Created in 2011, each year the Fastcase 50 award honors a diverse group of lawyers, legal technologists, policymakers, judges, law librarians, bar association executives, and people from all walks of life. Fastcase “recognizes people who have made important, but unheralded contributions.”

Pro Bono Net’s Rodrigo Camarena has made this year’s Fastcase 50! Rodrigo is the Director of Justicia Lab, Pro Bono Net’s incubator of immigrant justice technology.

Rodrigo joined the Pro Bono Net team in July 2018, first as the Director of the Immigration Advocates Network (IAN), the largest network of nonprofit legal advocates committed to defending immigrants, and now as Director of Justicia Lab. Prior to joining Pro Bono Net, Rodrigo was formerly Strategy Director at Purpose where he developed advocacy campaigns, digital products and brand strategies for global change-makers like the Ford Foundation, UNICEF, and Prior to Purpose, Rodrigo developed new initiatives to tackle economic inequality as Executive Director of Business Growth Programs for the City of New York. Rodrigo is also the former Executive Director of the Mixteca Organization – an immigrant rights organization based in Sunset Park Brooklyn.

Since joining Pro Bono Net, Rodrigo has transformed Pro Bono Net’s immigrants rights program (formerly known as Immigration Advocates Network) by broadening its scope and changing its name to Justicia Lab. Justicia Lab’s goal is to rebalance the scales and give immigrants and their advocates new tools to navigate our immigration system, find workplace justice, and more.

Justicia Lab projects and tools include: Citizenshipworks, an online naturalization platform designed to make applying for citizenship easy; immi, a tool to help immigrants in the U.S. understand their legal options and access critical resources from any location; immigrationLawHelp, a searchable online directory of over 1,000 free or low-cost nonprofit immigration legal services providers in all 50 states; and ¡Reclamo!, an online tool designed to help worker advocates retrieve stolen wages for workers.

Congratulations to Rodrigo and all of the other 2023 Fastcase 50 honorees. Check out the full list at: 

This was originally posted on LawHelpNY. To learn more about LawHelpNY visit:  

If you live in New York and the recent storms and floods have affected you, find out about help from the government.  After some disasters, the federal government offers recovery support and guidance. To check if federal help is available in your area, please visit Go to the official news of the New York Governor’s Office for updates here

Help with Recovery & Damaged Property 

  • If you need information about your area, you can either call 211 or search online here. The 211 helpline can answer your questions. 
  • A lot of nonprofit organizations offer free support for response and recovery after a disaster. You can find one near your location by clicking here.
  • If you’re a homeowner and the disaster damaged your home, you can apply for emergency repair grants of up to $50,000. To apply, go to or call (845) 713-4568 ext. 114 for more information. 
  • If you lost or damaged an important document, find information here on replacing it. Examples include social security cards, medical cards, military records, immigration records, bank records, passports, and tax returns. 
  • If you lost a credit card, you can call the bank that issued the card to get a new one. Call your credit card company if your credit card was not issued by your bank. Major credit card companies include:
    • American Express: 1-800-992-3404
    • Discover: 1-800-347-2683
    • MasterCard: 1-800-627-8372
    • VISA: 1-800-847-2911
  • If you need to replace your debit card, contact your bank. They can tell you how to replace your card. If you’re not sure how to contact your bank or credit union, call the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) at 1-877-275-3342. They can help you too. 
  • If you need to submit a claim with your insurance company, this guide can help. 

If you have a legal problem, a lawyer can help. 

Legal help organizations that offer free guidance and support for different issues, including: 

Immediately After a Disaster

  • Problems with your landlord 
  • Applying for government benefits
  • Applying for loans
  • Getting covered by insurance
  • Replacing lost documents
  • Wage theft

1-6 Months After a Disaster

  • If federal disaster help is available in your area:
    • applying for Federal Emergency Management (FEMA) aid
    • appealing  FEMA denials or amounts awarded by FEMA
  • Renewing rent subsidies or other government benefits
  • Evictions and repair questions
  • Proving homeownership and “clearing” property title
  • Fighting for better  insurance claim coverage
  • Contractor scams and disputes
  • Powers of attorney for child care or the elderly
  • Modifying (changing) parenting orders to reflect new home and school locations
  • Estate planning

6 Months to Years After a Disaster

  • Home loan foreclosures
  • Bankruptcy
  • If federal disaster help is available in your area, defending against FEMA “recoupments” (when they ask for money back)
  • Applying for disaster tax relief
  • Disagreements about home elevation or significant home damage
  • Housing repair and mold issues

To find legal help near you, go to the legal help directory by LawHelpNY.

Finally, the New York Free Legal Answers website has free legal advice for disaster survivors.

Pro Bono Net is pleased to announce our new Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) national trainings for lawyers and advocates nationwide. The webinars are not only for those currently working with survivors of climate-driven disasters, but also for advocates who may potentially support disaster survivors in the future. The trainings are designed in partnership with Legal Aid of Sonoma County and the Disaster Legal Assistance Collaborative. It is supported by the Bigglesworth Family Foundation. 

What will the trainings focus on?

After the President of the United States declares a major disaster, federal funds may be available through FEMA for individuals, families, and small businesses to recover. Many disaster survivors apply to access these funds, but they can be denied this assistance or not provided with enough assistance to recover. Disaster survivors have a right to appeal, but only a small percentage of them do.

The national trainings will focus on the process lawyers and other advocates working with survivors must follow if they want to appeal FEMA’s determination on disaster assistance. Attendees will also learn how to use Pro Bono Net’s bilingual FEMA appeals digital tool to create an appeal letter. The tool helps survivors to understand the appeals process, makes it easier to clearly articulate why the agency should reconsider its decision, and gives survivors a greater chance of obtaining the assistance they need to recover from the disaster. Over the past decade, the tool has helped over 14,000 survivors impacted by major climate disasters. All trainings will have closed captioning.

