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Connecting Justice Communities

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

Posted in PLI, Social Media, Technology, Webinar

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


Julia Wilson – Social Media and OneJustice.org

One Justice long

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Most Interesting Takeaways from PLI’s Program on Social Media for Non-Profits and Public Interest Organizations (Post 1 of 3)

Posted in PLI, Social Media, Technology, Webinar

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

Liz Keith – Getting Started and Growing with Social Media

Liz Keith

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Other Platforms

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

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


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

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



National Volunteer Appreciation Week: Volunteer Resources from Pro Bono Net

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

Bridge with tagline - volunteer faded

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

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

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

Pro Bono Opportunities Guide

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

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

Pro Bono Libraries

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

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

Pro Bono Training Calendars

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

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

LawHelp Interactive Forms

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

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

More Resources

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pro Bono Net is a national non-profit organization dedicated to increasing access to justice for the disadvantaged. Through innovative technology solutions and expertise in building and mobilizing justice networks, Pro Bono Net transforms the way legal help reaches the underserved. Comprehensive programs including www.probono.net, www.lawhelp.org and www.lawhelpinteractive.org, enable legal advocates to make a stronger impact, increase volunteer participation, and empower the public with resources and self-help tools to improve their lives.




Evolving LawHelp Interactive Through Strategic Discussion: 2015 LHI Tech Summit

Posted in Staff News, Technology, Uncategorized



Mirenda Meghelli is the LawHelp Interactive Program Coordinator at Pro Bono Net, where she works as part of a team to support and grow initiatives using LawHelp Interactive, an award-winning national online document assembly platform operated by Pro Bono Net in partnership with legal aid, pro bono and court access to justice programs across the country. Mirenda has been spearheading the LawHelp Interactive rebuild project, along with Doug Carlson, Pro Bono Net’s Director of Technology and Operations.



Each year, Pro Bono Net’s LawHelp Interactive (LHI) hosts a technical summit, a time to meet in-person with various LHI partners, grantors, consultants and stakeholders.  The summit provides an opportunity for these stakeholders, who are spread throughout the country, to meet in the same room and dedicate at least a full day to planning and evaluating various aspects of the LHI project. This March was my third year in attendance and we spent a lot of time engaging in strategic planning on LHI and how to support evolving partner needs and uses, as opposed to previous years in which there was a much stronger focus on coordination and planning of the LHI technical roadmap for the year.

Something that struck me about the 2015 technical summit is how partner presence and participation adds color to strategic discussions about LHI’s future. While LHI Program Manager Claudia and I are in regular contact with LHI partners on day-to-day needs, and have an opportunity to review the annual LHI survey where we hear from partners about their experience with LHI each year, this summit allowed us to really discuss what is working and what needs to be improved with a geographically diverse group of LHI power users from Courts and legal aid organizations. To do this conversationally, in-person, and while looking at the big picture, with LHI partners is invaluable. For instance, we had partners from four of LHI’s top 5 states in usage.

With the continued growth of LHI users and uses and fast-approaching launch of the LHI rebuild environment, 2015 will be an exciting year for LHI. The whole team appreciates everyone who attended the LHI summit*, and the broader community of LHI partners and users who make the platform a success and work with us when we face challenges.

On another note, I feel the opposite of appreciation for a certain airline who diverted me to Pittsburgh en route to the tech summit and who misplaced my luggage for a week. But that’s a story for another time.

*LHI tech summit participants were as follows:

  • Glenn Rawdon & Jane Ribadeneyra (LSC)
  • Josh Goodwin (Southeastern Ohio Legal Services/OSLSA)
  • Bonnie Hough (California Administrative Office of the Courts)
  • John Mayer (Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction)
  • Michael Mills (Neota Logic)
  • Dave Lampert (HotDocs Corporation)
  • Dora Galacatos (Feerick Center/CLARO)
  • Tony Lu (Immigration Advocates Network)
  • Kristin Verrill (Atlanta Legal Aid Society)
  • Ben Carpenter (Community Legal Services of Mid Florida)
  • Rochelle Klempner (New York State Courts Access to Justice Program)
  • Angela Tripp (Michigan Poverty Law Program/ Michigan Legal Help)
  • Teri Ross (Illinois Legal Aid Online)
  • Marc Lauritsen (Capstone Practice Systems)
  • Bart Earle (Capstone Practice Systems)

