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Connecting Justice Communities

Online Developer Training to Create Easy-to-Use Online Forms Starts September 9th

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

With funding from the Legal Services Corporation Technology Assistance Grants, Pro Bono Net is organizing its first online developer training for the online legal services and court document assembly community. This five week series will start on 9/9/2014 and will end on 10/7/2014. Each two hour session will teach basic A2J Author and HotDocs skills, so that legal aid groups, pro bono groups, and partner court staff can learn how to create online forms through LawHelp Interactive. The training series has been well received and with quick and heavy registration. The webinar series will be recorded and in November, PBN will release the recordings for those who could not join the series. The trainers for this series include

  • Jessica Bolack Frank from A2J Author
  • Marc Lauritsen of Capstone Practice
  • Bart Earle also from Capstone Practice
  • Mirenda Watkins and Claudia Johnson from Pro Bono Net

More information can about the series is available at the LHI Support Trainings pageLawHelp Interactive is operated through a collaboration between Pro Bono Net, LSC, and the Ohio State Legal Services Association. LHI hosts over 3,000 online forms that are used daily in over 40 states by self-represented litigants, clinics, pro bono lawyers, and legal aid staff to efficiently create legal documents and increase access to justice. Teaching how to create online forms is of utmost importance as outlined in the LSC Technology Summit Report. In the second quarter of 2014, over 130,600 legal documents were created through LawHelp Interactive.

Goodbye Jon!

Posted in Legal Services, Staff News, Superstorm Sandy, Technology, Website Launch

Last week, Jon Weinberg, the Pro Bono Net and Montana Legal Services Association 2014 AmeriCorps VISTA, completed his year of service. Before he left, we asked Jon a few questions about the past year and what’s next for him. We’ll miss him and we hope you join us in thanking him for his tremendous work over the past year!

Our 2014 VISTA, Jon Weinberg

Jon Weinberg

PBN: What interested you in the VISTA program and in service with Pro Bono Net specifically?

Jon: I became interested in VISTA after I decided to defer law school for a year. I realized I could benefit from working and getting non-academic experience working for a cause or organization I believed in, and VISTA really fit the bill. The Pro Bono Net VISTA opportunity particularly stood out because of PBN’s unique role in utilizing technology to advance access to justice and the opportunity to work with the legal community and learn about the law from a different perspective. Also, my family (like almost everyone in the New York area) was affected by Sandy and I saw the continuing needs and wanted to help with recovery.

PBN: Tell us about some of the projects you’ve worked on in the past year.

Jon: My projects have revolved around Pro Bono Net’s efforts related to disaster legal services. In New York, I aided PBN’s efforts supporting attorneys responding to Sandy and helped institutionalize a more permanent disaster legal response network following a reception, needs assessment survey, and focus group meetings. I worked with our partners at the Legal Services Corporation to help develop and convene a national advisory group of disaster legal experts to assist legal services responders. For the re-launch of the National Disaster Legal Aid Resource Center, www.disasterlegalaid.org, I supported the project team by soliciting information for a pro bono opportunities guide, adapting the previously-developed FEMA appeals tool, creating a toolkit and assisting with design choices and content migration.

PBN: What was your favorite project? Why?

Jon: My favorite project was probably working with attorneys in New York and New Jersey on a more permanent disaster network effort. Although I won’t have a chance to see the network truly come into being, I learned so much from assessing needs in the community and working closely with partners to propose a solution that’s both feasible and helpful. It was very inspiring to learn about the substantial response of the legal community to Sandy and I was honored to have had the opportunity to support efforts to continue collaboration.

PBN: How will your experience help you going forward, both personally and professionally?

Jon: Personally, I learned so, so much from working in a professional setting. I now appreciate how different it is from working in school and that working in an office brings with it very different challenges than those faced in classes and with student organizations. Professionally, I’ve learned that the law functions very differently than it’s advertised, and that lawyers have to take on vast, very different responsibilities in their line of work than I would have otherwise expected. The justice gap is very real, and the leap to bridge it requires great strength and determination on the part of lawyers who undertake the challenge.

PBN: What will you miss most about your year at Pro Bono Net?