Who will present the trainings and when will they take place?

Pro Bono Net is conducting the trainings in partnership with Legal Aid of Sonoma County and the Disaster Legal Assistance Collaborative. We will host a total of four trainings for different audiences starting in June 2023 and continuing through September 2023:

  • Tuesday, June 13, 2023, at 2:00 pm ET – “A Beginner’s Guide to Appealing the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Assistance Decision,” will be open to community librarians, disaster case managers, staff and attorneys at legal aid organizations and pro bono programs, attorneys interested in doing pro bono work after a disaster, and advocates from long-term recovery groups nationwide. Register here
  • Tuesday, July 25, 2023, at 11:00 am PT – “A Beginner’s Guide to Appealing the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Assistance Decision (California),” will cover the FEMA appeals process and include specific information for attorneys and other advocates working with California-based survivors. Register here
  • Tuesday, August 22, 2023, at 2:00 pm ET – “A Disability Rights Advocate’s Guide to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Assistance Appeals Process,” will include specific information that attorneys and advocates should know about when working on a FEMA appeal with a disaster survivor that has a disability. Register here
  • Tuesday, September 19, 2023, at 2:00 pm ET – “A Beginner’s Guide to Appealing the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Assistance Decision (Spanish interpretation provided),” will be open to community librarians, disaster case managers, staff and attorneys at legal aid organizations and pro bono programs, attorneys interested in doing pro bono work after a disaster, and advocates from long-term recovery groups nationwide. Spanish interpretation will be provided. Register here

Will the trainings be recorded?

Recordings and training materials will be posted to the Advocate Network of Advocate for Disaster Justice at Access to the materials and recordings will require a log-in as a member, but membership is free. Learn more here.

About Pro Bono Net 

Pro Bono Net is a national nonprofit leader in building technology and collaborations that bring the power of the law to all. For over 20 years, Pro Bono Net and its programs have supported disaster recovery by connecting lawyers and equipping survivors with resources and self-advocacy tools. Learn more here

About Advocates for Disaster Justice 

Advocates for Disaster Justice, formerly, is the largest national network of justice advocates and allies working to advance equity, rights and resilience in communities impacted by climate-driven and other disasters. Learn more here.

About Legal Aid of Sonoma County 

Legal Aid of Sonoma County has provided services to Sonoma County’s indigent population for over 60 years. Founded in 1958 and incorporated in 1983 as a private nonprofit, Legal Aid provides crisis legal services to low-income families, children, elders, immigrants, and other vulnerable Sonoma County residents. Learn more here.

About the Disaster Legal Assistance Collaborative

The Disaster Legal Assistance Collaborative (DLAC) is a partnership of 27 organizations throughout the state that includes legal aid organizations, law firms, government agencies, local bar associations, and social services providers. Our mission is to deliver free legal assistance to all those impacted by disasters throughout California.  DLAC recruits and trains volunteer attorneys to provide free legal assistance and resources to disaster survivors through its call-in Helpline, online platform Free Legal Answers, disaster preparedness outreach, and Title Clearing Program. Learn more here.

About the Bigglesworth Family Foundation 

The Bigglesworth Family Foundation supports programs and projects that help create systemic change by strengthening the capacity of non-profit organizations and addressing delivery system and historic challenges. Learn more here.

Pro Bono Net is proud to announce the launch of ¡Reclamo!, the most comprehensive platform to date to help immigrant workers fight back against wage theft. The launch is the result of more than three years of dedicated work between Justicia Lab, Pro Bono Net’s incubator for immigrant justice, and community partners including Make the Road New York’s team of attorneys, paralegals, workers, and organizers.

¡Reclamo! marks a number of milestones for Pro Bono Net. It’s our most ambitious effort to date to directly address labor and workplace access to justice. For Justicia Lab, it marks the first effort in the program’s expanded mission to address legal issues disproportionately affecting immigrants in America beyond our longstanding innovation work directly related to immigration policy and the immigration system. And ¡Reclamo! is a direct extension of Pro Bono Net’s work focused on legal empowerment: helping all Americans to better understand, claim and fulfill their rights under the law, developing digital strategies that seek to shift power and agency to those most impacted by injustices, and scaling legal support through community justice partners. 

Learn more in our launch announcement below. Make the Road and other worker center and employment justice partners have already filed over 1 million dollars in wage theft claims on behalf of workers since ¡Reclamo! was launched in beta in October 2022. Amid necessary and overdue conversations around a changing workforce and labor equity, we need to make sure the most invisible in our society and most vulnerable to exploitation – and those who take on many of the most challenging and integral roles in our economy – have the same access to our justice system and have tools that are specifically designed with them and for their needs.

Immigrant justice nonprofits launch ¡Reclamo!, most comprehensive platform to date to help immigrant workers fight back against wage theft

First generation of the tool to empower workers and their advocates to combat labor exploitation in New York State’s construction and building sector


Today Justicia Lab, Pro Bono Net’s nonprofit innovation incubator for technology solutions supporting the immigrant rights movement, announces the official launch of ¡Reclamo!, the most comprehensive tool developed to date to help address wage theft of immigrant workers in the United States. 

¡Reclamo! (or “Reclaim” in Spanish) is the first independent and not for profit worker advocacy digital legal tool to screen and file wage theft complaints. The web and mobile platform creates a flexible and scalable way for workers and advocates to know, use, and shape employment laws. ¡Reclamo! helps low-wage, immigrant workers seek economic justice, prevent impoverishment, and provide worker advocates with the tools to not only accelerate the production of wage theft claims but to also safely gather data to inform organizing, litigation, and policy change. 

