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Connecting Justice Communities

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.

PBN and IAN Attend the Inaugural New York Immigrant Assistance Consortium Conference

Posted in Conferences, Immigration, Pro Bono, Technology

On June 9th Pro Bono Net Executive Director Mark O’Brien and Immigration Advocates Network (IAN) Director Matthew Burnett participated in the inaugural conference of the New York Immigrant Assistance Consortium. Close to three hundred immigration advocates, legal service providers, government officials, and community members joined together to discuss how to better coordinate legal support for New York’s immigrant communities.

Pro Bono Net and IAN have been leading the conversation on the role of technology in helping to meet the inevitable increase in demand for services in the event of large scale changes to immigration law. O’Brien and Burnett moderated panels at the conference, sharing their knowledge and expertise with the wider New York immigration advocacy community. Both also sit on the Steering Committee of the New York Immigrant Assistance Consortium.

O’Brien moderated a panel on “Innovations in Outreach and Service Delivery through Technology.” Burnett joined the panel along with Adam Stofsky of New Media Advocacy Project, Jennifer Ching of Queens Legal Services and Lauren Burke of Atlas DIY. The panel focused on the existing work that is being done in the legal field – including IAN’s work developing cutting edge tools and approaches to increase access to justice for low-income immigrants, the role of technology in response to Superstorm Sandy, social media strategies for DACA and beyond, and the use of video and new media for community education and empowerment. The panel also discussed available opportunities for non-profits to engage with technology and the ways that technology can transform service delivery.

Burnett moderated a panel on “National Perspectives on Legalization Planning and Implementation.” Joining the panel were Charles Kamasaki of the National Council of La Raza, Larry Kleinman of CAPACES Leadership Institute, and Michelle Sardone of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC). The group focused on preparing for large-scale immigration reform, and discussed lessons of past immigration reform efforts, the importance of planning for local issues, and current efforts to build capacity in the nonprofit immigration field.

“It was clear from the conference and the feedback from attendees that there’s much more to be done to plan and prepare for administrative or legislative changes to the immigration law,” said Burnett. “This conference was just the start of what I hope will become a larger conversation about how to more effectively meet the needs of New York’s diverse immigrant communities.”

Tiela Chalmers to host “How to Handle Your First Pro Bono Case 2014”

Posted in Pro Bono, Webinar

On May 27th, Tiela Chalmers, newly appointed CEO of the Alameda County Bar Association and member of the Pro Bono Net Board of Directors, will lead a webinar / seminar through the Practising Law Institute (PLI) on “How to Find and Handle Your First Pro Bono Case.”  I spoke with Tiela last week to get a preview of the program. Whether you just graduated from law school or have been practicing for years, the program will be an excellent opportunity to discover the pro bono field and find ways to get involved! We would like to thank PLI for championing the need for pro bono as one of Pro Bono Net’s Bronze Sponsors since 2011. Through their sponsorship of Pro Bono Net and consistent presentation of pro bono programs, PLI has demonstrated outstanding dedication to providing attorneys with information and techniques to develop a powerful and effective pro bono practice and use their legal skills to give back to their communities.

Pro Bono Net: Can you briefly tell us about the overall purpose of your upcoming PLI program?

Tiela Chalmers: Our goal is to offer people who are just starting to look into pro bono, whether they are new attorneys or people who haven’t considered it before, a chance to get an overview of how to go about doing it and how to become involved. And then, assuming they do volunteer, we’ll go over some things they should keep in mind as they start out.

PBN: Why is it important for lawyers to do pro bono work?

TC: We will talk about this a lot in the session. There is a multiplicity of reasons to do pro bono; all of them are good reasons. There is certainly the opportunity to “do good” and make a difference. So many lawyers went to law school wanting to make a difference and having a law license really gives you a unique opportunity to make a difference in a way that others can’t. There are also more self-focused reasons to do pro bono. It’s a great way to get experience – pro bono allows you to handle a case from start to finish in a way that you don’t get to do starting out at most large firms. It’s also a chance to get to know the judges and lawyers in your community and become known as someone who gives back and contributes to the community. It shows people that you care about the place that you live.

PBN: What is the largest barrier to starting pro bono work?

TC:  It’s a combination of time and not knowing where to start. Part of the goal of the session is to give people ways to overcome both those barriers. The session will point out that there’s a lot of value to be had – even though you will be busy, it will help you advance yourself professionally. We will also talk about limited scope representation and some other ideas on how to get experience without a significant time investment. In terms of knowing where to start, we will discuss how to figure out what to do and how to find a good opportunity.

PBN: Is there anything else you would like to share about the program?

TC: When we’ve done the program in the past, people have found it useful whether they were truly brand new or just attorneys looking for ways to build professional development. We hope to get a wide spectrum of people, we had a few hundred nationally in the past and I understand registration has already reached that point for this year.

Be sure to sign up for the “How to Handle Your First Pro Bono Case 2014” webinar or seminar. The free webcast will begin at 9:00 AM Pacific (12:00 PM Eastern), or attend in person in San Francisco!

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.