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Connecting Justice Communities

National Volunteer Week 2018 Highlight: Wantee Ramkaran, LiveHelp Volunteer

Posted in Legal Services, Technology, Volunteer Profile

In honor of National Volunteer Week we will be highlighting volunteers and sharing ways lawyers and advocates can get involved. Today we would like to highlight Wantee Ramkaran, a LiveHelp Volunteer for LawHelpNY

LawHelpNY.org, is a website designed to help low-income New Yorkers solve their legal problems. Volunteers staff LiveHelp, an online, real-time chat service that directs users towards relevant self-help materials, legal services organizations and court information.  

Wantee Ramkaran, LiveHelp VolunteerWantee Ramkaran
LiveHelp Volunteer, LawHelpNY

Wantee is a first-year law student at Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center, and started working with LawHelpNY in October 2017.  Although she completed her New York State pro bono requirements months ago, Wantee continues to volunteer as a LiveHelp Operator for LawHelpNY because in her words, “it is truly a rewarding experience.”  Through LiveHelp, Wantee has continuously provided excellent support for people in crisis.  She has connected people in need with helpful legal information and referrals to legal service providers.  In addition to providing great information, Wantee has shined in maintaining a compassionate and helpful tone in her chats.

Hear more about Wantee’s experience as a LiveHelp Operator:

Why did you decide to do pro bono volunteer work with LiveHelp?

When I learned about LawHelpNY and its’ mission, it was something I definitely wanted to become a part of. I didn’t know there was a resource out there like LawHelpNY. There is so much information available on the website. I was surprised that I could play such an important role as a law student. Knowledge is power and I am an advocate for making New Yorkers better aware of their basic rights and the resources that are available to them.

Why were you interested in volunteering with LiveHelp?

At first, I wanted to make a difference. However, I was actually surprised about the vast amount of New York law I’ve learned about since I started my service with LawHelpNY.

Can you share a highlight from a memorable case?

After providing legal information and resources to someone, the person replied “You’re wonderful! …This website is very helpful!” The individual was so ecstatic and it was the greatest feeling knowing that I helped bring so much happiness to a person. It was a reminder of how rewarding pro bono work can be.

Why do you feel it’s important for you to do pro bono work? What motivates you?

Being a law student or a lawyer is very special. It is more than a “title.” When you are a law student or lawyer, you are exposed to unique positions that can positively impact the lives of others. I think law students and lawyers should take advantage of these opportunities that are available.

I wanted to attend law school and become an attorney for as long as I can remember. I am a first-generation college graduate and the first in my family to attend law school. I want to give back to the same low-income community that I came from as well. I worked really hard to get where I am in life, but there are a lot of people who has helped me get where I am today – family, teachers and professors, past supervisors and mentors. I believe giving back to my community serves as a “thank you” to everyone that has helped get to where I am today. It is the least I can do.

How has your pro bono service impacted you?  

My pro bono service has helped me find my passion of working in public interest. When I started law school, I was unsure about what area of law I wanted to practice in. However, I enjoy serving my community and I would not mind going to work a single day in my life if I am able to help those in need of assistance.

What did you find most challenging?

The most challenging part is speaking with individuals who are facing a difficult time and now knowing if their problems are resolved. When you become involved with helping others, you just wish the best for everyone and hope that no one will go through difficulties in life. It serves as a constant reminder to be nice and respectful to everyone because you never truly understand what type of difficulties someone is facing.

So it is obvious that the need is overwhelming, but so is a busy work day: how do you find the time?

Law school is very stressful and sometimes it is difficult to find time to volunteer. However, I look forward to stopping for three hours to complete my shift because I am able to think about something other than school. It is a win-win: I am able to relax while helping others.


LiveHelp is a bilingual online simultaneous live chat service that offers legal information and referrals to legal services providers for visitors to LawHelpNY, AyudaLegalNY, NYCourts.gov/CourtHelp’s Families and Children and Foreclosure sections, LawHelpNY’s micro sites and the Legal Information for Families Today website. LiveHelp is available Monday-Friday 9 am – 9 pm, and is available on mobile devices. LiveHelp is staffed by law student, law graduate, attorney volunteers, under the supervision of a barred attorney in New York State. Additionally a staff member from Legal Information for Families today staffs LiveHelp Monday-Friday 10-1pm offering live chat assistance to visitors facing family court issues.