The initial iteration of the tool focuses on wage theft violations in the construction and building sector in New York State. ¡Reclamo! was developed in close collaboration with lead partner Make the Road New York and is currently being piloted with other worker centers and employment justice partners across New York City and Westchester including New Immigrant Community EmpowermentTakeRoot JusticeEl Centro del Inmigrante, and Community Resource Center. Together these partners have already filed over 1 million dollars in wage theft claims on behalf of workers since the tool was launched in beta in October 2022. 

Wage theft is a national epidemic with losses to workers estimated at $50 billion annually nationwide. An estimated 2.1 million New Yorkers are victims of wage theft each year, placing New York 4th in the nation when it comes to the highest prevalence of wage theft amongst low-wage workers. And immigrants are especially vulnerable to labor exploitation – employment studies show that foreign-born workers in New York City are more than twice as likely as their U.S.-born counterparts to experience wage theft. 

Wage theft is enabled by a host of factors including: a lack of knowledge by workers around state wage and hour rules, poorly designed and enforced bureaucratic complaint processes,  and lack of free or low bono legal assistance. Many immigrant workers who want to pursue wage and hour claims must overcome language barriers, fear of retaliation, and complicated paperwork. 

¡Reclamo! is designed to address each of these challenges, significantly scaling the number of wage theft cases that can be addressed by allowing non-lawyer advocates to process claims including worker organizers, paralegals, social workers, librarians, and staff from worker and employment centers.

“Low-wage, immigrant workers are doing some of the most difficult jobs in our society while systematically being robbed of the wages that they are lawfully owed. With ¡Reclamo! we are equipping worker advocates with a new tool to reclaim stolen wages and better understand the impact of wage theft in our communities.”

Rodrigo Camarena, Director of Justicia Lab.

¡Reclamo! combines the following features into one integrated platform: 

  • Wage Theft Calculator: Feature that allows workers to figure out how much money they’re owed by answering a simple set of plain language questions. This feature captures information on unpaid wages, minimum wage violations, overtime, illegal deductions, liquidated damages, fines and benefits including sick leave
  • Direct Action and Legal Recourse Center: Using the information calculated by the tool, ¡Reclamo! populates a Department of Labor complaint form, a demand letter referencing New York State labor laws, and a calling script to help non-lawyer advocates put pressure on employers to fulfill their labor obligations
  • Worker and Advocate Education: Many immigrant workers are unaware of their rights as both immigrants and workers. ¡Reclamo! embeds knowledge about local, state and national labor laws within the platform, including information about what constitutes wage theft, to empower the immigrant community and their non-lawyer advocates
  • Data for Advocacy and Enforcement: In order to address wage theft at scale, ¡Reclamo! uses data to identify larger claims and/or patterns among employers to identify opportunities for worker organizing and systemic reform.

The public launch of ¡Reclamo! follows three years of co-design and development with Justicia Lab alongside Make the Road’s team of attorneys, paralegals, workers, and organizers. The collaborative design process included extensive user and expert interviews, design research and observation, and prototyping and testing with ongoing worker and advocate feedback. The tool brings in best practices in equitable technology development, addressing longstanding trust issues that many immigrants experience with technology by prioritizing data and privacy security and language access.

“I am thrilled to have ¡Reclamo! ready for every worker advocate to use to tackle the scourge of wage theft across our communities. We have worked for years with Justicia Lab to implement this effective organizing, education, and legal tool for all workers, and their advocates, in New York State. All too often, workers whose wages are stolen by employers are not able to access a lawyer, and ¡Reclamo! is designed particularly for those advocates who do not work with an attorney to help workers in their cases.”

Elizabeth Joynes Jordan, Make The Road New York’s Legal Director and co-creator of the tool.

Justicia Lab plans to adapt ¡Reclamo! for use in other industries (hospitality, restaurants, retail) and other states (California, Texas, Illinois) where wage theft is rampant. ¡Reclamo! was the winner of the Worker’s Lab Innovation Fund competition and a finalist of the Civic I/O Civic Tech Pitch at SXSW.

About Justicia Lab

Justicia Lab is Pro Bono Net’s immigrant justice technology lab, and a nonprofit legal tech initiative whose mission is to transform immigrant justice through collaboration, creativity, and technology. We work hand in hand with immigrants and their advocates to identify common challenges and incubate scalable digital tools to advance help immigrants navigate our immigration system, find workplace justice, and more. Justicia Lab has developed over a dozen immigrant justice legal tools to scale and support the work of advocates and bridge the justice gap, helping over 500,000 people find critical immigration information and relief.

About Pro Bono Net

Pro Bono Net is a national nonprofit leader in building technology and collaborations that increase access to justice. From connecting attorneys to those most in need to creating legal tools to help individuals advocate for themselves, Pro Bono Net makes the law work for the many and not the few. 

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The Equal Justice Conference (EJC) is an annual convening hosted by the American Bar Association and the National Legal Aid & Defender Association. The event brings together lawyers and advocates from across the United States to discuss strategies for breaking down barriers to equal justice and promoting greater equity in the legal system. Attendees also share new developments and innovations in providing legal services to people with low incomes. 

This year marked the conference’s 25th anniversary with over 1,000 attendees and more than 80 sessions on delivery innovations, diversity, management, information technology, pro bono service delivery, resource development, and substantive law issues. 

Pro Bono Net’s Mark O’Brien, Claudia Johnson, Jessica Stuart, Alison Corn, Megan Vizzini, and I had the opportunity to attend EJC this year. It’s a great opportunity to listen to experts who share Pro Bono Net’s goals to increase access to justice, learn about innovations in legal service delivery beyond Pro Bono Net’s own network, and connect in person with Pro Bono Net partners and friends. Below are five of my highlights from EJC.  

President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Legacy and the Restoration of the U.S. Department of Justice Office for Access to Justice

During the opening plenary session, attendees enjoyed coffee and breakfast during an interview by Mark K. Updegrove, Presidential Historian and Author, with Luci Baines Johnson, daughter of President Lyndon B. Johnson and co-founder of LBJ Family Wealth Advisors. Luci’s reflections shed light on her father’s presidential terms and role in passing several historic federal laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the Revenue Act of 1964, and the Economic Opportunity Act. 

