The Immigration Advocates Network (IAN), a program of Pro Bono Net, has won The Workers Lab 2021 Innovation Fund award for ¡Reclamo! – a digital tool to combat wage theft. ¡Reclamo! was developed in partnership with workplace justice advocates from Make the Road New York and is designed to help workers and non-lawyer advocates navigate the complexities of employment law, safely, in plain language, and from any mobile phone. 

Winners of this prestigious award were selected from a diverse pool of nearly 400 applicants from across the country with ideas at all stages of development and from all types of organizations. 

“¡Reclamo! was designed to reduce the prevalence of wage theft in America by leveraging the power of data and organizing to take on wage violations at scale. Support from The Worker’s Lab Innovation Fund will enable us to add and train additional partners and launch a campaign targeting the high-violation construction industry in New York State” – said Rodrigo Camarena, Director of the Immigration Advocates Network

“The Workers Lab is excited to have ¡Reclamo! as one of our 2021 Innovation Fund winners. Their worker-informed digital tool is combating wage theft head-on while making it easier for workers to independently identify their risk and start the process to recover wages. We applaud this innovation and look forward to seeing their impact grow in the service of workers.” – Jeshua John, Program Manager, The Workers Lab

Other 2021 Innovation Fund winners include Los Deliveristas Unidos, Let’s Get Set, the Sex Worker Liberation Project, Solidarity Tech, and United for Respect Education Fund’s WorkIt Platform. 

About ¡Reclamo!

¡Reclamo! is a tool from the Immigration Advocates Network designed to help workers and organizers easily identify and tackle wage theft by automating the data collection process and facilitating access to legal support. This innovation builds worker power by allowing workers to independently identify their risk of wage theft, initiate the wage recovery process, identify opportunities for organizing, and use data to uncover patterns among employers throughout New York state and beyond. ¡Reclamo! was developed with support from the New York Community Trust and the Open Society Foundations. Other supporters include the 21st Century ILGWU Heritage Fund. 

About the Immigration Advocates Network

The Immigration Advocates Network (IAN), a program of Pro Bono Net (PBN), is a nonprofit leader in developing technology solutions to increase access to justice for immigrants and strengthen the capacity of advocates and organizations serving them. For over ten years, we’ve worked hand in hand with partners in the immigrants’ rights movement to bring new tools and resources to the field. Our team of designers, strategists, and attorneys work with leading immigrant advocacy organizations to help them bridge the digital divide, launch new campaigns, and bring the tools of justice to hard to reach communities. Whether it’s by supporting Legal Permanent Residents with naturalization, helping undocumented communities know their rights, preparing the community and advocates for immigration reform, or facilitating access to legal assistance nationwide, IAN works to take on big problems and bring new technology and resources to where they’re needed the most.


Press Contact: Rodrigo Camarena, rcamarena@immigrationadvocates.org

As another Veteran’s Day comes to pass, it’s worth considering the long history of immigrants serving in the US military. Immigrants made up 18% of draftees during WWI, which was a time of peak migration to the United States,¹ and there were 300,000 foreign born members of the US military that served during WWII.² During WWII, the need for soldiers was so great that even the proof of lawful entry requirement was lifted for a time for foreign born soldiers seeking US citizenship.

You probably know that today, an immigrant can’t serve in the US military without LPR status or a “green card,”³ but even a green card holding veteran can end up on the wrong side of the US immigration system. Immigrant veterans can still face deportation for committing crimes, even lower class, nonviolent ones such as drug offenses. Drugs, alcohol, and mental health struggles come up frequently in the stories of deported veterans, who often trace their deportation-related offense back to PTSD acquired while serving. While any active duty military member is at increased risk of developing PTSD,⁴ immigrant veterans are uniquely vulnerable to outsize consequences when dealing with the fallout of trauma. 

The Biden administration has announced plans to review veteran deportations that occurred during the Trump administration, but many advocates wonder what material changes this will bring, as well as pointing out that the unfair deportation of veterans started well before President Trump took office.⁵⁶

As we honor those who have served our country this Veteran’s Day, we should also take a moment to  reflect on the many immigrants who courageously served alongside their US born comrades in fighting for our freedoms.     

