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Connecting Justice Communities

Human Trafficking in Immigrant Communities: Special Considerations When the Immigrant is a Victim

Posted in Immigration, Legal Services, PLI, Pro Bono, Resources, Webinar

As part of Practising Law Institute’s “Human Trafficking in Immigrant Communities” webinar a panel addressed special considerations for immigrant victims of human trafficking. Unlike domestic human trafficking victims, immigrants face additional hurdles related to their immigration status, cultural norms, and family hostage situations. Moderated by Melissa Brennan, Deputy Director of the Human Trafficking Initiative at Sanctuary for Families, the panel consisted of a human trafficking survivor under the pseudonym of Liberty, Hon. Pamela K. Chen a United States District Court Judge for the Eastern District of New York, and Rosie Wang a Legal Fellow with Sanctuary for Families Human Trafficking Initiative.

Like thousands of trafficking victims in the United States, Liberty was lied to. She was promised an opportunity to come to the US, work as a nanny, and go to school. Instead, she was brought to the US, held hostage by traffickers, and forced to work. After hearing that others were being used like her, she was determined to put a stop to it and get justice for herself and others. She bravely went to a nonprofit organization, was paired with a pro bono attorney, and has been able to secure a T Nonimmigrant Status (T visa) and eventually a green card. She is currently studying international relations and wants to work in human rights to fight for victims. With the help of legal service and pro bono volunteers, more stories can end like hers.

When representing immigrant trafficking victims, advocates must take a more holistic approach. Many clients may have concerns beyond their immediate immigration status that need to be addressed first. As an advocate for the survivor, it is crucial to gain the trust of your client and treat them as a whole person and not just their legal case. Nonprofit organizations and NGOs (Nongovernmental Organizations) play a crucial role in a victim’s experience during this process as they can provide assistance for those additional needs like housing, medical attention, education, etc.

Many victims are unaware of all of their options including their ability to qualify for the T visa, a specific visa set aside to protect human trafficking victims. While they may be aware of other visa options, this may be the best option for the survivors of human trafficking, but it is not without its hurdles.

Unfortunately, human traffickers can be resourceful when it comes to controlling their victims and sometimes go to enormous lengths to keep them compliant. A major tool traffickers and abusers use to control their victims is to instill a fear of law enforcement. Whether by making the victim feel complicit in illegal activities, or by convincing their victims that the police will deport them, throw them in jail, or won’t believe them, traffickers are able to prevent many victims from coming forward. To compound the issue, some immigrants may come from countries in which the police are corrupt, or testimonial evidence is not given much credence in a court of law. Many may feel ashamed, or are convinced that their situations are unique.

Additionally, traffickers may threaten the victim’s family in order to keep them from going to law enforcement. In these situations, it is possible for law enforcement to help get a trafficked person’s family out of danger. Inside the US, children can be found and a judge can rule on custody. In the event of family remaining in the country of origin, cooperation between US law enforcement and law enforcement on the ground in the country of origin can track down and bring family members of victims to the United States via parole which is approved and renewed by ICE. Once in the US, or once removed from the traffickers, family members can apply for the T visa derivative to extend benefits from the original T visa to the victim’s family.

In order to qualify for a T visa, an immigrant must first show that they were indeed a trafficking victim, and also cooperate with any reasonable requests from law enforcement if a criminal investigation is conducted. With such distrust of law enforcement taught to them, advocates must work with the survivors to ensure that they feel safe when speaking with law enforcement. However, building a bond of trust can have its own hurdles.

Victims of trauma are not always as forthcoming when talking about what happened to them. They may still feel loyal to their traffickers or they may be trying to protect other family members from implication. Also, they may even have a hard time comprehending that a pro bono lawyer is really there to provide services without an ulterior motive.