Luci revealed that the only handwritten note she had from her father was from July 2, 1964, at 12:10 pm. Her father celebrated her birthday and the end of legal apartheid (the Civil Rights Act was signed into law that day).

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During the hour-long interview, Luci emphasized the significance of political consensus, shared values, diversity, and justice. She urged EJC attendees to continue the work of constructing a better America— one that advocates for the principles of liberty and equality. She said, “When there is justice for all, there is good for everybody,” and ended with a quote from her father, “Hate and destruction are easy. Hope and construction are hard.” 

Attendees then heard from Rachel Rossi, Director of the U.S. Department of Justice Office for Access to Justice. After being closed in 2018, the Office for Access to Justice was re-established as a standalone agency in 2021 under the Biden administration. During her speech, Rossi highlighted the need to ensure access to justice for all and said that to achieve equal justice, we need bold ideas, creativity, and a spirit of innovation. She talked about a few initiatives led by her office, including the Department’s first-ever Language Access Coordinator. Rossi’s full remarks are here. Her call for ambitious solutions resonated with Pro Bono Net’s work, and a Fast Company op-ed Pro Bono Net authored this year outlining three strategies that government and civil society can undertake to help ensure, as Director Rossi so powerfully put it, “our justice system belongs to everyone.”

Building a More Inclusive and Impactful Pro Bono Community

Of the ten sessions and activities I attended this year, my favorite was “The Changing Landscape of Pro Bono Volunteering.” Led by Martin J. Cowling, a change management expert, this session stood out to me for its energy and ideas by attendees. Martin guided us through the evolution of pro bono and the need to adapt to the interests and preferences of today’s volunteer lawyers, as well as the generational and technological changes that have taken place since the C19 pandemic: 

Attendees shared the challenges they were seeing in pro bono

  • Volunteer lawyers don’t want to take on full-representation cases 
  • Seeking alignment between what an organization needs with what a law firm or volunteers want to do 
  • The aging out of legal aid attorneys that do public benefit work 
  • Attorneys are incredibly niched and not wanting to “branch out” 

And a few trends in pro bono

  • Lawyers interested in pro bono are seeking a balance between volunteering, work, and personal time 
  • There’s a sense of feeling overwhelmed by global and social issues 
  • Lawyers are interested in remote and local opportunities 

Martin then walked attendees through seven factors to consider when thinking about a new pro bono volunteering model, including: 

  • Impact
    • When sharing your pro bono program or recruiting volunteers, it’s important to think about how you want to communicate impact. For example, instead of saying, “We recruited 4,000 volunteers and donated 1,000 hours,” consider rephrasing the effect to clients’ outcomes, such as “100 people were not evicted and stayed in their homes.”
    • Ask volunteers to share the impact of their work (e.g., what does pro bono mean to you?) 
    • Challenge people, from funders to volunteers, to think about their values and what they stand for. Think about your messaging on impact and frame it around shared values. 
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
    • It’s paramount to incorporate DEI principles into access to justice work. 
    • Volunteers need to be equipped with cultural competencies to work with diverse populations. 
    • Lawyers come from diverse backgrounds, and they are increasingly open about their diversity.

Exploring Data-Driven Approaches to Access to Justice

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Data is becoming increasingly crucial in access to justice and equal justice efforts. Several sessions covered this topic, although I sensed that we had more questions than answers when it came to data:

  • One panelist pointed out that most of our data collection is driven by grant reporting. We should ask ourselves, “why are we collecting data?” This begins to open up our minds to collect data differently.
  • Could generative AI help in turning narrative data into automated data? 
  • How can we collect better client stories? 
  • How can data collection help us better understand the scope of the legal problems our communities are facing? 
  • Where can we find good data (e.g., 211, census data) to track trends and patterns in legal issues and to measure the effectiveness of legal aid and pro bono interventions? 

Pro Bono Net is already exploring and addressing many of these questions, such as examining usage of our LawHelp Interactive program in rural communities,  or among low-income communities during the pandemic. We look forward to continuing these discussions in the months ahead. 

ABA & NLADA Presidents Highlight the Importance of Diversity, Civics, and Racial Equity

Deborah Enix-Ross, the second Black woman to lead the American Bar Association, and April Frazier Camara, President & CEO of the National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA), joined attendees for lunch during the second day of the conference. 

Deborah highlighted the ongoing need for increased diversity within the legal profession and emphasized the importance of civics, collaboration, and civility as the “cornerstone of democracy.” On the other hand, April underlined the importance of understanding systems of oppression and talked about NLADA’s Racial Equity Initiative, which aims to translate ideas into values. She finalized her remarks by inviting the over 1,000 attendees to chant with her, “When we fight, we win.” 

The Power Behind Storytelling

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While I left the conference with valuable insights, the highlight of my attendance was the “Story Slam” during the Host Committee’s Reception on Thursday evening. Attendees were invited to share their stories of justice within five minutes, although all the stories deserved more time. Stories of injustice transformed into stories of hope, success, and resilience, which moved some storytellers and attendees to tears. The stories, mostly about immigration and family law, were a powerful reminder of the ongoing struggle for equality and why the work of many lawyers, legal professionals, and advocates nationwide is still necessary. 

Examples of Initiatives & Resources of Interest

Below are a few resources and projects that I learned about at EJC: 

  • In California, the Legal Services Funders Network matches recent law graduates who are awaiting bar exam results with legal service organizations. 
  • In Illinois, the Chicago Bar Foundation is supporting “The Above Line Network,” a new group of incubators, nonprofit law firms, sliding-scale legal aid programs, and other entities working to better serve people considered over-income for purposes of legal aid assistance. 
  • In South Carolina, Charleston Legal Access is leading the way by providing direct legal assistance at reduced fees ($50 – $100 per hour) to South Carolinians with low and moderate incomes. 
  • At a session about access to civil justice research, panelists highlighted this working paper series about the “formality effect,” showing that formal government communications are more effective at influencing people’s behavior than informal government communications. This article about deregulation was another one panelists shared, which singles out state court judges and their role in facilitating nonlawyer participation and legal document preparation in domestic violence cases. 

