Pro Bono Net mourns the loss of our dear friend and founding Board Chair, Michael Cooper, on Monday, November 16, 2020.

Mike’s deep understanding of the justice gap, unmatched personal credibility and openness to new ideas were critical during Pro Bono Net’s early years.  “Mike was so generous to agree to be our first Board Chair when we were just starting out as an organization,” said Michael Hertz, the co-founder of Pro Bono Net.  “He cared so deeply about access to justice and the need for innovative solutions that he took a bet on us.  His tremendous judgment guided us through many challenges as a new organization.”

Mike served on our board for more than 18 years, retiring in 2017, and we are thankful for his outstanding leadership, wisdom and friendship,” said Pro Bono Net Board Chair Dave Heiner. “Mike was a great mentor to me when I was a young lawyer at Sullivan & Cromwell and mentored me again years later when I took on the Pro Bono Net Board Chair role.  All of us at Pro Bono Net will greatly miss Mike.

Mike joined Sullivan & Cromwell in 1961, after graduating from Harvard Law School, and served as managing partner of the Litigation Group from 1978 to 1985.  Mike’s dedication extended well beyond the firm’s clients: helped to found the firm’s pro bono practice, he served as President of the City Bar from 1998 to 2000 and he held top leadership roles in numerous organizations including The Legal Aid Society, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and Volunteers of Legal Services.  Among the many pro bono matters he handled during his career, he took particular pride in his representation of Guantánamo detainee Adel El Ouerghi in 2005.

Mike was a strong advocate for Pro Bono Net from the beginning and helped to shape the organization’s work and build a strong board to support its mission. Mike’s reflections on our 15th anniversary can be found here.

Mike will be greatly missed by the Pro Bono Net family, the legal community, and the many organizations where he generously volunteered his time. We extend our condolences to his wife Nan, his family and colleagues at Sullivan & Cromwell.

Mark O’Brien
Co-Founder & Executive Director
Pro Bono Net

Pro Bono Net, in partnership with the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Inc., is pleased to announce the launch of Georgia Legal Connect, an online platform that enables Atlanta Legal Aid to enroll, manage, and connect staff and pro bono attorneys with remotely located clients for advice, counsel, and form preparation. Atlanta Legal Aid Society offers free civil legal aid for low-income people across metro Atlanta.

The COVID-19 reality has significantly changed the way legal services and support are delivered, and the concurrent public health and economic crises have resulted in a surge in legal needs. Georgia Legal Connect is an innovative remote legal support project created amid COVID-19 to quickly address low-income clients’ legal needs in Georgia. “COVID-19 has really escalated the digital divide in Georgia,” said Kristin N. Verrill, Director of Grants & Innovation at Atlanta Legal Aid. “Low-income Georgians can no longer receive in-person legal services at our offices or at our court-based clinics. We needed a way to reach our clients using technology that is accessible and easy to use. We were able to launch Georgia Legal Connect quickly after the pandemic hit, and it has helped us maintain our high level of services for clients and clinic attendees.”

Through Georgia Legal Connect, Atlanta Legal Aid can easily enroll and manage clients and attorneys. An attorney can also virtually meet with their client and simultaneously share, store, and complete documents during a consultation. Because the platform operates through the internet, clients do not have to download or install any software, application, or plug-ins, making it easier for them to connect with their attorney. Georgia Legal Connect is also mobile-friendly, facilitating the way through which clients connect online. When an attorney and client finalize their consultation, which may include document review or preparation, the client can access the completed documents at any time, download or print, and file with the appropriate court or agency. Both clients and attorneys can also access content created, updated, and uploaded to Georgia Legal Connect by Atlanta Legal Aid. 

“Georgia Legal Connect is an example of how Pro Bono Net’s technology can support programs with initiatives that help people who cannot access and afford an attorney,” said Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz, Pro Bono & Strategic Initiatives Manager at Pro Bono Net. “We have developed this platform in a way that centers the needs of clients and legal service providers, so we are proud to partner with Atlanta Legal Aid to provide timely and meaningful legal advice to people in Georgia affected by COVID-19.” 

GeorgiaLegalConnect.org was developed using Pro Bono Net’s Remote Legal Connect platform, which was originally created in partnership with Legal Information for Families Today (LIFT) to stand up Family Legal Connection, a remote pro bono service for self represented family court litigants in New York. The platform was developed with support from an American Bar Endowment Opportunity Grant, among other funders. Atlanta Legal Aid’s project is supported by an LSC Telework grant and a grant from Georgia’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. 