Staff participants included:

  • Mark O’Brien, ED
  • Doug Carlson, Tech Director
  • Claudia Johnson, LawHelp Program Manager
  • Liz Keith, Program Director
  • Greg Tenzer, Senior Developer
  • Alice Pucheu, Project Manager
  • Kanchana Hedge, QA Engineer

**Special thanks for Davis Polk for hosting the event.

Connecting with Our Community: A Conversation with PBN Board Member and Director of Global Technology at Debevoise & Plimpton, Karen S. Levy

Posted in Legal Services, Pro Bono, Staff News, Technology, Uncategorized

Karen S. Levy

Karen S. Levy, Director of Global Technology at Debevoise & Plimpton, joined the Pro Bono Net Board to help advance our mission of leveraging technology to provide access to effective legal services.  Prior to her leadership position at Debevoise, Karen held senior technology roles Weil, Gotshal & Manges and Edwards Wildman Palmer.  She has also served as a legal industry consultant, advising international law firms on technology strategies and implementations.


PBN: What brought you to PBN?

KSL: I was aware of PBN through my firm’s use of Pro Bono Manager, a software product used to assist our lawyers in identifying and tracking pro bono assignments. I was later introduced to the organization and its mission by Michael Mills, whom I have known for many years through his work at Davis Polk, and former PBN board member John Alber, who I worked with at Bryan Cave some years ago. Through Michael and John I came to gain an appreciation of the full extent of PBN’s services and mission.

PBN: What about our mission most interests you?

KSL: I’m continually impressed by the strong commitment to pro bono work at my firm and the opportunities it presents for individuals to contribute to the greater good and experience personal growth. I’d been contemplating ways in which my technology skills could be leveraged to provide similar opportunities for non-lawyers when I was approached by PBN to join the board. PBN’s mission to leverage technology to provide access to legal services to a large population of those who are in need of assistance made it a perfect match.

A large portion of the U.S. population does not have access to a lawyer, however most do have access to the internet. PBN takes advantage of ubiquitous technology as the access point and the lowest cost route to deliver information and resources to a large number of individuals with common needs. An example of this is the online templates that PBN developed to enable Hurricane Sandy victims to appeal denials of FEMA benefits.

PBN: You work in a field where women are often the minority, how did you develop an interest in technology?

KSL: I took a computer science class in high school that piqued my interest. I then pursued it as my college major which ultimately led to a computer science degree and job opportunities requiring technical skills. It’s the working with lawyers part that wasn’t exactly part of the plan!

PBN: What more can be done to make the field more accessible to young women?

KSL: The field is entirely accessible to women. The problem is that women are often not attracted to the field. We need to help girls see past the stereotype, providing them with an understanding of the breadth and depth of skills required to succeed. I hope the emergence of successful female leaders, such as myself, provides more young women with a positive vision.

PBN: Anything else you’d like to share?

KSL: I am married and the mother of three children who make me smile every day.

Reflecting on 15 years: An interview with Liz Keith

Posted in Immigration, Legal Services, Pro Bono, Technology

This year, Pro Bono Net celebrated our 15th Anniversary. As we reflect back on the past 15 years, we caught up with a few individuals who were critical to our early growth and development. Below is an interview with Liz Keith, Pro Bono Net Program Director. 

Pro Bono Net: Tell us about your time and role at Pro Bono Net?

Liz Keith: I’m approaching a decade with Pro Bono Net.Liz Keith That sounds like long time, and in some ways it is! But PBN and the communities we work with are incredibly dynamic. I’ve never stopped learning along the way, and have had opportunities to work on and develop a wide variety of projects over the years. I started as a Circuit Rider, helping our partner organizations around the country develop their LawHelp.org and probono.net initiatives. My role has expanded since then. I’m still very involved in those efforts, but now oversee our strategies and services across our programs.

PBN: What drew you to working here?