Interested in Learning More About Pro Bono Net and What We Do?

Pro Bono Net will be hosting a webinar in the coming weeks to give an overview of our organization, including Pro Bono Net’s different products and programs. From LawHelp Interactive, our legal forms and document assembly solution, to Advocates for Disaster Justice and Justicia Lab, our immigration justice technology lab, you will learn how we reach more than 8 million people annually and explore ways we can partner together. If you’re interested in getting on our mailing list for this webinar, please email Megan Vizzini, Director of Business Development, at

Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz is a Senior Program Manager at Pro Bono Net. She coordinates, develops, and grows state and national digital initiatives that strengthen the work of legal advocates and pro bono attorneys helping individuals with their legal problems. 

She’s an honoree of the “On the Rise 40 Top Young Lawyers” award for her work in disaster relief and leadership in the American Bar Association. You can find her on LinkedIn or email her at

Image 1: A four-picture collage of the conference in Dallas, Texas. The first picture is of several Pro Bono Net staff members. From left to right standing in front of Pro Bono Net’s banner: Jessica Stuart, Senior Product Manager of Pro Bono Manager; Claudia Johnson, Program Manager of LawHelp Interactive; Megan Vizzini, Director of Business Development, and Betty Balli Torres, Pro Bono Net’s Board Chair.

Image 2: Credit: National Archives (NARA). President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965 with Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and other civil rights leaders in attendance.

Image 3: Credit: Lukas Photography via Pexels. Document with data graphics on top of stationery.

Image 4: Credit: Gezer Amorim Photography via Pexels. Black and white photo of microphone.

A New Name and a Stronger Mission

Pro Bono Net, in partnership with Lone Star Legal Aid, the American Bar Association Center for Pro Bono, and the National Legal Aid & Defender Association, is pleased to announce the rebrand of its National Disaster Legal Aid Resource Center initiative ( to Advocates for Disaster Justice (ADJ).

Advocates for Disaster Justice is the new era of, a groundbreaking national collaboration and legal relief effort that took root in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  It has grown into the largest national network of justice advocates and allies working to advance equity, rights and resilience in communities impacted by climate-driven and other disasters. Learn more about the history and national impact of ADJ. 

In the past several years, communities across the U.S. have increasingly felt the effects of climate change. These have included stronger and more frequent events like wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, and heat waves. We’ve also seen the impact of rising sea levels and erosion across different regions, making coastal floods and storms more dangerous and leading to community displacement. 

Recent responses to major disasters have shown that individuals with low incomes, communities of color, people with disabilities, seniors, immigrants, and rural communities often bear the brunt of these effects. Disasters exacerbate existing inequalities and present long-term legal issues that, if left unaddressed, can become more difficult to resolve.

Advocates for Disaster Justice is founded on the belief that everyone, particularly those most exposed to risk, has the right to legal information and support during the recovery phase. Our network advocates for the development and implementation of laws that protect individuals during times of disaster, promotes meaningful participation in community preparation and recovery decision-making processes, and works to ensure equitable access to state and federal recovery resources.

ADJ welcomes those working on both individual and systemic aspects of these evolving challenges. It is rooted in cooperation, trust, and mutual aid, many of the same principles shared by first responder networks and climate justice coalitions.

“ADJ has many valuable resources for advocates to utilize prior to and following a disaster. Also, the Advocate Network is a great way for advocates to connect with each other,” said Amanda Bosley, Managing Attorney of the Disaster Relief Unit at Lone Star Legal Aid. “As someone who has worked over seven years on disaster response and recovery in Texas, I can attest to the importance of having comprehensive resources, trainings, and a supportive network of other colleagues and advocates doing the same work. I hope that advocates find ADJ serves as a bridge to link them to the support they need to reach the goal of advancing equity, rights, and resilience.”  

“Since its launch,’s resources have been accessed more than 400,000 times. This underscores the urgency for information about disaster recovery and legal help options, and this need has only increased with the severity of climate-related emergencies over the past few years,” said Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz, Senior Program Manager at Pro Bono Net. “In partnership with Lone Star Legal Aid, we have built a network of hundreds of dedicated advocates across the country committed to promoting disaster resilience in their communities. ADJ is the new era of these efforts, and I encourage others doing this work or who would like to learn more to join us.” 

Redesigned Website for a Better User Experience 

In addition to the name change, ADJ has also launched a redesigned website using Pro Bono Net’s JusticeHub design. 

The new site offers visitors a more user-friendly experience and provides easy access to resources and trainings. The website also features information on ADJ’s programs, events, and partnerships.

Join Our Mission to Advance Justice and Equity in Times of Crisis

If you’re interested in becoming a member of Advocates for Disaster Justice, you can sign up for free by clicking here. Signing up to Advocates for Disaster Justice is easy. You will be prompted to create a membership profile and someone from our team will review your request. 

By signing up, you’ll have access to:

  • Access to Resources: We provide a range of training resources and support materials to help you get started, whether you’re a legal aid attorney, volunteer attorney, law student, or working directly with a disaster survivor to help them recover. Some of the resources are password-protected, such as examples of FEMA appeals provided by legal aid organizations. 
  • CLE Opportunities: Members are the first to learn about upcoming or new CLE program opportunities organized by Pro Bono Net and Lone Star Legal Aid.  Stay up to date on the latest legal issues and strategies to help disaster survivors.
  • Membership Updates: You’ll receive membership updates and can join different listservs to receive information related to current disaster response and recovery efforts. 
  • Become Part of a Community: You’ll be part of a community that is working to make a difference in helping disaster survivors and communities recover. By joining, you’ll also access a member roster to reach out to others in your area or in other communities.