If you’re interested in doing pro bono work to help veterans, you can check out volunteer opportunities available through the Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program.

To find cases from active duty servicemembers that need legal representation, visit the Military Pro Bono Project website.

If you are feeling inspired by this message of support for immigrant veterans, please visit the Veterans for Peace Deported Veterans Advocacy Project donation page.


This blog post was written by Dina Knott, an Americorps VISTA member currently serving with Immigration Advocates Network (IAN) as Volunteer and Community Education Project Coordinator. So far, she has enjoyed working on finding and selecting resources to keep IAN’s nonprofit library up to date and updating the IAN Legal Directory, which lists free and low cost legal service providers.

References:

¹https://www.uscis.gov/about-us/our-history/history-office-and-library/featured-stories-from-the-uscis-history-office-and-library/the-immigrant-army-immigrant-service-members-in-world-war-i

²https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/new-citizen-soldiers-naturalization

³https://www.usa.gov/join-military

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25793582

https://www.washingtonpost.com/immigration/biden-deported-veterans-return/2021/07/02/a557285e-db63-11eb-9bbb-37c30dcf9363_story.html

https://theconversation.com/deported-veterans-stranded-far-from-home-after-years-of-military-service-press-biden-to-bring-them-back-154320

In September, the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) and the  Hague Institute for Innovation of Law (HIIL) released their long-awaited report, Justice Needs and Satisfaction in the United States of America. This nationwide study engaged over 10,000 people across the U.S. to determine justice needs, people’s perceptions of justice information, and how people are interacting with the justice system. 

We at Pro Bono Net believe this study is very valuable to our partners and all legal non-profits across the U.S. We have distilled some of the most important takeaways for organizations that provide legal services and information online. A full copy of the report can be found here and an interactive dashboard can be found here

Disclaimer:

While IAALS and HIIL interviewed over 10,000 people for this report, their participants skewed toward mostly white, upper-middle class, and suburban individuals. (While the report indicates the survey was available in English and Spanish, it also does not provide a breakdown of responses by language.) Although this set of participants admittedly is not truly representative of all people experiencing legal problems, we still believe the data from this study can be instructive on how we and our partners think about presenting legal information online. 

Takeaways:

Our four key takeaways from the IAALS / HIIL report are:

  1. The internet is the main source of legal information for people with legal needs, and most people only use one source for legal information. This makes it very important that the content people see on legal information sites is current and well-thought-out, because it is likely that it is the only source they view. 
  2. Search presence is vitally important for legal information sites. This means paying attention not just to the keywords and rankings for sites and pages, but to other ways a legal aid organization could appear in search as well, such as Google Maps and Google My Business. 
  3. Facebook is the dominant social network platform for legal information seekers. Organizations should think about how to leverage Facebook profiles and content to engage with information seekers. 
  4. Content readability and trustworthiness are vitally important to educating users and keeping them engaged. Using plain language and making sure that resources are easy to understand and well organized are key to user engagement. 

Read below for more context and information on each takeaway. 

The internet is where most people are looking for and engaging with legal information

The highest used source of legal information was the internet (31%), followed by lawyers (29%), family members (25%), and friends (20%). IAALS Report, pg. 161. 

Over half of people said that they only used one source of legal information, while only 20% of people said they used two sources, and 12% said that they used three sources. This means that people looking for legal information on a website are likely to use that as their only source of information. In 2020, Pro Bono Net’s 20-state network of LawHelp legal information websites had record usage – more than 10 million visits – and in 85% of visits, people viewed a legal rights resource. The most heavily trafficked resources often involved issues where access to legal help was severely limited for people already facing financial hardship  – issues navigating the unemployment compensation process, applying for SNAP, and addressing eviction and housing stability issues. 

The Importance of Search:

When people were asked about where on the internet they looked for legal information, search engines were the heavy favorite (73%), followed by specific websites (62%). IAALS Report, pg. 166. Online forums and social media collectively made up only 28%. Our takeaway from this is that search presence is crucially important for websites delivering legal information. Pro Bono Net’s LawHelp sites have consistently performed well in Google search rankings for many topics, and as part of the LawHelp upgrade we are adding in full Schema.org support to create rich search results. This will make content on LawHelp sites more discoverable by search engines by providing Google and other search engines more “clues” about the content of key pages.