Jon: I’ll probably most miss getting to work with the program team! It’s really an incredible group. I do look forward to keeping up our gChat conversations though! I’ll also miss being in New York and working at an organization that brings so many attorneys together and supports so many different exciting initiatives nationally. You really do learn something new every day here!

PBN: What are you doing next?

Jon: I’ll be starting law school next month! I’m now much more attuned to the challenges faced by attorneys who want to do good, both from legal services and the private bar, but I’ve also been inspired by those I’ve worked with this year who have been able to help people through the law (also through both legal services and the private bar.)

PBN: What is one, totally non-legal related factoid, you learned from your time here?

Jon: I can now say unequivocally that Gregory’s Coffee is unparalleled in Midtown Manhattan! And that soccer is underappreciated by most Americans (thanks Adam, Kevin, Jake, and Mark!)

Pro Bono Net to Host Interactive Discussion at the International Legal Technology Association Conference

Posted in Conferences, Technology, Uncategorized

Pro Bono Net will host an interactive discussion on technology and increasing access to justice at the International Legal Technology Association’s 37th Annual Educational Conference in Nashville, Tennessee on August 19th.

Pro Bono Net, the nonprofit leader in technology solutions to expand access to justice, is hosting the networking reception and interactive conversation thanks to generous support from Microsoft.  Over 3,000 attendees will be at the conference to discuss the latest knowledge and technology solutions for challenges facing law firms and legal departments.

The Pro Bono Net event will feature a conversation on “Leveraging Technology to Increase Access to Justice” featuring Nishan DeSilva, Senior Director of Business and Technology Solutions at Microsoft Legal and Corporate Affairs, and Michael Mills, President & Chief Strategy Officer at Neota Logic and Pro Bono Net Board of Directors.  The conversation will be led by Pro Bono Net Executive Director, Mark O’Brien.

The event will take place on Tuesday, August 19, 2014 from 4:30 – 6:00 p.m. in the Presidential Boardroom A at the Gaylord Opryland.

In addition to our lead sponsor, Microsoft, the following companies are sponsoring the event: Aderant, ALM, BigHand, Bridgeway, Elevate, Epiq, HighQ, HotDocs, Huron Consulting Group, Intellitech, International Legal Technology Association, LexisNexis, LSI Foundation, Marks Baughan, Neota Logic, Practising Law Institute, and Tabs3.

For more information regarding the event, please contact Karin Romans, kromans@probono.net.

DisasterLegalAid.org Re-Launched as Online Hub for Disaster Legal Services

Posted in Launch, Legal Services, Pro Bono, Superstorm Sandy, Technology, Website Launch

In addition to developing new tools, sites, and solutions to increase access to justice, Pro Bono Net looks for ways to grow and adapt its programs to match evolving needs and leverage new technology. In that vein, over the past few months PBN Program Director Liz Keith and I have been hard at work with partners at Lone Star Legal Aid, the American Bar Association, the Legal Services Corporation, the National Legal Aid & Defender Association, and Texas Legal Services Center to re-launch the National Disaster Legal Aid Resource Center at DisasterLegalAid.org. Working on the site has been one of my primary projects this year as a VISTA at Pro Bono Net supporting the organization’s work around disaster legal services. The re-launched site has some great new features, and working on the re-launch was an instructive experience.

The re-launched site builds upon successful web-based efforts following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and has been active since 2009. The three main portals for different core audiences (people in need of help, legal aid professionals, and pro bono volunteers) remain, and each portal includes relevant resources, guides, explanations, and links. For example, people in need of legal help can consult links on methods of assistance while legal aid professionals can use a checklist to guide them through establishing post-disaster operations. The site additionally continues to feature disaster-specific pages with the latest information on deadlines, hotlines, and specific assistance available.

All of that content is greatly enhanced by the re-launched site’s design. The new design is visually appealing and better facilitates navigation through the portals, with images from actual disaster response efforts supplied by LSC and others working in the field after disasters. The colors were selected to make the site more accessible to those who are visually impaired and all images now have associated text. Perhaps most excitingly, the new design is mobile-responsive. Mobile responsiveness is especially important because smartphones are increasingly being used to access information after disasters.