For more information about Advocates for Disaster Justice, visit the new website at For questions about this initiative, please contact Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz, Senior Program Manager, at

Pat Malone is the Legal Director of New York Justice Initiatives at Pro Bono Net. She leads legal and content strategy for LawHelpNY and across initiatives and programs. Pat has extensive experience working with partners, managing projects, and creating legal content for advocates and impacted communities. Her expertise includes writing “smart” interviews, plain language articles, legal updates, practice guides, and newsletters. She brings together experts to create webinars, podcasts, and other legal training materials for the field. Pat has a deep background in immigration law practice, training, and project management.

As promised, Pro Bono Net was well-represented at last week’s New York Statewide Civil Legal Aid Technology Conference. 

On Day One, Pro Bono Net’s Legal Solutions Designer Alison Corn joined our partners from JustFix and The Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI) to cover the basics on website accessibility. Sateesh Nori from JustFix introduced and moderated the panel. Jessica Frank from CALI covered a number of key accessibility tips, with an emphasis on plain language writing.  Alison brought first-hand knowledge and experience working with partners on accessible websites and content . One particularly interesting tip: use a dyslexia-friendly font to welcome a broader audience. Learn more about fonts and other tips from the panelists on their slide deck.

On Day Two, our Senior Program Manager Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz joined two panels to share her expertise. The first, Beyond Zoom: Building Long-Term Remote Legal Help Programs to Expand Legal Services to Patients, also featured our friends and partners Kerlann L. Flowers and Emily Manning from the Hofstra Law-Northwell Medical Legal Partnership (MLP). Erin Riker, from the Center for Elder Law and Justice moderated. 

To kick-off the conversation, the panelists surveyed attendees on remote legal services vs. traditional in-person legal services.  Most preferred a mix: 

The panelists discussed tools and strategies for the medical legal partnership, including Remote Legal Connect (RLC). RLC is a Pro Bono Net program with secure online meetings, lite case management, and document sharing capabilities.  

Click here for the panel’s slide deck and here for an article by Jeanne, with more notes on the conference session.

Finally, Jeanne joined everyone’s favorite panel: 25 Apps in 50 Minutes.  The panel included PBN alumni Quisquella Addison, Assistant Teaching Professor at Northeastern University School of Law; Robert Ambrogi, Publisher, LawSites blog and LawNext podcast; Shellie S. Reid of Legal Services National Technology Assistance Project (LSNTAP); and, Quinten Steenhuis, Practitioner in Residence at Suffolk University Law School.  Emeritus Panelist Tim Baran (PBN) moderated.

As the panel zipped through their favorite tools, we could imagine an online meeting attended only by the app we each send to record and take notes on our behalf.  Click here for the slide deck and 24 other cool ideas. 

Pro Bono Net’s New York Justice Initiatives

Our New York Justice Initiatives bring the power of the law to all by expanding access to legal help for the underserved, mobilizing pro bono volunteers and helping our justice community partners throughout the state maximize their impact. Learn more about PBN’s New York Justice Initiatives, visit: Or to learn more about other Pro Bono Net programs, visit:

The 8th Annual New York Statewide Civil Legal Aid Technology Conference, convened by the Permanent Commission on Access to Justice in partnership with Cornell Tech will be held virtually beginning at 1:00pm ET on Tuesday, April 18 and Wednesday, April 19, 2023. Tracks include data and privacy, court technology, law practice management, and online legal services delivery, and is open to attorneys and other interested staff from New York legal services programs as well as access to justice stakeholders from New York and out-of-state. Register here!

Pro Bono Net is proud to serve on the conference planning committee. Our New York Justice Initiatives bring the power of the law to all by expanding access to legal help for the underserved, mobilizing pro bono volunteers and helping our justice community partners throughout the state maximize their impact. We will be well represented at the conference with participation in several panels and we’d love for you to join us. See details below.

Tuesday, April 18th

3:30 PM – 4:20 PM ET: The Accessibility ABC’s

Diversity, Inclusion and Elimination of Bias CLE

Learn the basics of accessibility for online legal content. This session will focus on the ways in which you can improve the work product of your websites, automated forms, chatbots, and other online content. Attendees will walk away with a basic knowledge of accessibility features to better serve users with disabilities, appropriate terminology, best practices for online legal content, and tools that can help them accomplish their accessibility goals. Presenters will demonstrate how online content can be user-friendly without compromising accessibility.

  • Sateesh Nori, JustFix
  • Alison Corn, Pro Bono Net
  • Jessica Frank, the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI)

Wednesday, April 19th

2:00 PM – 2:50 PM ET: 3D Beyond Zoom: Building Long-Term Remote Legal Help Programs to Expand Legal Services to Patients 

Practice Management CLE

This session will highlight a new remote legal help program to provide legal care to patients across Long Island and New York City. Speakers will 1) explain how the Hofstra/Northwell Medical-Legal Partnership Program provides legal assistance for patients who screen positive for health harming legal needs; 2) describe the transition process to adopt a new technology platform, Remote Legal Connect, to continue and expand remote legal services to patients/clients; 3) discuss how a remote legal platform can increase client participation in case management; and 4) demonstrate the use of the technology through an attorney-client consultation scenario.

  • Erin Riker, Center for Elder Law and Justice
  • Kerlann L. Flowers, Hofstra/Northwell Medical Legal Partnership
  • Emily Manning, Hofstra Law-Northwell MLP
  • Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz, Pro Bono Net

4:00 PM – 4:50 PM ET: 25 Apps in 50 Minutes

Practice Management CLE

25 Apps in 50 minutes is a dynamic presentation of apps and tools to help attorneys manage their practice and clients. The presentation features five panelists, with each recommending five apps. The recommendations reflect innovative and practical tools to enhance attorneys’ productivity, communications, well-being, efficiency and effectiveness in their day-to-day practice and client service.