There are different aspects for search appearance as well, including Google’s My Business features. Notably, the Google maps listing includes a “Questions & answers” section where users can post questions that are answerable by anyone. If your organization has physical locations that can be found with Google Maps, we recommend creating a Google My Business listing in order to take control of the information displayed, and to regularly check on the Question & Answer section of your listing. 

Social Media:

When asked about looking for legal information on social media, an overwhelming number of people said they used Facebook (78%) when compared to other social media platforms. IAALS Report, pg. 167.

If your organization has a social media presence, we recommend focusing efforts on Facebook over other platforms. Data show that the most common social media platform referrer to LawHelp sites is Facebook by a huge margin (98%), and on average users from Facebook view 2.22 pages. For sites on the Pro Bono Net platform, 72% of social referrals are from Facebook. 

What makes information valuable?

When asked to pick the three most valuable characteristics of legal advice or information, survey participants said that trustworthiness, ease of understanding, and being targeted to their situation were the most valuable. Interestingly, characteristics related to the method of delivery were some of the lowest ranking, with ‘one-on-one help’ and ‘available online’ being the two lowest-ranked characteristics above ‘other.’ IAALS Report, pg. 173.

This information echoes what we at Pro Bono Net have heard in user testing and content development: users want to see information in a context that signals its trustworthiness. In other words, if someone is looking at a website they want to feel they can trust the information on that website. 

Unfortunately, the survey did not go on to ask participants what made information trustworthy, however, based on our experience, it involves the following factors: 

  • Website appearance – also thought of as the ‘storefront’ idea, this concept means that website visitors pick up on visual cues like design, listed dates, and things that appear out of place, in order to gauge credibility. 
  • Currentness of content – if a website’s content appears to be current, with current dates or addressing current topics, this lends it credibility in the eyes of visitors. 
  • Appearance of authority – this can come from both the organizations listed on a website and from the overall appearance of the site’s design and layout. 

One of the biggest goals for the LawHelp Design Refresh, which includes refreshed color palettes and a full site redesign, is to give LawHelp sites a more modern and contemporary look and feel, that matches not only what users expect to see, but also how users expect to navigate websites today as well. Visit LouisianaLawHelp.org for an example of a site with this new treatment. We believe this will increase perceived trustworthiness, as well as accessibility. We want LawHelp sites to showcase the content that our community works so hard to provide, and to offer a positive, calming experience for users facing stressful legal situations.  

Ease of understanding was the next most important factor. This means that using plain language and breaking up legal concepts into easy to understand pieces are essential in creating a valuable online resource. We know some of our partners strive for a 6th grade reading level for all of their Know Your Rights resources. Even though content may come to LawHelp or Pro Bono sites from external partners, we encourage all LawHelp Content Coordinators to have a plain language review phase planned and agreed upon upfront with any partnering authors.

Takeaways:

As we noted at the beginning of this post, the four key takeaways are: 

  1. The internet is the main source of legal information for people with legal needs, and most people only use one source for legal information. This makes it very important that the content people see on legal information sites is current and well-thought-out, because it is likely that it is the only source they view. 
  2. Search is vitally important for legal information sites. This means paying attention not just to the keywords and rankings for sites and pages, but to other ways a legal aid could appear in search as well, such as Google Maps and Google My Business. 
  3. Facebook is the dominant social network platform for legal information seekers. Organizations should think about how to leverage Facebook profiles and content to engage with information seekers. 
  4. Content readability and trustworthiness are vitally important to educating users and keeping them on the site. Using plain language and making sure that resources are easy to understand and well organized is key to user engagement. 

Did the report spark additional takeaways for you? Have questions or need help putting these suggestions into practice? We welcome your feedback! Don’t hesitate to contact us.

Each year, Pro Bono Net celebrates Pro Bono Week by recognizing and thanking the thousands of volunteer lawyers who make a huge difference for those in need. This year, we would like to give a very special thank you to our past and present LiveHelp Volunteers.