New features and content complement the improved design. A dedicated version of the National Pro Bono Opportunities Guide allows prospective pro bono attorneys to immediately identify how they can help after a disaster. The site also features a FEMA appeals tool, powered by LawHelp Interactive, which allows a survivor of any FEMA-declared disaster to easily appeal an adverse FEMA assistance decision. Legal services attorneys with questions about disaster response can use the site to submit queries to the Disaster Legal Aid National Advisory Group.

I had no idea how much work would go into the re-launch. Pro Bono Net and Lone Star Legal Aid, the project lead, worked diligently with a national stakeholder committee and web designer for months to make this vision a reality. For the new tools and features, we solicited disaster pro bono opportunities nationally and modified a FEMA appeals tool Pro Bono Net developed in 2013 for use by survivors of Superstorm Sandy. In addition, Lone Star Legal Aid led a content coalition of disaster legal services experts charged with identifying, curating and posting new content for the site, and quickly added resources about new disasters as they were declared by FEMA and shared news items about disaster legal response efforts. The re-launch effort was supported with funding from the Legal Services Corporation’s Technology Initiative Grant program.

When all was said and done, everything paid off. I’m very excited to join Pro Bono Net and our partners in publicizing the re-launched site and I hope it will play an important role in disaster legal response efforts. I am happy that in the future survivors and attorneys alike will have a central online hub – for survivors to access legal resources that can help them rebuild and recover, and for attorneys and advocates to better serve survivors and get them the access to justice they deserve.

LSNTAP/PBN Webinar: Triage and expert systems in legal aid: New tools to assist people in need and the advocates that serve

Posted in Legal Services, Pro Bono, Technology, Webinar

In July, Pro Bono Net partnered with LSNTAP to produce a webinar on triage and expert systems in legal aid. Moderated by Liz Keith of Pro Bono Net, the webinar highlighted new tools and approaches that aid advocates with legal screening, triage, and analysis activities, as well as tools to help litigants navigate unfamiliar legal processes.  The great line-up of panelists featured work on cutting edge projects in the nonprofit legal sector, information on how expert systems can enhance service delivery and support community partnerships, and tools and techniques that focus on balancing considerations.

The first presenter, Zach Hutchinson, Student and Research Assistant at Georgetown University Law Center, covered three tools developed through the school. The EJC Wage Theft App, OAH Unemployment App, and Military Impact of Discharge Assessment System (MIDAS) are examples of triage tools that can be used by advocates (in clinical or intake settings) and/or as self-help tools.

Donna Dougherty, of JASA Legal Services for the Elderly, and Adam Friedl, of Pro Bono Net, demoed the Debt and Eviction Navigator (DEN), an expert system which enables social workers visiting homebound elderly clients to perform legal screenings, in an effort to direct clients to appropriate resources/referrals. They also discussed possible future steps to utilize in reporting and to incorporate into e-filing.

Lastly, Marc Lauritsen, of Capstone Practice Systems, reviewed the different types of expert systems that are currently available for use in legal aid, and introduced another system that helps people make choices. He explained “choiceboxing” and closed with a case study that used this system in the legal aid world.

Materials from this informative webinar are available on the SWEB Support Site. Be sure to join us for the next LSNTAP/PBN webinar!

PLI Public Assistance and Food Stamp Eligibility Webinar

Posted in PLI, Webinar

On Friday, August 1st, Practising Law Institute (PLI) will be hosting a free webinar on “Advanced Public Assistance and Food Stamp Eligibility 2014: Special Populations.”

The webinar will cover the intricate eligibility rules for special populations seeking Public Assistance and Food Stamps (SNAP). Certain populations, including immigrants, the homeless, and people with disabilities, are subject to various exceptions and modifications to the usual rules. These populations are also typically the most in need of assistance.  Along with information regarding representing these special populations, the webinar will cover information on representing clients in Fair Hearings and Article 78 special proceedings, two of the primary forums in which advocates assist people with public assistance and food stamp problems. This session will complement PLI’s recent training sessions on basic eligibility, and is ideal for attorneys interested in helping low-income clients with public assistance and food stamp matters.