  • Tim Baran, Pro Bono Net
  • Quisquella Addison, Northeastern University School of Law
  • Robert Ambrogi, LawSites blog and LawNext podcast
  • Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz, Pro Bono Net
  • Shellie S. Reid, Legal Services National Technology Assistance Project (LSNTAP)
  • Quinten Steenhuis, Suffolk University Law School

The Commission to Reimagine the Future of New York’s Courts recently issued “New York Courts’ Response to the Pandemic: Observations, Perspectives, and Recommendations,” a report summarizing the challenges and opportunities associated with remote court operations. This Commission was created in June 2020 as the court system navigated the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and its implications for the future. 

The Commission’s Pandemic Practices Working Group wrote and published the new report. According to the court’s website, the working group was established to “study and make recommendations that improve the delivery and quality of justice services, facilitate access to justice, and better equip the New York Courts to keep pace with society’s rapidly evolving changes and challenges.” 

The report provides details on both criminal and civil proceedings during the pandemic when the courts 1) suspended matters considered “non-essential” and 2) made proceedings virtual through the use of the video conferencing tool Skype and then Teams. 

Below are highlights for those working in civil legal aid and with unrepresented litigants. 

How did the working group seek input from court system users?

The working group collected information and insights from over 300 stakeholders, including court staff, judges, union leaders, legal aid organization staff, bar associations, private practitioners, and government staff, to present the fourteen (14) recommendations outlined in the report. Those interested in providing feedback to the working group had three ways of doing so: 

  1. At one of the three (3) full-day public hearings held between June and November 2022 in Albany, Buffalo, and New York City; 
  2. At one of the thirty (30) remote listening sessions held by the working group; or 
  3. By written testimony. 

During one of these hearings, Wantee Ramkaran, Pro Bono Net’s New York Justice Initiatives Program Manager, talked about how New Yorkers accessed legal help information during the pandemic through several of our tools. For example, our team saw increased usage of LiveHelp, an online real-time chat assistance program for visitors seeking legal information. Chats increased between 40% to 75% weekly when the Governor of New York State ordered people to stay home in late March 2020. In February 2020 alone, there were about 200 chats per week, and by May 2020, there were about 400 chats per week. 

What were some of the challenges of virtual civil proceedings?

  • Litigants were often left to figure out virtual proceedings on their own due to insufficient remote guidance from the court. There was no centralized “help desk” accessible to court users, meaning litigants had to rely on individual court clerks and other staff, who had varying degrees of technical knowledge. This differed from in-person interactions when a litigant could ask questions about their proceeding to court staff. 
  • In some cases, elderly litigants were averse to virtual proceedings and preferred to conduct court business in person despite having access to technology.
  • For domestic violence survivors, having to appear virtually from home could be unsafe because of the presence of an abuser in the room. In addition, it could prevent them from speaking candidly if they were being intimidated or coached. 
  • Court users who spoke a language other than English and individuals involved in their cases experienced longer virtual proceedings. 
  • This was because interpreters could not interpret simultaneously (interpretation happens as the speaker talks), only consecutively (interpretation happens after the speaker finishes talking). Consecutive interpretation doubled the time of a proceeding in one language. 
  • People who communicated using sign language or who needed to read lips needed to see everyone involved in the proceeding. This was not possible if some participants didn’t have a camera to join via video. In addition, litigants and lawyers with disabilities indicated a perceived stigma and prejudice when requesting or accessing accommodations from the court. 
  • Many lawyers said that virtual proceedings did not offer the opportunity to develop rapport and camaraderie with their colleagues in the profession as they could in in-person proceedings. 
  • Many court users could not access or afford the technology needed to participate in a virtual proceeding. To highlight this point, the report included information from the New York Legal Assistance Group’s report on COVID-19 and virtual proceedings. A study published in 2020 by the New York City Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer found that 40% of New York City households lack the combination of home and mobile broadband, including 18% of residents – more than 1.5 million people – who lack both. 

Despite these challenges, civil virtual proceedings were beneficial to court users.

  • According to the report, litigants with work responsibilities were less likely to take extensive time off from work to attend a proceeding. It was convenient, for example, to log in to a proceeding during a lunch break. Similarly, litigants living in rural areas did not have to worry about travel time to a court. Litigants with childcare responsibilities also did not have to make arrangements to attend a court proceeding, which meant they did not need to incur costs for childcare. 
  • Court users with limited mobility or disabilities did not have to experience structural impediments when attending proceedings in person. 
  • Having “time-certain” virtual proceedings proved to be more efficient and productive for all parties (as opposed to the in-person “cattle calls” or “calendar calls” when a large number of cases would be scheduled at the same time). This was especially beneficial to legal aid attorneys who could log in to appear in one county and then log in to appear in a separate county. Because traveling from one courthouse to another was not an issue, this meant that attorneys could represent more clients. 
  • In the early stages of the pandemic, when cases were high and the virus was spreading, virtual proceedings helped protect elderly litigants.
  • For domestic violence survivors, remote appearances were beneficial because they eliminated the possibility of seeing their abuser in person.

What does the working group recommend for the New York Court system moving forward?