National Volunteer Week 2018 Highlight: #STANDWITHIMMIGRANTS – Connecting Volunteers to Resources and Opportunities

Posted in Immigration, Pro Bono, Resources, Technology

In honor of National Volunteer Week we will be highlighting volunteers and sharing ways lawyers and advocates can get involved. Today we would like to highlight the StandWithImmigrants campaign from Immigration Advocates Network.

We need volunteers to join the campaign and pledge to Stand with Immigrants!

Visit www.standwithimmigrants.org to get involved. The site offers volunteer opportunities, resources, trainings, and calls to action. There are many ways to get involved, whether you are a lawyer, educator, social worker, health care provider, interpreter, community activist, or concerned neighbor. Some volunteer opportunities require special skills, such as legal training or language proficiency, while others only require time and the desire to help.

When you visit the site, you are invited to “take the pledge.” We’ll send you the Stand With Immigrants monthly newsletter, and update your “action center” on the site to connect you to volunteer opportunities based on location, interests, and areas of expertise.

Search for general volunteer opportunities by profession and location, or specific volunteer positions on the “volunteers needed” page. Explore our resource pages, and find fact sheets, toolkits, podcasts, and recorded webinars on immigration policy, volunteer opportunities, how best to serve immigrant clients, and much more.

Take the pledge today to #StandWithImmigrants and follow the campaign on facebook and twitter to stay up to date on current events and volunteer needs.

 

 


The Stand With Immigrants campaign is a collaboration of the Immigration Advocates Network, American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC), Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), The Advocates for Human Rights, UnidosUS, and Pro Bono Net.

National Volunteer Week 2018 Highlight: City Bar Volunteers Kick Off FEMA Appeals Clinics

Posted in Disaster Legal Aid, Legal Services, Pro Bono, Resources, Volunteer Profile

In honor of National Volunteer Week we will be highlighting volunteers and sharing ways lawyers and advocates can get involved. Today we would like to highlight the work of the Pro Bono FEMA Appeals Clinics which were initiated in response to the 2017 hurricane season.

Probono.net/ny is the New York state network site of probono.net and strives to mobilize and support the volunteer legal community.  Probono.net/ny includes the NYC Pro Bono Center (hosted with the Legal Aid Society and the City Bar Justice Center), and a number of different practice area specific sites, including in family law/domestic violence, community development, housing and foreclosure. The information on our site is made possible by the contributions and collaborations we make with our network of legal service providers in the NY community.

The following highlight was originally published HERE.

Pro Bono FEMA Appeals Clinics for the 2017 hurricane season kicked off on December 11 at the New York City Bar Association with three pro bono attorneys and three clients with support from the City Bar Justice Center. The clinics are made possible by the collaborative efforts of the City Bar, the Association of Pro Bono Counsel, and members of the new Task Force on Disaster Relief launched by New York’s Chief Judge Janet DiFiore. As City Bar President John Kiernan described in his statement on disaster relief,

“Veterans of providing disaster legal services knew from the outset that given the scale of the hurricanes’ effects, the need for assistance from volunteer lawyers would certainly ripen and crystallize once the immediate humanitarian crisis advanced to the next recovery stage.”

Indeed, FEMA reported receiving over 4.5 million benefits applications from storm victims, and the call for pro bono lawyers became clear when FEMA began issuing denials in mid-November.

At the clinic, one of the clients had been evacuated from Puerto Rico. Living in a shelter, the client was denied FEMA assistance because the client had not applied first for a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan. The pro bono team called FEMA on a cell phone and engaged in advocacy, filed an online SBA loan application which was immediately rejected, and called FEMA back to pursue his application for relief. Luckily, FEMA’s phone line is open until 10 p.m.

The second client was a mom with two special needs children who is in the midst of a divorce. She is housed and the kids are in school but missing many items from the hurricane. FEMA granted approximately two thousand dollars to repair her home but she needs to appeal, and will return to the clinic next month.