PLI will also be offering two of the webinar sessions with Spanish translations. The sessions available in translation are “Special Populations: Immigrants” at 9:15 ET and the “Fair Hearings” at 2:15 ET. The translations are available thanks to an exciting pilot initiative by PLI that will help to increase the accessibility of these vital resources.

The full schedule of the webinar is available here, tune in for the whole day or just catch the one session you need!

LSNTAP/PBN Webinar: Technology tools to enhance legal services for Limited English proficiency (LEP) Communities: Website, videos, and more

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

In June, Pro Bono Net partnered with LSNTAP to produce a webinar on technology tools for Limited English Proficiency communities. Moderated by Mirenda Watkins of Pro Bono Net, the webinar examined some of the challenges of creating and maintaining multilingual tech tools and showcased possible solutions to these challenges through innovative examples in the legal technology community.

With 25 million people in the US classified as LEP, the webinar first explored the challenges of using technology to help the LEP community navigate the legal system. Rochelle Klempner, Chief Counsel of the NYS Courts Access to Justice Program covered the difficult task of updating multilingual forms, including document assembly programs, written self-help materials, training materials, videos, webpages, posters, flyers, signs, and more when something changes. She provided some great tips on how to keep these resources current.

Additionally, Kathy Daniels of Statewide Legal Services of Connecticut discussed the fotonovela video project, an alternative solution to the challenge described above. A fotonovela uses photos with conversation bubbles and is similar to a comic book. She has developed PDF and video (with audio) resources in the fotonovela format. Daniels noted that the videos can be easily modified for additional languages and adapted to almost any legal topic or jurisdiction.

Sandra Sandoval of the Immigration Advocates Network also presented on CitizenshipWorks, a collection of multilingual online tools and resources that assist the public and advocates involved in the naturalization process. Resources are accessible via a mobile application, SMS text, and LiveHelp. Multilingual resources include document assembly tools and an e-learning module.

Lastly, Mike Monahan of the State Bar of Georgia Pro Bono Project / Georgia Legal Services Program covered resources his program developed for attorneys assisting LEP clients. He demoed their online MCLE videos, as well as an SMS tool that allows attorneys to text for interpretation and other resources.

The webinar was well attended, with lots of great questions. Materials from this informative webinar are available on the SWEB Support Site, and be sure to join us for the next LSNTAP/PBN webinar!

Is the LawHelp Interactive Rebuild essentially a Wedding?

Posted in Courts, Legal Services, Technology

LawHelp Interactive (LHI) is a Pro Bono Net program that helps poverty law and court access-to-justice programs implement online document assembly projects. Blue Ridge Legal Services and Pro Bono Net are rebuilding the technical infrastructure of LHI to make sure that it remains a sustainable, scalable national solution for the extensive development and use of interactive legal forms and to better support integration with case management and e-filing systems in courts nationwide. LHI has grown at a rapid pace – from 76,000 documents completed in 2007 to more than 815,000 forms in 2013. In 2006, LHI supported interactive forms projects in 11 states in 2006; we now support over 40 states that are all using LHI in vital and innovative ways on a daily basis. The service is being used in ever more creative and compelling ways to empower self-represented litigants and increase the capacity of legal services and pro bono attorneys. The LHI rebuild will support these growing and diverse uses and user base needs and volume. Rebuilding a large system such as LHI that is used in so many different ways by so many different people is an intense project.

Speaking of intense, three Pro Bono Net staff members (Alice, Karin, and I) are wedding planning at the same time. While the LHI rebuild and weddings are different in many ways, there are some lessons that can be learned from the rebuild process useful for wedding planning. Here are a few:

  • Establishing a Budget and a Project Plan: Pro Bono Net is working with Marlabs Corporation, a leading IT service provider, to implement the LHI rebuild. Earlier this year, Marlabs, Pro Bono Net, and Blue Ridge Legal Services developed a high-level project plan for the rebuild outlining the timeline for building, testing, updating, and transitioning to the new LHI platform. Having a plan early on in wedding planning, along with setting a budget, is crucial in making sure that everything is in place in time for the big day and things are sustainable afterwards.
  • Utilizing Experts: Pro Bono Net Staff and expert consultants like long-time LHI collaborators Kaivo, Capstone Practice Systems, and Todd Pedwell play a significant role in providing expertise of the LHI system which is important in making sure the new system meets the needs of LHI users and partners. When folks are looking to plan a wedding, know when to call on experts. You’ll be happier with the finished product (whether it be a template upload process or a wedding cake).
  • Feedback and Partnerships: A major strength of LHI is its partners and the sharing of best practices. We will be opening up the rebuild environment around August 2014 to our partners to test and provide feedback. This is going to be a critical step in the success of the rebuild; it will be like the dress rehearsal where we get to make sure everything works before the real walk down the aisle. Similarly with wedding planning, use your friends and family to get feedback on ideas. They’ll add great insight.
  • Flexibility: There are a lot of moving pieces to LHI and it’s a complex system. Upgrading HotDocs, the software used to assemble documents on LHI, took longer than expected and changes like this can affect the rebuild process. Staying flexible is key to keeping a project like the rebuild moving forward. Same thing with weddings, be flexible enough to react to inclement weather, friends you really want to come relocating to the Philippines (true story!), unexpected costs, etc.

As with a wedding, there is a lot of excitement about what the new LHI system will look like. For more information and updates on the LHI rebuild, please visit: http://www.probono.net/dasupport/lhi_rebuild/ (for wedding inspiration, I recommend: http://offbeatbride.com/).

OlmsteadRights Site Launches to Educate All

Posted in Launch, Legal Services

Pro Bono Net recently partnered on a new site – www.olmsteadrights.org – that will inform a wide audience about the Olmstead decision and provide resources and information for self-advocates, family and friends of people with disabilities, and legal advocates alike. The project was spearheaded by Atlanta Legal Aid Society, in partnership with the Legal Services Corporation, National Disability Rights Network, and Pro Bono Net.

“Olmstead” refers to the 1999 U.S. Supreme Court case Olmstead v. L.C. The decision held that people with disabilities have a qualified right to receive state-funded support and services in the community when appropriate, rather than in institutions. It was a landmark disability rights decision that has impacted the lives of millions of people – both with and without disabilities. The new OlmsteadRights site launched just in time for the 15th anniversary of the Olmstead Supreme Court decision. The attention and events surrounding the anniversary served as a perfect launching pad for the site – driving over 400 visits on the first day.

Joseph Smiling

Read Joseph’s powerful story in the “I Am Olmstead” section (Courtesy of OlmsteadRights.org)

“Olmstead is the most important Supreme Court case for people with disabilities” explained Talley Wells, Director of the Disability Integration Project at the Atlanta Legal Aid Society. “It’s a very transformative decision and not enough people know about it. We wanted everybody to hear the stories of people living in the community and we wanted people to be able to take advantage of Olmstead.”

The implementation of Olmstead has been slow since the 1999 ruling, but increased significantly since the U.S. Justice Department prioritized and began enforcing the mandate in 2009. While there are bits and pieces of information regarding Olmstead on the Internet, OlmsteadRights will centralize this information in a cohesive site featuring case work, stories, and information on how to advocate for and enforce Olmstead.

The site is broken into three main sections: “I Am Olmstead” for educating the general public, “Self-Help Tools” for those with disabilities, and “Legal Advocacy Tools” for those wishing to use the law to advocate on behalf of their clients. According to Wells, the “I Am Olmstead” section has received the most enthusiastic response so far due to the powerful stories it features about the positive impacts living in the community has had for a wide variety of people with disabilities.

Cheri, another individual who shared her moving story (Courtesy of OlmsteadRights.org)

However, the team at Atlanta Legal Aid Society is most excited for the legal advocates section. “Helping lawyers provide Olmstead advocacy will have powerful implications” said Wells, “we’re excited to give legal services attorneys tools they can use to do Olmstead advocacy.”  There is a wide variety of areas in which Olmstead will be useful, ranging from special education cases to areas of elder law, as attorneys often lack requisite information on how to apply Olmstead to these situations. The legal advocates section will transform attorneys into more powerful advocates for their clients.