Pro Bono Net hopes Georgia Legal Connect can serve as a model for other legal aid and pro bono programs looking to reach more people and provide legal support to those affected by the pandemic.  To learn more about Atlanta Legal Aid, visit https://atlantalegalaid.org/. To learn more about Pro Bono Net’s work or the Remote Legal Connect platform, visit www.probono.net or email Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz at jortiz@probono.net

We are pleased to announce “Decolonizing Justice: Advancing Community-Grown Justice Solutions,” a week-long series of free online conversations, panels and interactive workshops centered on legal empowerment and community-based justice strategies in the US. This gathering will create space for critical thinking, discussion and visioning approaches to people-centered justice, fostering equity and inclusion, and democratizing the law that elevate and grow local legal knowledge, capacity and power in communities at a time of transformative change. 

When: November 16 – 20, 2020 | Sessions will take place between approx 10am – 1:30pm PT / 1 – 4:30 pm ET each day
Where: Online via Zoom
Tentative agenda: https://decolonizingjustice.splashthat.com
Pre-registration is free and currently open. To receive agenda updates, please RSVP above.  

Each day will be centered on a key theme, including:

  • Beyond Legal Aid: Legal Empowerment and Community-Based Justice
  • Democratizing the Law: Regulatory Reform and Roles Beyond Lawyers
  • Community-Grown Research, Education and Data Strategies
  • Design and Technology Strategies to Advance Community-Centered Justice
  • Bringing Justice Home: Envisioning Just Futures

Confirmed speakers to date include:

  • Chris Albin-Lackey, National Center for Access to Justice
  • David Rodríguez-Andino, Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico
  • Ariadna Godreau-Aubert, Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico
  • Matthew Burnett, Open Society Justice Initiative
  • Rodrigo Camarena, Immigration Advocates Network
  • Georges Clement, JustFix.nyc
  • Liz Medicine Crow, First Alaskans Institute
  • Marika Dias, Urban Justice Center
  • Sukti Dhital, Bernstein Institute for Human Rights at NYU School of Law
  • Bridget Gramme, Center for Public Interest Law, University of San Diego School of Law
  • Alana Greer, Community Justice Project
  • Cristobal Gutierrez, Make the Road New York
  • Lam Ho, Beyond Legal Aid
  • Katie Lam, Pro Bono Net
  • Vivek Maru, Namati
  • Will Morrison, Law Society of Ontario
  • Nikole Nelson, Alaska Legal Services Corporation
  • José R. Padilla, California Rural Legal Assistance
  • Rohan Pavuluri, Upsolve
  • Jhody Polk, Legal Empowerment & Advocacy Hub (L.E.A.H.)
  • Jim Sandman, Future of the Profession Initiative at University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School and President Emeritus, Legal Services Corporation
  • Dr. Rebecca Sandefur, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Arizona State University
  • David Udell, National Center for Access to Justice
  • Eric Vang, Alaska Legal Services Corporation

The steering committee for this event includes Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico, Alaska Legal Services Corporation, Pro Bono Net and the Open Society Justice Initiative. Participating organizations include: National Center for Access to Justice, Namati, the Bernstein Institute for Human Rights at NYU, Beyond Legal Aid, California Rural Legal Assistance, Center for Public Interest Law – University of San Diego School of Law, Community Justice Project, JustFix.nyc, Immigration Advocates Network, Law Society of Ontario, Upsolve and others.

For more information or questions, please contact Jennie Rose Halperin, jrhalperin@probono.net or Liz Keith, lkeith@probono.net, or visit https://decolonizingjustice.splashthat.com

Pro Bono Net would like to recognize the thousands of volunteer lawyers who make a huge difference for those in need and the incredibly important work of pro bono volunteers in building our capacity to meet the vast unmet need for civil legal services. 

This year, National Pro Bono Week’s theme is “Rising to Meet the Challenge: Pro Bono Responds to COVID-19.” This has been a challenging year. The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the delivery of legal services and pro bono across the country. In the midst of all of the uncertainty, it is important to celebrate the hard work and progress volunteer attorneys and organizations have made during the pandemic in order to respond to COVID-19.  

Below are some of the ways Pro Bono Net has been rising to meet the challenge and how we have been responding to COVID-19. 

National Pro Bono Opportunities Guide

Pro Bono Net’s National Pro Bono Opportunities Guide is a joint project of Pro Bono Net, the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service, and its project the ABA Center for Pro Bono, in collaboration with probono.net network partners across the country. This year, we have continued to update the guide to reflect COVID-19 or remote pro bono opportunities. By visiting the opportunities guide, attorneys can learn more about an organization, opportunities available, and reach out to the organization’s contact about their interest in volunteering.