Attorneys were able to help a third client at the clinic – a Superstorm Sandy victim who is still undergoing home repairs. He noticed the FEMA Appeals sign and walked over from the City Bar’s Monday Night Law clinic. This instance of a Sandy homeowner in need of free legal counsel illustrates how years later, New Yorkers are still dealing with home repairs from Sandy and the Build it Back Program.

Please visit the City Bar Justice Center calendar to learn how to volunteer and make the holidays a little brighter for hurricane victims in New York. Pro bono legal help makes an extraordinary difference for families in crises.


In honor of National Volunteer Week 2018, April 15-21, Pro Bono Net would like to extend our gratitude to the thousands of volunteer lawyers who make a huge difference for those in need.  For those at risk of losing their homes, income and even their children, volunteer lawyers are an indispensable resource. Now more than ever it is important for us to support our most vulnerable communities. This wouldn’t be possible without the immense efforts of volunteer lawyers around the country and the organizations that facilitate volunteering.

Now on immi: Make A Plan to Protect You and Your Family

Posted in Announcements, Immigration, Mobile, Resources, Social Media, Technology

Make a Plan

What if you or a loved one were taken abruptly by immigration enforcement agents? What would you need to prepare for yourself and your family? At a time of increased and aggressive immigration enforcement, it is good practice to be well-equipped and take appropriate steps to be prepared.

“Make A Plan” is a new resource on immi.org, a project by the Immigration Advocates Network (IAN). Make A Plan was created in response to emergency requests by immigrant families at workshops and community events. Parents wanted to know who their children can stay with, and who can pick them up at school. Heads of household wondered what would happen to their home, business, bank accounts, and insurance policies. The scarcity in organizational knowledge and capacity to provide planning services is what led to the inception of Make A Plan.

Make A Plan puts knowledge in the hands of anyone with a digital device. By answering a few simple questions, anyone can get a checklist of what to do to protect their children, manage their home, bank accounts, insurance and other financial assets if they are detained or deported. Additionally, Make a Plan links to the confidential immigration screening tool in immi, which helps people find out if they may qualify for lawful status in the U.S. Make a Plan is available in English and Spanish. It is free to use on phone, tablet, or desktop at https://www.immi.org/home/make_a_plan.

Let others know about immi. Order free Know-Your-Rights cards to hand out at your office or events: www.immi.org/order. Visit immi’s Facebook Page at www.fb.com/my.immi for graphics to share on social media. Join us in inviting others to #MakeAPlan with immi. Help us get the word out!

Free Pro Bono Skills Training from PLI’s Interactive Learning Center

Posted in Legal Services, Pro Bono, Technology, Webinar

Practising Law Institute offers free pro bono skills training for pro bono and volunteer attorneys

At Practising Law Institute, we strive to improve the learning experience by incorporating the latest in interactive technology and research-based instructional design. The award-winning programs in our Interactive Learning Center challenge participants by using “learning-by-doing” techniques in a variety of non-traditional, instructional formats.

For those involved in pro bono representation, PLI’s Interactive Learning Center offers free pro bono skills training. Programs currently available include:

The Art & Science of Interviewing Pro Bono Clients – Participants learn the art and science of collecting information, managing client frustrations, and working with third parties when representing pro bono clients.

Effective Communication with the Legal Services Client – Participants learn techniques for how to meet and communicate effectively with a client, as well as how to educate the client about the legal process and make informed choices.

Introduction to Pro Bono – Participants learn strategies for providing effective pro bono representation and how to handle common ethics issues.  

Upcoming Interactive Training on Advocacy for Survivors of Domestic Violence

PLI is also offering two free massive open online courses for advocates of survivors of domestic violence:

Working with Survivors of Domestic Violence 2018 (March 19-23) – Participants will learn how to interview and counsel domestic violence survivors.

Representing Domestic Violence Survivors in Court 2018 (April 16-20) – Participants will learn how to develop and execute a strategy for handling domestic violence cases in court.