The working group produced a total of fourteen (14) recommendations, which can be found here. Recommendations included:

  • Securing additional resources to develop and implement a comprehensive emergency plan for responding to future emergencies, including the creation of a standing task force available to advise on emergency preparedness; 
  • Expanding and supporting the use of virtual proceedings where appropriate by adopting guidelines that help identify whether a proceeding should be virtual or in-person and giving judges flexibility to decide on this; 
  • Fine-tuning virtual proceedings (e.g., allowing participants to test the platform before their appearance in court) to ensure a positive experience for the court user; 
  • Diversifying the way court users can access virtual proceedings. For example, to address the need of assisting court users with technology, the New York Courts created “kiosks” inside its courthouses to support litigants attending virtual proceedings. The courts also began partnering with government buildings, libraries, community centers, and churches to establish similar “kiosks” providing access to equipment and assistance to litigants. These community partnerships are part of the “Virtual Court Access Network,” or VCANs); 
  • Improving access to virtual proceedings and ensuring that court staff and judges receive comprehensive training on the accommodations available to court users with disabilities and court participants who speak another language; 
  • Redesigning the court’s website,, and making it accessible in other languages other than English (New York City’s 311 was cited as a model website on accessibility and searchability); and 
  • Creating a Permanent Commission to work with the court system on implementing and operationalizing the recommendations outlined in the report. 

The Future is Unfolding Before Us: Innovation To Expand & Ensure Access to Justice

The findings from this report confirmed what many of us have already seen during the pandemic: innovation and technology are key drivers to improving accessibility to the civil justice system. I look forward to seeing how the working group’s recommendations materialize over the next few months and years. 

I’m particularly interested in seeing the implementation of recommendations related to better virtual proceeding experiences for court users. Given many court users cited greater accessibility to the court when participating virtually, I see potential in more user-friendly and streamlined processes we can all learn from. Initiatives that were years in the making before the pandemic, such as the Family Offense Petition Program, Closing the Gap, and Family Legal Care Pro Bono (see page 16 here), are proof that technology can help ensure access to justice even during the most disruptive times. 

Some improvements in virtual proceedings will inevitably be tied to more significant community investment, such as New York’s initiative to expand broadband infrastructure and provide high-quality internet to 100,000 families and homes. But, hopefully, the fact that we’ve embraced technology in one way or another during the pandemic is a positive indication of future and better innovation in access to justice. Liz Keith, Pro Bono Net’s State and National Programs Director, and Rodrigo Camarena, Director of Justicia Lab, recently wrote about innovations to expand access to justice here

Finally, from what I’ve seen through our work in disaster response, the practice of preparing and anticipating challenges before an emergency happens can make all the difference in the outcome of an event. So, I’m glad the working group recommended developing and testing an emergency preparedness plan for future incidents. In the disaster response field, this proactive approach is often called “preparing during blue sky times” to ensure timely and organized responses to an emergency. 

Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz is Pro Bono Net’s Senior Program Manager. She coordinates, develops, and grows state and national digital projects that strengthen the work of legal advocates and pro bono attorneys helping individuals with their legal problems. In 2021, Jeanne received the On the Rise 40 Top Young Lawyers award for her work in disaster relief and leadership in the American Bar Association. You can find her on LinkedIn or email her at

February is Black History Month, a welcome time to celebrate the achievements and recognize the central role of Black Americans in U.S. history. The national Black History Month 2023 theme, Black resistance, explores how “African Americans have resisted historic and ongoing oppression, in all forms, especially the racial terrorism of lynching, racial pogroms and police killings,” since the nation’s earliest days.¹ 

As an organization committed to justice, all of us at Pro Bono Net celebrate and reflect on Black History Month and also see this as an opportunity to learn and share resources. Throughout February, our staff were invited to share recommendations on resources to explore Black history and culture. As we close out the month, we wanted to share some of those recommendations with others. At a time when the study of Black history and racial injustice is under threat on multiple fronts, yet essential to a just and equitable future, the voices of historians, activists and educators like those below are more important than ever. 

America on Fire: The Untold History of Police Violence and Black Rebellion Since the 1960s

Written by Elizabeth Hinton, America on Fire: The Untold History of Police Violence and Black Rebellion Since the 1960s takes us on a troubling journey from Detroit in 1967 and Miami in 1980 to Los Angeles in 1992 and beyond to chart the persistence of structural racism and one of its primary consequences, the so-called “urban riot,” which Hinton reexamines as episodes of resistance and rebellion.³

  • Recommended by Mark O’Brien, Pro Bono Net’s Executive Director 

The 1619 Project

The 1619 docuseries is an expansion of “The 1619 Project” created by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and the New York Times Magazine. The series seeks to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.²

  • Recommended by Claudia Johnson, LawHelp Interactive Program Manager and Tim Baran, New York Justice Initiatives Program Director

The Lost Cause (Part 1 & 2)

Are we still living with the racial divide left over from the Civil War? The Lost Cause is an audio documentary that explores the history of a conflict that nearly tore America apart. You’ll hear historians and a former US senator from Alabama explain the ideology that came to be known as the Lost Cause.⁴

  • Recommended by Pat Malone, Legal Director, New York Justice Initiatives

Assata: An Autobiography

Assata Shakur recounts the experiences that led her to a life of activism and portrays the strengths, weaknesses, and eventual demise of Black and White revolutionary groups at the hand of government officials. This personal and political autobiography is an important contribution to the literature about growing up Black in America.⁵

  • Recommended by Paul Bennett, Finance Director

After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging

After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging, written by Willie James Jennings, is an inaugural volume of the Theological Education between the Times series. Jennings shares the insights gained from his extensive experience in theological education, most notably as the dean of a major’s divinity school–where he remains one of the only African Americans to have ever served in that role. “It is part memoir, part decolonial analysis, and part poetry—a multimodal discourse that deliberately transgresses boundaries, as Jennings hopes theological education will do, too.”⁶

  • Recommended by Tim Baran, New York Justice Initiatives Program Director 

Master Slave Husband Wife

In 1848, a young enslaved couple plan and execute a daring escape from slavery and travel hundreds of miles north for freedom and safety. They meet up with anti-slavery activists and join the abolitionist lecture circuit, all while their lives are in peril. By author and historian Ilyon Woo.⁷

  • Recommended by Pat Malone, New York Justice Initiatives Legal Director



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