This Guide, which features detailed profiles of more than 1,000 US organizations offering pro bono opportunities, was viewed nearly 20,000 in 2019, and has been accessed more than 3,000 times since COVID-19 became a pandemic in March. Pro bono does not have to slow down due to the pandemic, to visit the guide and volunteer, go to www.probono.net/network/volunteer/

Remote Legal Support Platform

Pro Bono Net’s Remote Legal Support Platform allows legal services providers, pro bono initiatives, courts and community partners to rapidly build and manage a remote legal support program to increase access to legal assistance for communities in need, regardless of location. By enabling organizations to enroll, manage and link volunteers with remotely located clients for advice, counsel and document preparation, the platform bridges barriers that prevent people from getting help and can dramatically expand the help available. The remote legal support technology was originally created to provide remote services in New York, and since the pandemic, has been adapted in other regions to rapidly build and manage pro bono virtual service programs.

This week, we celebrate attorneys like Legal Information for Families Today (LIFT)’s Family Legal Connection program’s volunteer Jeannine Choi, who are helping people affected by COVID-19. Jeannine shares her experience about her children’s safety during the pandemic. You can watch the video here. Family Legal Connection is one of the remote legal support programs powered by Pro Bono Net’s technology. 

LawHelp Interactive

LawHelp Interactive (LHI) is Pro Bono Net’s national document assembly program. If you cannot afford an attorney and have to represent yourself in court, filling out legal paperwork correctly can be a confusing and difficult process. LHI helps people create free and accurate court forms simply and easily, an essential step towards resolving a legal problem. 

At a moment when there’s widespread interest across the legal sector in technology’s potential to close the justice gap, LawHelp Interactive (LHI) is already serving more than a million people a year. More than 660,000 forms were assembled using LHI in 2019, the highest volume in the platform’s history. Over the past decade, more than 5 million forms have been completed using LHI for issues such as child support and custody, domestic violence, debt collection, foreclosures, evictions, divorce and more. In the wake of the pandemic related court closures and enforced social distancing, an average of 30,000 interactive interviews hosted on LHI are being used by self helpers and their advocates every week. 

Immigration Advocates Network’s Pro Bono Resource Center

Immigration Advocates Network (IAN), a program of Pro Bono Net, has a Pro Bono Resource Center that connects pro bono lawyers to a calendar of events, alerts, volunteer guide, and other pro bono members. While we update this Resource Center, pro bono lawyers can join the nonprofit resource center. You do not need membership or a password to access: 

If you go to IAN’s website and scroll to the bottom, you can also sign up for updates and to receive their monthly newsletter. Check back in 2021 for new library content, updated links, and more access to resources, to support your pro bono work. 


For more more information about Pro Bono Net, visit our website at: www.probono.net

Online forms have long been a key resource for those in need of a domestic violence order. Across the US, LawHelp Interactive-powered forms help thousands of victims a year create and file their domestic violence protective orders and petitions. Between June to September 2020, LawHelp Interactive (LHI) created approximately 18,500 free domestic violence pleadings, or 1,430 per week. The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the delivery of legal services across the country. Access to in-person legal services has been limited as both individuals seeking assistance and their service providers have limited operations to the public at large and will continue to minimize direct contact as long as the virus remains a threat to individual and public health. Legal aid offices and courts have had to close or limit operations and have been forced to adjust to a new normal which includes remote services.

Ashley Carter

When COVID-19 caused courthouses to shut down, my DCVLP colleagues and I did not know how we would continue to serve our clients who needed to file for protection orders,” says Ashley Carter, an Equal Justice Works fellow at DC Volunteer Lawyers Project. “LawHelp Interactive has been essential to our work, and we have been able to provide hundreds of domestic violence survivors with trauma-sensitive services through the online filing system. We hope that the Court will continue to provide LawHelp Interactive as an online filing option in the future.

As a result, those who experience domestic partner violence are now at a greater risk while quarantining with their abuser. The pandemic has magnified the need for access to online resources and legal rights information, self-advocacy tools and remote court procedures. The Law360 article Remote Court Procedures Can Help Domestic Abuse Victims, authored by Ashley Carter and Richard Kelley, highlights evidence that suggests quarantines would result in an increased rate of domestic violence. Here is an excerpt of the beginning of the article:

“Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, experts have predicted that quarantines would result in an increased rate of domestic violence.[1] While it will take time to evaluate the extent of the impact, evidence already suggests that the experts were right.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline reported that contact volume increased significantly in the first few weeks of the pandemic.[2] A recent study published in the medical journal Radiology found a higher degree of incidence and severity of physical intimate partner violence during the COVID-19 pandemic compared with the prior three years.[3] In Washington, D.C., domestic violence crisis intervention agency DC SAFE received 3,148 calls in August, compare to an average of 1,895 inbound calls per month in 2019.