For more information on all of PLI’s pro bono trainings, including Live, Webcast, and On-Demand content, please visit our website at www.pli.edu/probono


Practising Law InstitutePractising Law Institute is nonprofit learning organization dedicated to keeping attorneys and professionals at the forefront of knowledge and expertise, as well as preparing them to fulfill their pro bono responsibilities. For more information about PLI’s pro bono programs and activities, please visit www.pli.edu/probono.

LawHelp Interactive (LHI) Goes Mobile

Posted in Announcements, Legal Services, Mobile, Resources, Staff News, Technology

After completing a major technology rebuild of LawHelp Interactive’s (LHI’s) backend in 2015, the LHI team shifted focus to improving the look and feel of LHI. That same year, about 20% of users accessing lawhelpinteractive.org were doing so with mobile and tablet devices making it clear that the mobile and tablet experience should be a central consideration for any redesign of the site.

With that in mind and in partnership with Legal Aid Society of Hawaii (LASH), LHI secured funding for a mobile-first redesign and related enhancements to the LHI platform. LASH and the LHI team formed a group of national partners to serve on a mobile usability committee*. We also enlisted the help of Rootid, a national brand strategy, design and web development firm for nonprofits to create the new designs and layouts. Rootid was a great fit for this project because they were able to leverage their prior experience with LHI where they conducted a device-independent LHI usability study (funded under a Legal Services Corporation Technology Initiative Grant).

Implementation

With the new designs and related enhancements settled upon by the summer of 2017, the LHI Tech team began coding these enhancements. This development was in part funded through another Legal Services Corporation Technology Initiative Grant that supports the LHI infrastructure granted through Ohio State Legal Services Association (OSLSA).

Pro Bono Net’s Mirenda Meghelli and Alice Pucheu were leads on the project, and were supported by their colleagues Doug Carlson, Greg Tenzer, and Kanchana Hedge.  LHI Program Manager Claudia Johnson also acted in an advisory capacity, and others at PBN were also key in helping the project become a reality, including Liz Keith and Mark O’Brien. After deployment, Pro Bono Net’s Community Support Associate Rafael Ramirez has been key in tracking end user help requests.

Though the new look and feel did not include major changes in functionality for the platforms, some improvements were made to take advantage of the opportunity. The new features include improving the search function and abilities through a new grid system, and improving the account creation/sign in experience to make it easier for users. The system now also lets attorneys mark “favorite” forms; a helpful shortcut for regular users.

Plain Language

In addition to an updated design, the new platform underwent a plain language review to improve accessibility of the platform across all devices. The LHI environment has been significantly improved since the redesign went live and additional enhancements and fixes continue to be pushed based on end user feedback and ongoing testing. More than 4,000 people have watched the new informational video, and feedback from partners and users on the new design has been positive:

“I really liked the mobile-optimized interface!”

“Staff are always available and responsive. New website design seems much more user-friendly.”

“The website redesign is a great improvement.”

With more than 1 million interviews served on LHI in 2017, this mobile-first redesign will benefit the large and growing number of LHI users.

Learn More

If you want to learn more about LawHelp Interactive, please contact Claudia Johnson at cjohnson@probono.net. If you have questions related to the LHI Redesign project, please contact Mirenda Meghelli at mmeghelli@probono.net

More information about LHI can be found here: probono.net/lhi or to visit LHI go to http://www.lawhelpinteractive.org

*The mobile advisory group is made up of national partners from California, Ohio, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, South Carolina, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Kansas, Utah, and Georgia. The group also included technology partners from HotDocs Corporation and CALI.


Pro Bono Net leads a national effort to provide online legal document assembly for poverty law and court access to justice programs. LawHelp Interactive allows subject matter experts to create interview templates that can be used to assemble court forms and other legal documents based on a user’s input. The system increases opportunities for self-represented litigants to achieve justice on their own and improves efficiency for legal aid, pro bono and courts-based access to justice programs. Read a case study about how the NY Courts are using LawHelp Interactive. This project is in collaboration with Ohio State Legal Services Association, with funding by the Legal Services Corporation and the State Justice Institute, and using HotDocs software.

immi One Year In: Online Tool Helps Immigrants Protect Their Future

Posted in Announcements, Immigration, Legal Services, Mobile, Resources, Technology

The current Administration is ending Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for hundreds of thousands of people, and the future of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is uncertain. Detention and deportation rates are up. How can communities protect themselves?

