers, volunteers and individuals from all over the country. Users can visit www.lawhelp.org, find their state and subject matter to see if there are available forms and they will be sent to LHI.  People are asked a series of questions, and then their answers are used to tailor their documents. They can use the site anonymously or create an account and save their answers. The site is used by legal aid advocates, pro bono lawyers, and people representing themselves. In some states, forms created by LHI can be e-filed to a court or fax and filed.

What was the need for the LHI system rebuild, and how did the project get started? And why now?

The rebuild started in 2013 with Legal Services Corporation Technology Initiative Grant funding to Blue Ridge Legal Services (BRLS) in support of the project. With all of the new ways that the LHI platform was being used, and the sheer increase in the number of users, it was definitely time to update the system. Working with BRLS, Marlabs, The Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI), as well as long-time LHI contractors including Capstone Practice Systems, Todd Pedwell and Associates, and Kaivo, we were able to rebuild the LHI technical infrastructure into a single technology stack creating a more reliable and scalable system. Internally, Claudia Johnson, Liz Keith, Mark O’Brien and the LHI tech team including Alice Pucheu, Kanchana Hegde, Greg Tenzer and Doug Carlson all contributed significantly to this project as well.

Can you tell me a little about your role in the project?

In consultation with BRLS, I’ve served as the program lead on the rebuild project where I worked with the LHI team and contract rebuild developers, Marlabs, to roll out the new LHI technical infrastructure. This involved participating in regular, sometimes daily calls, with developers and the technical team as the project progressed, handling grant and administrative aspects of the project, liaising with LHI partners who tested the system and offered valuable input, and working with the external and internal rebuild team to make sure we reached project goals.

It was really interesting and exciting to be a part of a rebuild of this kind. Our partners and end users utilize LHI to do important work and the system is a means through which access to justice can be increased.  This new platform better supports this important work.

Who else was involved in the project and what were their roles?

Many people have been involved in the launch of this project. Allison McDermott was the original program lead for the LHI rebuild and worked with Jim Wiegand, who previously served as PBN Technical Director, to scope out the project. Ahuva Shabtai, who served as business analyst for LHI, coordinated much of the project including overseeing the documentation phase before the development work began. Alice Pucheu, Pro Bono Net’s Project Manager, has also worked to move this project forward and has been the primary person supporting partners in transition to the new system with respect to LHI widgets, e-filing, and CMS integration projects. Claudia Johnson, LHI Program Coordinator, Mark O’Brien, PBN’s Executive Director, and Liz Keith, Pro Bono Net’s Program Director, have provided guidance on business/program aspects of the project and the LHI technical team and contract rebuild developers under the leadership of Doug Carlson, Pro Bono Net’s Director of Technology & Operations, were responsible for much of the development, testing, and troubleshooting of the LHI rebuild environment.

Longtime collaborators Capstone Practice Systems, Todd Pedwell and Kaivo also played an integral role in transitioning to this new technical infrastructure, and HotDocs Corporation provided invaluable technical assistance on key aspects of the new system and supporting current and new HotDocs interviews in the the rebuild environment Finally, LHI partners who provided feedback and engaged in community testing of the new system provided a tremendous help in the launch of this new system.

Beyond the rebuild project, LHI is supported day-to-day by a longstanding partnership between Pro Bono Net and Ohio State Legal Services. Together we have received generous support for our LawHelp Interactive program from the Legal Services Corporation’s Technology Initiative Grants program, as well as from the HotDocs Corporation.

What were the biggest challenges this project faced?

As part of the rebuild, we migrated an incredibly large volume of user and form data from the old infrastructure to the new one. Migration of data from any legacy system is always challenging as it involves ensuring that there is no corruption or loss of data during the migration.  In the case of LHI, this work has been complicated by inconsistencies in legacy data due to changes in validation rules over a 10-year period of operations. As a result, we needed to develop manual processes to analyze and resolve missing or malformed data required within the new system.  This challenging work affected the project timeline and project costs.

What are the top 2-3 differences between the old system and the new? Tell me about some of the new features?

Interview LHI 2While the plan of the rebuild was to replicate the existing system functionality with minimal enhancements, there are a number of differences in the new system benefiting the different LHI user groups. Notably, load balancing has been implemented with the new LHI system. This basically means there are three servers operating at once for LHI increasing reserve capacity and allowing the usage of the two other servers if one server experiences problems.

Another major difference is that LHI now operates as a unified technical stack & database. The old system’s architecture consisted of a number of distinct technologies maintained by different people. Streamlining LHI into a single technical stack and database makes maintenance and troubleshooting of the system much less complicated and improves the ability for LHI to integrate with other systems.

Finally, we introduced a more simplified uploading and updating process for forms developers to upload their content into the LHI server. This change was implemented given template developer feedback on the upload and update process over the years and during a rebuild focus group.

When did the new system go live, and how can I access it?

The new system went live on April 20, 2015 and can be accessed via www.lawhehelpinteractive.org. It is the same website address as before and old users are able to log into their accounts from the same location. To use the LHI platform, users can create an account which can be done from the main website page or complete an interview anonymously.

With all of the new upgrades to the platform, accessing and filling out the interviews is better supported for users in all of the 40 states utilizing the platform. Backup servers ensure that thousands of users can access the system at the same time and access their compiled documents based on their interviews quickly!

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

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

Jax Gitzes
Development Associate, Pro Bono Net

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

ProJustice MN – Pro Bono to Go

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

Pro Bono To Go – Checklist Options

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

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

Pro Bono To Go - Housing Law: Eviction Settlement Checklist

Pro Bono To Go – Housing Law: Eviction Settlement Checklist

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

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

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

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

Posted in Courts, Legal Services, Pro Bono, Technology

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

photo 4

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

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

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

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

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

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


Unaccompanied Children Resource Center Responds to Need for Legal Information

Posted in Immigration, Legal Services, Technology

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

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

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

Visit the site at uacresources.org

IAN logo

LSNTAP/PBN Webinar: 2015 50 Tech Tips

Posted in Legal Services, Libraries, Technology, Webinar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Panelists include:

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

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

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

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


Themes and Takeaways from EJC 2015

Posted in Conferences, Legal Services, Pro Bono, Technology


Xander Karsten

LawHelp Program Coordinator Xander Karsten



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


Going Where Clients Are

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

Once you’re there- Know how to engage!

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

Don’t divide and conquer- Identify and unite

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

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

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

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