In addition to increased rates of domestic violence, the COVID-19 pandemic has also impacted the services available to survivors. For example, some domestic violence shelters have had to reduce capacity to comply with social distancing guidelines or close entirely for periods of time to become properly equipped for COVID-19.[4] As state agencies face enormous budget shortfalls, domestic violence service providers may soon find themselves facing reductions in their state-funded grants.[5]” You can find the full article, here

Well before the pandemic began, LHI supported many courts and nonprofit legal services providers to ensure people in crisis can access, complete and easily file essential court forms. LHI technology has been helping individuals navigate the domestic violence process in the District of Columbia Courts with the Forms Help Online project. As of March of this year, Forms Help Online contained 26 guided interviews (plus 26 in Spanish) with automated document assembly for those seeking the court’s domestic violence services. You can learn more about our work and partnership with the DC Courts on our blog

There are other LHI-powered initiatives to assist domestic violence survivors. These existed prior to the pandemic and have been key during the closures to protect victims and their children. One project in Puerto Rico, through Ayuda Legal, where the existing online forms now can be mailed to the courts via LHI. We also have the New York Family Offense Petition program which is a program in partnership with the New York Courts. Tens of thousands of Family Offense Petitions are filed in New York State Courts each year by individuals seeking orders of protection. Domestic violence has serious ramifications and victims are in great need of advice and information to protect their safety. 

Learn More

If you want to learn more about LawHelp Interactive, please contact Claudia Johnson at cjohnson@probono.net. More information about LHI can be found at probono.net/our-work/individuals/lhi or visit LHI’s website at lawhelpinteractive.org

“Remote Court Procedures Can Help Domestic Abuse Victims” was originally published on Law360 and is authored by Ashley Carter and Richard Kelley. You can find the original article, here

Pro Bono Net is excited to announce its partnership with several New York State volunteer attorney programs to provide an online resource center for tenants and pro bono attorneys. The project, supported by the New York State Office of the Attorney General’s COVID-19 Tenant Assistance Initiative, will aid tenants facing housing issues outside of New York City, where the Right to Counsel in housing court does not exist. Through Pro Bono Net’s online resources center, the volunteer attorney programs will provide legal information that will help tenants prevent eviction during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated the preexisting vulnerabilities of tenants in New York State. Since the crisis began, New Yorkers are experiencing unemployment and loss of income at an unprecedented rate. As a result, many New Yorkers are unable to pay their housing costs. Recently, a landlord association in upstate New York reported that up to 50% of tenants missed their May rent payments. In response to these factors, the number of New Yorkers facing eviction in the coming months is likely to increase exponentially. Eviction moratoriums and other government interventions at the local and federal level have been a key factor in stemming the tide of eviction cases; however, the criteria for qualification under these can be difficult for tenants to understand. The online resource center is aimed at providing up-to-date information and resources to give volunteer attorneys, tenants, and the general public clear, easily accessible guidance on the forms of assistance available to those facing eviction, as well as tools to present defenses in court. 

Quoted from a LiveHelp user:

I have no income due to COVID-19. I have not paid April or May rent, and my landlord has deprived me of heat, hot water, and has now locked me out. What are my legal options to keep my housing?” 

As the state’s preeminent access point for free legal information and referrals, LawHelpNY continues to provide critical legal information for New Yorkers affected by COVID-19 and will leverage that statewide resource for this initiative. With funding from the New York State Office of the Attorney General’s COVID-19 Tenant Assistance Initiative, Pro Bono Net will leverage our well-established technology and infrastructure to provide accurate and timely information to tenants, while also building the capacity of legal services providers and pro bono attorneys assisting them. 

With this funding Pro Bono Net will develop and manage an online resource center to help those affected by the eviction crisis brought on by COVID-19. Currently Pro Bono Net’s LawHelpNY, Law Help Interactive, LiveHelp, and probono.net programs are already working to support tenants at risk and, through this project, we will identify which additional tools and resources will help address the needs of tenants and the pro bono attorneys it will serve. 

Pro Bono Net’s New York Programs Director, Veronica N. Dunlap, stated, “For over two decades, Pro Bono Net has played a key role in creating technology to achieve access to justice. We are excited to create the online resource center to support tenants and the lawyers who help them, at a time when New Yorkers are most in need.