LK: I came to Pro Bono Net after completing a self-tailored masters degree in community informatics at the University of Michigan, focused on public interest applications of technology. Before that I had worked for several years at the Maine Women’s Policy Center, where I helped to coordinate advocacy and community outreach initiatives focusing on economic security, freedom from violence, health care, and civil rights. In Maine I had a chance to work on several novel initiatives that used online tools to support participation of rural and under-represented communities in policy formation, as well as educating women about changes in the law.

Finding Pro Bono Net was a little like finding a needle in a haystack. It combined my interests in access to legal information, community engagement, and creating innovative solutions to help people in need. The fact that Pro Bono Net is not just a technology provider was also attractive. It’s equally invested in improving collaboration in the legal sector, and supporting our partners in developing effective content, outreach, and sustainability strategies. At the time there very few nonprofit organizations working across these areas – and we’re still pretty unique in that way. The national scale of PBN’s work was an added draw.

PBN: What have been the most exciting changes to observe as the organization has grown?

LK: The most striking is probably the transformation in how the communities we work with view technology. In my first few years I did a lot of site visits to our field partners. The local project coordinator and I would do outreach presentations about LawHelp.org and probono.net to legal aid program staff, community groups, law schools, and so on. Invariably, about 10 minutes into a workshop, someone would raise their hand and say, “all of these online legal resources are great, but do low-income clients really have access to the Internet?” It was a valid question at the time, and a digital divide still persists in certain areas, so part of our strategy has always been to work with community anchor institutions that help the public access LawHelp.org. But these days, we’re hearing questions like, “these online resources are great, but our clients are asking if they can apply for services online or e-file forms through LawHelp Interactive.” Some of that change relates to how much more interwoven technology is with our daily lives now, but evaluations of PBN’s programs and training initiatives show that we’ve played a key role in helping to grow the capacity of the field in taking innovative approaches to client services and volunteer mobilization. Some of the most exciting ideas I hear these days come from people who once described themselves as Luddites. In our consumer-facing work, we’ve also expanded our longtime focus on plain language to include other critical areas like language access. Another exciting development has been the growth of our immigration work, via the Immigration Advocates Network, from a small pilot to a major national initiative using innovative technology and collaboration to tackle complex issues and expand legal services for low-income immigrants.

PBN: What are you most proud of from your time at Pro Bono Net?

LK: I think Hurricane Katrina was a galvanizing moment for Pro Bono Net as an organization and me personally on certain levels. I had done a site visit to New Orleans just a few months before. The impact of Katrina was so widespread it became apparently very quickly that the affected communities, particularly low-income ones, would be dealing with legal issues stemming from the disaster for years to come. We were still a small organization at the time, but were able to mobilize quickly to assist our partners in the region with certain immediate needs, and then in leveraging their LawHelp.org and probono.net projects to deliver critical information to the public and help coordinate response efforts by legal aid staff and volunteers. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to support the work of incredibly dedicated advocates and programs throughout the Gulf Coast in the wake of that event. Since then, I’ve worked with other partners on efforts that use our programs to help people recover from crises – whether natural or industrial disasters, like the BP oil spill or the 2008 economic recession. It’s gratifying to see how our programs can help people get a foothold out of crisis, support the work of legal aid practitioners and volunteers, and advance our partners’ own goals on the ground.

Also – and I can’t take credit for this, but I’m not sure where else it fits in this interview! – I’m really proud of PBN’s staff. They are incredibly talented, committed and deeply engaged in the work we do and supporting our collaborations around the country. They’re also a lot of fun. You can see how we like to spend our spare time in Jake’s summer 2014 round-up.

PBN: Where is Pro Bono Net going over the next 15 years, how will our role change, and how will the second 15 years be different from the first 15?