The panel provided sage advice for addressing these issues. Be up front and honest with your client. Explain the concept of pro bono. Lay out the details of confidentiality. Reassure them you are on their side. Make sure that they understand the difference between their immigration case and any ongoing criminal cases, and that the criminal case will not affect their T visa eligibility. Utilize programs offered by NGOs to get them additional assistance, as this can also go a long way towards building their trust. Most importantly, keep reassuring them that you are there to represent and support them

To hear Liberty’s story first hand and learn more about the considerations crucial to properly representing immigrant human trafficking survivors, watch the panel at the Practising Law Institute online.


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

Ethics Issues in Pro Bono Representation: Can v. Should

Posted in PLI, Pro Bono, Webinar

Ethics discussions can be incredibly complicated. Often the correct ethical decision is dependent on multiple factors and interpretations. While usually ethics discussions focus on what a lawyer can do, Jennifer Kroman, Director of Pro Bono Practice for Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, and the panel for the Practising Law Institute’s webinar “Ethical Issues in Pro Bono Representation 2015” ask pro bono attorneys to focus on what a lawyer can and should do in order to provide the best service to the client.

For pro bono attorneys, it is important to bear in mind the best interests of the client beyond the usual ethics as an attorney. Many clients in need of pro bono services may also be facing additional legal and other challenges that make their situation unique. Through the use of several hypothetical situations, the panel walked through various ethical issues that commonly arise while providing volunteer or pro bono service. From client-attorney relationship concerns to best practices, PLI’s webinar provides information and recommendations from experts in the field on the best ways to handle ethics quandaries that arise in practice.

For example, the first hypothetical situation handled a domestic abuse client seeking pro bono assistance who already had a lawyer handling an immigration claim. Unfortunately, in this hypothetical, the immigration claim submitted by the client’s other attorney did not align with the information the client provided to the pro bono attorney. The questions that arise in this situation hold various ethical connections and concerns.

First, should the pro bono attorney request to take on the additional immigration law dynamic? This question should be dependent on the pro bono attorney’s understanding and experience of immigration law, as well as the consideration of the client’s best interests. It also begs the question of how the pro bono attorney should discuss this option with the client themselves.

Many clients have difficulty deciding which lawyer to trust, and what decisions to make without a full and complete understanding of their rights and options. It is ethically, as well as practically, important that the attorney be honest and clear with the client, provide information and options in plain language so the client can understand, and allow the client to make their own decisions.

From here the hypothetical continued allowing the panel to discuss ethical questions that arise when dealing with immigration law, remediating false immigration statements, and providing multifaceted service to clients with multiple legal concerns.

The second hypothetical handles a situation of attorney client relationships when the issue of confidentiality is involved. In this hypothetical there are two individuals who are potential clients, a mother and her son. The son was referred to the attorney by the mother’s social worker who is currently in the hospital, and discusses various issues in regards to the mother’s housing situation. The son has moved in with the mother to help take care of her and to help with the rent. However, the intended client is the mother. Therefore, it is imperative for the attorney to make it very clear who they intend to represent, and ensure that if in representation of both clients, that they do not have any conflicting interests.

In this particular hypothetical, the mother has a complaint against the son which complicates the matter ethically. In the webinar, the panel discussed what these issues are and what options are available to the mother, son, and attorney in a situation of that kind.

With three additional hypotheticals, the panel discussed legal ethics hotlines, client retainer forms, unauthorized practice of the law, and best practices for speaking with clients who need translators. Access to this webinar is available here: http://bit.ly/1Nn8s2u


Professor Bruce A. Green – Director and Louis Stein Professor, Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics, Fordham University School of Law

Louis S. Sartori – Director, Pro Bono Practice, The Legal Aid Society


Erin M. Correale – Compliance Director, JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Jennifer L. Kroman – Director of Pro Bono Practice, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP

Randye Retkin – Director and Founder, LegalHealth, New York Legal Assistance Group

Janet Sabel – Chief Deputy to the New York State Attorney General, New York State Attorney General Office (for institutional affiliational purposes only)

Program Attorney(s):

Janet L. Siegel – Program Attorney, Practising Law Institute


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

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!




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!


Dave signature_crop




David A. Heiner, Pro Bono Net Board Chair



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.