We would like to thank the New York State Office of the Attorney General for funding this effort. We look forward to collaborating with the Erie County Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyers Project, Legal Services of the Hudson Valley, Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York, Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York, Legal Assistance of Western New York, and Nassau Suffolk Law Services who are also grantees for this project.






The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated language justice barriers in health care, access to vital benefits and access to legal support. A ProPublica investigation found that at the height of New York’s COVID-19 outbreak, non-English speakers were getting delayed and worse care. On Wednesday, June 3, 2020 the American Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division hosted a webinar about “Language Justice During COVID-19,” in which language access experts explained how this disaster has heightened language access problems and how state and local governments, courts, and legal service providers should respond to the current crisis and work towards a just recovery.

We can learn a lot about key language access barriers from past natural disasters, according to Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz, the Pro Bono & Strategic Initiatives Manager at Pro Bono Net. Disasters already provide unique legal challenges in housing, employment, family law and other issues. Language barriers make these problems so much harder to solve and keep people who are not proficient in English from getting the resources they need. Key problems in disaster response range from English-only alerts, signage and warnings to government agencies sending disaster survivors determination letters in English only.

Another issue Ortiz-Ortiz identified is the proliferation of inaccurate legal translations—often the work of machine translation (such as Google Translate) or untrained translators. For example, a form can require  an applicant to provide general background information on the issue and the translation reads“antecedentes,” which in some Spanish dialects and depending on the context, the word can refer to “criminal records” or “criminal background. . Ortiz-Ortiz and the other panelists stressed that good translation, executed by trained translators, is essential for language access and justice, and that a lot gets lost when courts, governments and other public services use inconsistent machine translators like Google Translate.

At the same time, innovative legal technologies and online systems are important tools to provide remote language access. These include hot-lines, live help chats, and self-help resources such as form generators (including Pro Bono Net’s Law Help Interactive) that ask people simply phrased questions in their own language and produce legal documents with their answers.

Alena Uliasz, the Language Justice Manager at California Rural Legal Assistance, emphasized that the 25 million Americans (8 percent of the US population) who are not proficient in English face a dramatic pattern of disadvantage. Those who aren’t proficient in English experience poverty at twice the rate of the population at large and close to half of adults with limited English do not have a high school diploma. In addition, immigrants who speak limited English are more likely to have poor health than immigrants who speak English proficiently. During the COVID-19 crisis, limited tech access has already kept non-English speakers at a disadvantage.

Joann Lee, Special Counsel on Language Justice at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA), highlighted key language justice barriers during COVID-19 and how governments and legal service providers have overcome them. Lee stressed that during the crisis, much of the burden for translating government documents has fallen on community organizations and legal aid organizations. She stressed that state and local governments should partner with and fund community organizations to help translate vital information and documents and provide broader access to translators and to ensure that those without English-proficiency are able to access help. 

LAFLA and other organizations have drafted language rights advocacy letters that call for courts, unemployment offices, health providers and other essential services to do more on language access to comply with legal mandates and meet their local populations language needs. One community organization filling a language access void is The Korean American Federation of Los Angeles, which has used its YouTube channel to guide Korean-speakers through benefit applications and provided other vital information.

As Lee emphasized, some state governments stand out in their work towards broader language access. Washington State’s language access plan commits to providing COVID-19 updates in the 37 most popular languages in the state. California provided aid to immigrants who were not eligible for federal unemployment and stimulus checks and contracted with 12 nonprofits to administer the program—the program’s FAQ’s is available in 17 languages. Hawaii’s court system and office of legal access has translated important information into several languages.

Overall, the language justice advocates agreed: state and local governments should use professional interpreters instead of Google Translate, and partner with community organizations and legal aid providers to make updates, benefits, and other vital information and services accessible to those with limited English proficiency.

Background

Our Method

Our Keys to Success

Know your tech

Over-communicate

Patience

Conclusion


 This is the third part of Pro Bono Net’s three-part blog series on legal empowerment and co-design best practices. If you missed part one or part two, click here

Why a Co-Design Workshop?

The Key Difference

Activity 1: Photo Feedback

Activity 2: Creating Icons with Autodraw

Activity 3: Imagining Screens

Conclusion


 This is the second part of Pro Bono Net’s three-part blog series on legal empowerment and co-design best practices. To read part three, click here

Background

***

Think of data as borrowed, not given

Set your team up for success

Logistical details matter!


 This is the first part of Pro Bono Net’s three-part blog series on legal empowerment and co-design best practices. To read part two, click here