Immi.orgImmi.org, a project of the Immigration Advocates Network, provides free information in English and Spanish to empower immigrants. Immi features include: a learning center with plain language articles about immigration law, a personalized screening interview to anonymously identify legal avenues for relief, and a referral list of over 1,000 nonprofit legal service providers.

In its first year, more than 100,000 people have visited immi. Nearly half have tried the personalized screening interview, to find out if they may qualify for legal immigration status. In the United States, an estimated 10 to 20% of undocumented immigrants have legal options, but do not know it. Immi helps them find out more.

How can advocates and volunteers help? Share immi.org with your community. Use it in your workshops, post it on your website, and prepare immigrants for legal appointments. Order free Know-Your-Rights cards to hand out at your office or events: www.immi.org/order. Share immi on social media: www.immi.org/share. Help us get the word out, to empower immigrants.  


immi™ helps immigrants in the U.S. understand their legal options. Our online screening tool, legal information, and referrals to nonprofit legal services organizations are always free to use.

The Immigration Advocates Network (IAN) is a collaborative effort of Pro Bono Net and leading immigrants’ rights organizations designed to increase access to justice for low-income immigrants and strengthen the capacity of organizations serving them. IAN promotes more effective and efficient communication, collaboration, and services among immigration advocates and organizations by providing free, easily accessible and comprehensive online resources and tools.

ATJ Tech Fellows Summer Internship Positions at Pro Bono Net

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

There are 21 summer internship opportunities for law students interested in public interest law and technology through the ATJ Tech Fellows program. Two of these positions will be hosted by Pro Bono Net in New York.

The ATJ Tech Fellows program is designed to provide law students with practical experience on the use of technology in the delivery of legal services. The program offers a combination of virtual classroom learning and a 10-week hands on placement at a partner organization.

One of these positions will be placed in our NY office, working with the national online document assembly team, LawHelp Interactive (LHI) (https://www.atjtechfellows.org/pro-bono-net).

The other position is with partners in NY, Nassau Suffolk Law Services Committee (https://www.atjtechfellows.org/nassau-suffolk-law-services), and hosted at LawHelpNY (LHNY).

As part of the ATJ Tech Fellows programs the summer participants will be part of a diverse cohort across the country receiving training via virtual classrooms, “brown bags” with national thought leaders, and access to mentors through the program. The fellowship also provides a stipend. More details on the Fellowship and how to apply can be found here: https://www.atjtechfellows.org/overview/

 

Deadline is 2/9/2018 for applications.


The Access to Justice Tech Fellows is a 10-week fully funded experiential learning program that places law students at legal services organization to develop innovative solutions that leverage technology, data, and design to expand access to legal services and improve our civil justice.

Pro Bono Net at the 2017 NLADA Conference next week

Posted in Announcements, Conferences, Legal Services, Staff News, Technology

Several Pro Bono Net staff members will be presenting at multiple sessions on a variety of equal justice issues at the 2017 NLADA Annual Conference, December 6th-9th. NLADA brings together more than 700 equal justice advocates each year to participate in substantive workshops on topics critical to helping effectively meet the legal needs of low-income people. This year’s NLADA conference theme is “Safeguarding Justice for All.”

Pro Bono Net is a national nonprofit leader in increasing access to justice through innovative uses of technology and collaboration. Pro Bono Net’s staff is made up of a cross-disciplinary team from legal, technology, and community engagement backgrounds who are committed to finding innovative, sustainable solutions for expanding access to justice. Pro Bono Net will present on a wide range of topics, including innovative uses of online document assembly and technology to expand pro bono participation.

Staff attending the conference includes Mark O’Brien, Executive Director; Audrey Roofeh, Director of Program Delivery; Quisquella Addison, LawHelpNY Program Director, Claudia Johnson, LawHelp Interactive Program Manager; Mirenda Meghelli, LawHelp Interactive Program Coordinator, and Mike Grunenwald, Program Coordinator.

For more details on each workshop, please visit the NLADA website here.