LK: The only constant is change, right? I think our core mission and approach – developing innovative, sustainable solutions for expanding access to justice – will be a constant. I also think we’ll continue to focus largely on solutions that are scalable and replicable and can have widespread impact, not just one-off projects. That said, I see PBN becoming even more of an incubator, and creating spaces for our staff and partners to develop, test, and learn from small-scale projects. I think increasingly we will mix and match our own technology platforms with cutting-edge commercial tools or innovations in the start-up space. I also see us getting more involved in designing and delivering direct services in certain contexts. We do this now through CitizenshipWorks.org and a few other projects, but other examples might include developing and managing a large-scale remote volunteer initiative for underserved communities, or designing new programs that engage many more non-attorneys and non-legal organizations in access to justice. Looking ahead, I’d love to see us leverage the “network” nature of Pro Bono Net even more – how can we connect the hundreds of public interest organizations and thousands of volunteers in our network in new and creative ways to match resources to needs? And how can we connect individuals facing life-altering issues with these groups, and to each other, in ways that not only solve their immediate problem, but also provide information and resources that have an enduring positive impact on whole communities?

PBN: What are some examples of innovative technologies we hope to support/help develop in the next few years to close the justice gap?

LK: I’m glad you’re not asking me to look 15 years ahead on this one! In the near term, I’m excited about the new capacities we’re building into the next generation of LawHelp Interactive and CitizenshipWorks. On LHI, this includes creating a more scalable platform to better support the creative and diverse ways that legal aid programs, courts, libraries, shelters, and others want to use it. And CitizenshipWorks 2.0 will include new remote consultation tools to bring naturalization legal assistance to smaller and rural communities where resources are scarce. We’re also exploring expansion possibilities for the Debt and Eviction Navigator (aka DEN), a tablet-based screening tool that is used by social workers and nurses to assess the legal needs of the homebound elderly. DEN guides the social workers through a series of questions to conduct consumer and housing “legal health check-ups” for the seniors and then direct them to sources of help. It’s part of a national trend toward partnering with non-legal organizations and lay advocates in solutions for closing the justice gap. I think supportive tools like DEN have a lot of promise, particularly when they draw on the incredibly rich information and referral resources on LawHelp.org sites. We’re also expanding our mobile strategies through several LawHelp.org and probono.net projects. So, a lot to look forward to. Stay tuned to Connecting Justice Communities for updates!

Reflecting on 15 years: An interview with Michael Cooper

Posted in Legal Services, Pro Bono

This year, Pro Bono Net celebrated our 15th Anniversary. As we reflect back on the past 15 years, we caught up with a few individuals who were critical to our early growth and development. Below is an interview with Michael Cooper, Pro Bono Net Founding Board Chair. His understanding of the justice gap and support for new ideas were critical during Pro Bono Net’s early years. Mr. Cooper continues to sit on the Pro Bono Net board, and we are very grateful for his continued passion for our mission. 

Pro Bono Net: How did you first become involved with Pro Bono Net?

Michael Cooper: My recollection is that, as I was finishing up a term as President of the New York City Bar Association around May of 2000, Mark and Michael just asked to meet with me. I didn’t know either one of them— I didn’t know their names, I didn’t know anything about them.  But they just asked to meet with me and I said sure.

Michael Cooper

Michael Cooper accepting his award for dedicated service to Pro Bono Net as the Founding Board Chair.

They described their concept of facilitating the connection between the users of legal services and the providers of those services, whether they be lawyers in private practice or the Legal Aid Society or any other organization. And I’m a luddite, I do use the laptop, but I don’t have an iPhone, I don’t have an iPad – I’m really not technology-oriented. But I have devoted a lot of thought, for a long time, to the justice gap.

I guess it was just before I became President of the City Bar in the late 90s, Chief Judge Judith Kaye asked me to chair a task force to try and find permanent funding for legal services. I don’t remember the names of many of the people from the task force, but we got this idea, which I thought was brilliant, to tap the Abandoned Property Fund.  In New York, because there are lots of bank accounts, insurance policies, and dividends that don’t get claimed, this fund is $300 million a year. So we said okay, let’s assign $25 million a year to legal services, and we drafted a statute. I went up to Albany with this idea, and I went to see the Governor’s Secretary and he said, “That’s a really good idea why don’t you go to see the Senate Majority leader.”  So I went to see his Chief of Staff, and he said, “Well that’s a very good idea, see how it strikes the Speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver.”  So I went to see Sheldon Silver and he said, “That’s a very good idea, why don’t you run it by the governor.”  And then I realized I was never going to get anywhere.