One of the most promising features of the site is the Olmstead Legal Outline. The Outline allows lawyers to see which cases are most similar to theirs, read about the developed law around the country, and access sample pleadings. There will also be a series of podcasts on the site to provide further background information. These resources will give attorneys a strong base to build their case, allowing for more efficient and successful advocacy. The website is also fully accessible and inviting for people with all different kinds of disabilities. “It’s important for all websites to be accessible,” explained Wells, “but even more important for a website for people with disabilities.”

While the legal outline will undoubtedly be very practical, the hundreds of photographs on the site are what make it truly stand out. “We had such energy and excitement in the self-advocacy community – people are really excited about the website and sharing their stories and pictures,” said Wells. These photographs and stories will help fuel the dissemination of information about Olmstead, and hopefully lead to even more stories of individuals thriving in their communities.

Diverse Group of People with Disabilities Holding I am Olmstead Signs

Innovation in Pro Bono: Squire Patton Boggs’ Public Service Initiative

Posted in Pro Bono

In the fall of 2009, Squire Sanders (which became Squire Patton Boggs on June 1 through a combination with Patton Boggs) launched the Public Service Initiative (PSI), a new model of pro bono delivery that enables the firm to 1) devote more time and resources to taking on complex cases and 2) assist pro bono attorneys across the country with needed services such as communications and public relations consultants. In particular, the PSI focuses on death penalty, prison, and innocence cases, which can be years-long efforts requiring substantial groundwork and investigation to litigate. Squire Patton Boggs hired George Kendall to develop and run the PSI.

A quick interlude for a moment of Pro Bono Net History: George was a member of the Pro Bono Net Board from 2004 to 2007. And now back to your regularly scheduled programming.

The two full-time attorneys assigned to the PSI, Corrine Irish and Carine Williams, devote 70% of their time to pro bono cases and the remaining 30% to paying matters. Through the PSI, Squire Patton Boggs is able to help close the justice gap by tackling cases that are beyond the scope of most pro bono attorneys. Rather than be discouraged by the cost and time of complex pro bono litigation, Squire Patton Boggs has developed a model that allows them to devote a large law firm’s attention and resources to these difficult cases.

Recently, Squire Patton Boggs collaborated with Holland & Knight and Miller & Chevalier to represent Richard Cooper, a 30-year resident of Florida’s death row. In 1982, Cooper was convicted of capital murder in a case where the only evidence presented in his defense was his mother’s testimony. His trial counsel did not attempt to discover any other evidence. George began working on the case in 2004 at Holland & Knight and brought it with him to Squire Patton Boggs and the PSI in 2009. In 2011, a federal appeals court overturned the death sentences, but the Florida DA filed for a retrial despite Cooper’s “remarkably positive record.” The case was finally resolved in May with Cooper receiving three life sentences.

In 2013, the PSI was able to marshal its unique resources to overturn the 1974 murder conviction of Herman Wallace, an innocent man who spent 41 years in solitary confinement. Wallace was convicted of murdering a prison guard despite an absence of physical or forensic evidence, and on the testimony of witnesses influenced by the state. Over the next 26 years, Louisiana steadfastly refused to disclose evidence necessary for Wallace’s defense. In 1990, Wallace appealed pro se and in 2005, while at Holland & Knight, George joined the case and a corresponding civil rights suit against Louisiana’s use of solitary confinement. When George moved to Squire Patton Boggs in 2009, he brought Wallace’s case with him to the PSI and after 19 unsuccessful years in Louisiana Courts, PSI lawyers filed a federal habeas corpus petition for Wallace in 2009. On October 1, 2013, US District Court Judge Brian Jackson declared Wallace’s conviction unconstitutional and ordered his immediate release from prison. Wallace, 71 and suffering from advanced terminal liver cancer, returned home to his family and passed away three days later.

The PSI provides Squire Patton Boggs with capacity to devote the time, resources, and care that is integral to success in these complicated and life-altering cases. George is particularly proud that Squire Patton Boggs has established a proven model for providing cost-effective and successful pro bono services on complex cases. Lawyers have a monopoly on the provision of legal services, but with that great power comes great responsibility and firms and the legal community can only fulfill their duty to meet the massive unmet demand for services through collaboration. As the PSI moves towards its 5-year anniversary, George hopes to fortify the initiative by taking on more difficult cases and fostering collaboration with other firms on costly and lengthy litigation.