Thursday, December 7

4:15 – 5:45 pm

Building tools for Self Represented Litigants: LawHelp Interactive and A2J Author

  • John Mayer, CALI
  • Claudia Johnson, Pro Bono Net

Friday, December 8

8:30 – 10:00 am

Urban Pro Bono Meets Rural Clients:  Remote Services Delivery Models in Action

  • Lillian Moy, Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York
  • Melody Harkness, Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York
  • Claudia Johnson, Pro Bono Net
  • Mike Grunenwald, Pro Bono Net

10:30-12pm

Big Ideas: The Future of Pro Bono

  • Sharon Goldsmith, Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland
  • Mark O’Brien, Pro Bono Net
  • Eve Runyan, Pro Bono Institute
  • Steve Scudder, ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service

4:15 – 5:45 pm

How you can Leverage Online Forms to Enhance your Staff and Pro Bono Attorney’s Work

  • Lillian Moy and Melody Harkness, Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York
  • Neil Steinkamp, Ross Risius Stout
  • Courtney Smith, Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program
  • Claudia Johnson, Pro Bono Net

 


National Legal Aid Defender Association (NLADA) is America’s oldest and largest nonprofit association devoted to excellence in the delivery of legal services to those who cannot afford counsel. They provide advocacy, guidance, information, training, and technical assistance for members of the equal justice community, especially those working in public defense and civil legal aid.

NLADA’s Annual Conference is the leading national training event of the year for the civil legal aid, indigent defense, and public interest law communities. The conference offers advocates the substantive information and professional skills they need to respond to the legal needs of low-income people, provides unparalleled opportunities to meet and exchange ideas with colleagues from across the country, and helps fulfill continuing legal education requirements.

Join us in Celebrating #GivingTuesday November 28th!

Posted in Announcements, Launch, Social Media, Technology

After two days of retail shopping for bargains – Black Friday and Cyber Monday –#GivingTuesday is a day for giving back.  All over the country, and indeed the world, people are embracing this day as an opportunity to raise money for the good of the wider community. Pro Bono Net is using our #GivingTuesday Celebration to highlight feedback and stories from our users and volunteers.

You can get involved in one or more of the following ways:

Donate to the Pro Bono Net Family – #GivingTuesday is about giving back to our communities. Pro Bono Net is instrumental in creating technologies that promote access to justice for our most vulnerable populations. We are asking that people show their support for our work by making a tax deductible donation to help us fulfill our mission to bridge the justice gap.

Share your dedication on social media – All day on #GivingTuesday Pro Bono Net will be sharing feedback and stories from our users and volunteers. We are inviting our community to join us by sharing their stories and motivations! We are using the hashtags #GivingTuesday and #AccesstoJustice for the day.

Volunteer – We encourage any lawyers who can to volunteer with organizations across the country to increase access to justice for those who cannot afford representation. Start searching for opportunities to volunteer right now by using our searchable online Pro Bono Opportunities Guide or check out our “Volunteer Tools” page to learn about the range of online resources we have on probono.net to help mobilize and engage pro bono volunteers.

Across America millions have legal needs that are still going unmet. Being unable to afford an attorney can limit access to justice significantly. Through innovative technology solutions, Pro Bono Net empowers the public with information and self-help tools to improve their lives, equips advocates with the resources to make a stronger impact, and mobilizes volunteers to expand the help available. Along with a broad network of partners, our programs increase access to justice around the nation.

Pro Bono Net needs your help to bring access to justice to millions of Americans. You can give back by participating in our #GivingTuesday Celebration on November 28th. www.probono.net/donate

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#GivingTuesday is a movement, built by people around the world, to celebrate giving of all kinds.  It is celebrated on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving (in the U.S.), Black Friday and Cyber Monday; this year it falls on November 29, 2016. This movement is the result of the collective power of a unique blend of partners—nonprofits large and small; businesses and corporations; schools and universities; civic campaigns in cities, states and regions; and families and individuals—to inspire people to take collaborative action to improve their local communities and contribute in countless ways to the causes they believe in. Everyone has something to give.  For more details about the #GivingTuesday movement, visit the #GivingTuesday website (www.givingtuesday.org), Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/GivingTuesday) or follow @GivingTues and the #GivingTuesday hashtag on social media.