So I had this awareness of the gap and frustration with efforts to fill it.  Although I’m not technology-savvy, I intuited that Pro Bono Net had an idea that was potentially invaluable. If you can’t diminish the needs, and they never seem to diminish, and you can’t increase the resources, then you have to make them connect more effectively. So intuitively, I said this is a great idea and I signed up. They asked me if I would be the Board Chair, I signed on, and then it just grew.  I looked away and then looked back and all of a sudden there were two new national sites, and other great leaps.

PBN: How was Pro Bono Net different from the other legal services organizations you had been involved with?

MC: The other legal services organizations that I knew, they all gathered lawyers together, but they basically were providing or arranging for the provision of the service – they were only one part of the equation. The genius of Pro Bono Net was that it connected both parts, originally through probono.net and LawHelp, and then we had this dramatic incident – the World Trade Center attack.  Pro Bono Net created a site for volunteer lawyers, there were more than 2,000 of them at the City Bar, who were willing to help but didn’t know how to find people in need.  Then it has gone on to create sites for Katrina, the tornadoes, and Sandy. That was a very dramatic example of this new concept of using technology to bring together the consumers and the providers.

PBN: How has Pro Bono Net evolved over the years?

MC: It seems like it grew up without my being aware of it. Gradually it accumulated more and more state sites, and two sites in Canada. I have been very interested the relationships that Pro Bono Net has established with the courts, in New York and elsewhere. There’s a huge potential for having a simple work station in a court house where somebody can get help.

PBN: As someone who is not a big technology user, could you discuss how you knew technology could have a powerful effect?

MC: I intuited it. I sensed that there was immeasurable potential there. But I didn’t really understand what it could do.

PBN: What role has PBN played in the broader access to justice movement, especially in terms of bringing technology to the movement?

MC: Well, I don’t know of anybody that was promoting the use of technology to bridge the justice gap – it’s really a very apt phrase – before Pro Bono Net. There was growing interest and capability in getting lawyers to volunteer their services, but there was some connector missing. It’s like having a power station in one place and 100,000 consumers with no electricity in another place and no wires between them.  There was no connection, and that’s what Pro Bono Net has provided.

PBN: What has motivated you to stay involved over the past 15 years?

MC: It’s the only organization where I wasn’t present at the birth, but I saw it in the nursery.  I just watched it grow and it has been such a joy to be there from day one and I want to continue.

PBN:  Is there any part of the growth that has surprised you?

MC: The connection with the courts – that may be the one thing that I didn’t see, or didn’t see it happening as fast, but it didn’t surprise me.

PBN: Where do you see Pro Bono Net going in the future?

MC: I think it’s going to be doing more of what it’s doing.  I’m sure that there will be development of additional national sites – take an example of something that’s been recognized fairly recently, so called human trafficking, there will be additional sites as additional needs arise. I suspect that there are still going to be additional states that will want to work with Pro Bono Net as well. Where else it’s going, I just don’t know, but I sure as hell would like to be along for the ride.

Inspirational Dispatches from the LHI Mailbox

Posted in Legal Services, Libraries, Technology

Non-lawyers writing words like Petition and easy in the same sentence? You got to be kidding me!

Everyday I come to my home office in Eastern Washington looking forward to opening our LawHelp Interactive inbox support box. Why? Because I want to read emails from end users and staff at libraries, self-help centers, and clinics that tell us what a difference being able to create legal documents online makes. I feel that from here I connect to the world via these emails.  And I do mean the world, since LawHelp Interactive creates forms for people in Germany, India, UK, and by people living or serving abroad. From being here over 6 years, I know the LHI statistics intimately – I am a self described data hawk. For example, I know that each day we support over 3,000 sessions, and that people are creating 1,300 documents per day using our system—including Saturday and Sunday. I am also acutely aware that the number of users keeps increasing thanks to the creativity of our legal aid partners and their outreach efforts – including greater use and adoption of LHI-powered forms in self-help centers, brick and mortar centers run by courts, legal aid, or libraries, and also in remote clinics. We also recently confirmed that 70% of our users want to create their forms and go—they don’t want to create accounts and come back to edit a long interview. We also know that shows that 15% of the documents are created by lawyers and court accounts working through pro bono events, run by legal aid staff attorneys, or pro bono lawyers. So, I got the numbers down—and I love the numbers.

But numbers are not enough. At the Goldman School at Berkeley, I learned that good policy looks at both qualitative and quantitative factors. In an effort to look at qualitative feedback from a different perspective, I went into our user inbox and pulled emails from 8/30/2014 to 9/15/2014 and stopped when I had 100 words. I used the feedback to create a word cloud. This is how it looks!

LHI Word Cloud

The LHI Word Cloud

It amazes me to see words like “helpful,” “Thank,” “Divorce,” “Support,” and all in relative similar sizes. The email forms asks “was this useful”—“Yes” is almost always in the emails we get—and also “Thank you so much.” Some people use the word awesome; “easy” is another word that comes up a lot. Seeing this word cloud, confirms to me that online, easy-to-use forms, and the platform that serves them play an indispensable role in the access to justice continuum. Without the forms or LHI to serve them, save them, store them, and allow people to edit them when they need to, many legal aid, court, and access to justice initiatives would not be able to provide such high quality assistance to so many who are in need.

Personally, to me this is reaffirmation that contributing to LawHelp Interactive, and being part of the Pro Bono Net team—is meaningful. My great grandma used to tell me in Spanish, “Tiempo perdido, hasta los angeles lloran,” which roughly means even angels weep for the time that they lose. Or in other words, wasting time is terrible. Time is the only resource in life we control absolutely – how we spend our time, what our mind and body do with the time we have, and how we share it with others. I spend everyday in the Pacific Northwest connected to NY, the South, and the Midwest and supporting LHI and the projects the amazing legal aid and Justice community run through LHI; it does not get any better than this. Seeing the word cloud—and seeing the words our end users use to tell us if the LawHelp Interactive forms were helpful makes my day many times over. I hope it makes your day too. If anyone wants to talk data, numbers, and LHI statistics for their projects and initiatives, and/or have me pull a word cloud from feedback on their online form projects, reach out to me. I would love to share our feedback with others.

Pro Bono Net Staff to Present at the NLADA Annual Conference

Posted in Conferences

The annual National Legal Aid & Defender Association’s conference, Blueprint For Justice: Designing a New Paradigm for Impact, will take place in Arlington, Virginia starting today.  Pro Bono Net’s Executive Director, Mark O’Brien, along with Liz Keith, Program Director, and Claudia Johnson, LawHelp Interactive Program Manager, will present on a variety of panels about innovations in civil legal aid.

Fifty years after the launch of the War on Poverty, poverty remains a persistent problem in America, however, innovations in technology have allowed for significant progress in the provision of civil legal aid. With ever-expanding caseloads for full time attorneys and dwindling resources for legal services and courts, Pro Bono Net staff will join speakers from across the country to focus on how these innovations in technology have allowed for broader access to legal assistance.

Pro Bono Net staff are slated to participate in the following panels:

  • The Role of Forms and Interviews in Supporting the Work of Lay Advocates –  Mark O’Brien, Pro Bono Net; Alex Rabanal, Chicago-Kent College of Law; Glenn Rawdon, Legal Services Corporation
  • Innovations in Civil Legal Aid  – Sarah Frush, Legal Aid Bureau, Inc; Liz Keith, Pro Bono Net; Jan May, Legal Counsel for the Elderly; Patricia Pap, Management Information Exchange;  Alison Paul, Montana Legal Services Association; Jonathan Pyle, Philadelphia Legal Assistance
  • Expanding Expungement: Leveraging Technology & Implementing Innovative Strategies – Sharon Dietrich, Community Legal Services; Michael Hollander, Community Legal Services;  Liz Keith, Pro Bono Net
  • The War on Poverty: Doing It with Modern Tools – Michael Hollander, Community Legal Services; Claudia Johnson, Pro Bono Net; Tanina Rostain, Georgetown Law School ; Gordon Shaw, Community Legal Aid

We hope to see many of our partners and stakeholders at the conference, in panels, and at our PBN Affinity Group Meeting on Thursday from 12-2:00pm!

PBN & JASA Collaborate on Innovative App to Help the Homebound

Posted in Courts, Launch, Legal Services, Technology

Earlier this year, Pro Bono Net partnered with JASA of Legal Services for the Elderly in Queens to develop a new web app that enables social workers to perform quick legal screenings for homebound and disabled seniors. JASA assists many at risk Queens seniors with their emergency issues, in particular housing, consumer debt, and elder abuse cases. However, many seniors are homebound or face significant obstacles getting to legal help and a courthouse. In many ways they personify the broader justice gap in America.

In January, Donna Dougherty, Attorney-in-Charge at JASA, heard about Chief Judge Lippman’s new Court Navigator program and joined the Task Force to Expand Access to Civil Legal Services in New York to work on a model creating a similar pilot for social workers assisting seniors and the disabled. In February, we partnered with JASA and began working with Georgetown law students in Professor Tanina Rostain’s course, “Technology, Innovation, and Legal Practice” to develop the app. Our Executive Director, Mark O’Brien, had been invited by Professor Rostain to teach the spring semester along with Kevin Mulcahy, the Training Director for Neota Logic. A generous technology donation from Neota Logic allowed the students’ app design to become reality.*

App Development

Before beginning the development process, Donna asked JASA’s social workers what they wanted and just as importantly what they did not want in an app. The social workers were nervous about crossing the line between providing support and legal information and giving legal advice. They are in a client’s home for a limited time so the app had to be easy-to-use, quick to identify potential issues, and provide concise and clear suggestions for action.

The other crucial consideration was practical – many of JASA’s clients do not own computers and/or do not have Internet service. Initially JASA and PBN looked at using iPads – they’re portable, user friendly, and can access the Internet over a cellular network. However, the team quickly realized that they could also be limiting and that making a more universally accessible app was a better use of resources. Thus, they settled on a web app! Social workers would carry small, lightweight laptops and use iPhones as mobile hotspots to access the app.

With these needs in mind and a budget of about $5,000, Donna and Pro Bono Net’s Adam Friedl began working with the Georgetown students in March and had a completed app by the end of Spring Semester. Donna acquired all the tech equipment within two months of starting the project and so the project roll out was ready to begin within 6 months of the start-date. Over the summer, the app, christened the Debt & Eviction Navigator (or DEN), launched.


As the roll out began, the social workers were apprehensive and in some cases resistant about using technology – some had never used a laptop or a hotspot. After a small amount of training however, they quickly realized 1) how easy the DEN is to use and 2) its massive potential to help streamline services and allow JASA to provide more holistic assistance. They can now give their clients information easily, quickly, and clearly. Most importantly they can help people who otherwise cannot access the court system.

Over the past several months, JASA social workers have used the DEN to interview over two hundred people. About five were homebound and had an immediate legal issue (e.g. they had a lawsuit pending against them in court). Without the DEN, these clients might not have known that their issue was pressing. Without the new navigator program, they would not have been able to access the court system.

After identifying that a homebound client has a legal issue, JASA brings the situation to the court’s attention and the client is able to access the justice system remotely. For example, the social worker can assist a client to file an answer online, verify their identity and intentions with the court via VoIP and online video calling, and then have their filing marked as “homebound” and sent to judges who are familiar with the new system.


Donna is really excited about the potential to use similar apps to increase access to justice for homebound and otherwise isolated Americans. The development process was fast, easy, and inexpensive. As providers and the courts gain experience they will be able to make more powerful and efficient apps in the future. Investments today will also decrease future development costs; iPads, hotspots, video conferencing technology only have to be bought once.

The combination of technological advancements and a court system willing to experiment enables gatekeepers – those with the most consistent contact with hard-to-reach people – to extend access to justice to often-neglected populations. Donna envisions apps that could help in foreclosure cases, disaster relief work (where computer access is often limited or non-existent), and with language issues. The DEN is just the first iteration in the exciting future of access to justice apps!

*Editor’s note: Michael Mills, President and Chief Strategy Officer of Neota Logic, is a Pro Bono Net board member.