As we continue to be immersed in a global pandemic, Pro Bono Net has been focused and unified by the certainty that our mission has never been more important: to use innovative technology solutions and collaboration to fulfill America’s promise of equal justice for all. Trained volunteers staff LiveHelp from 9 AM-9 PM on weekdays, making this service readily accessible to low-income working clients, individuals in rural areas, or people who may be homebound, elderly or living with disabilities. LiveHelp is available in English and Spanish.

Our Livehelp volunteers continue to provide assistance to visitors by offering information about their rights and options in issue areas such as orders of protection, domestic violence, child custody, rent payments and evictions, and emergency assistance programs; issues which have worsened for many throughout the pandemic. 

So far in 2021, our LiveHelp volunteers provided detailed assistance to more than 900 New Yorkers each month with ever more complex legal issues. Without the hard work and dedication of  law students, LiveHelp wouldn’t have been able to provide high quality legal information to the low-income, vulnerable New Yorkers we serve. In Q3 of 2021, our LiveHelp program helped more than 2,700 people connect to legal rights information, legal aid agencies, and court resources. We had a total number of 55 volunteers this quarter, who served a total of 1,489 hours. 

Thank you to the law schools and their student volunteers who believe in our mission, support our work and share our commitment to equal justice! For more on LiveHelp, read our LiveHelp Volunteer Spotlights, featuring  Safaa Aly and Jordan Kaufman, to learn more about their experience in their own words. 


LiveHelp is a real-time chat service that allows you to chat with staff and volunteers of LawHelpNY and its partner organizations. LiveHelp helps those with complex legal issues learn about their rights and legal options. LiveHelp is available Monday to Friday 9 AM to 9 PM (Eastern Standard Time) and is available in English and Spanish.

LawHelpNY, which is powered by Pro Bono Net, is New York’s statewide legal information website providing access to Know Your Rights information, DIY court forms, as well as referral information for over 250 free legal service providers.

Legal Aid Connect was launched in late 2020 as a collaborative initiative between Legal Aid of Nebraska and Pro Bono Net. The tool has enabled access to legal services for low-income and rural communities through virtual consultation and case management. We spoke with Muirne Heaney, the Director of Access for Legal Aid of Nebraska, to hear more about how the platform has facilitated connections between attorneys and clients with limited access to resources.

We would love to hear more about your personal role and the mission of Legal Aid of Nebraska. 

I am the Director of Access for Legal Aid of Nebraska. My job is to oversee all the functions that lead people to our doors.

Our mission is to promote justice, dignity, hope and self-sufficiency through quality civil legal aid for those who have nowhere else to turn. 

How did Legal Aid of Nebraska learn about and establish a connection with Pro Bono Net to use Remote Legal Connect? 

We learned about Remote Legal Connect at a Technology Initiative Grant (TIG) Conference. 

How are you using Remote Legal Connect to enhance your pro bono work?

Remote Legal Connect allows us to partner urban attorneys with rural clients to meet their presenting legal problems. This greatly enhances our Private Attorney Initiative work. We are able to draw from a large pool of attorneys to serve people in rural counties where attorneys are few and far between. 

What has been the experience of pro bono attorneys and law students providing legal help via Remote Legal Connect?

In general, our volunteers like the experience. They are able to communicate directly with a client from their homes or offices, and provide a service – which makes them feel great. 

Is there a specific feature from Remote Legal Connect that has been particularly useful? 

What distinguishes Remote Legal Connect from other video conferencing platforms is the ability to share documents with the client as the attorney drafts the documents.  

Could you share an example from someone who was positively impacted because they connected to an attorney via Remote Legal Connect?

We use Remote Legal Connect for a regularly recurring assisted pro se divorce clinic. Without the program, it is likely we would not have been able to serve the client at all. Remote Legal Connect has helped us expand our service model to encompass people from all across the state – and beyond – who would not otherwise have been served. In particular, judges report that it is easy to distinguish Remote Legal Connect clients from other pro se litigants because of how well they are prepared for the final hearings. This would not have been possible without Remote Legal Connect. 

How has this tool been particularly useful during the COVID-19 pandemic?

This tool has allowed us to develop new clinics, and offer those clinics all across the state. Without Remote Legal Connect, we would not have had any clinics during this terrible time. 

Has Legal Aid of Nebraska  been able to contact clients with less or no access to the internet?

We have been able to connect with clients without computers, but who do own smartphones. The fact that Remote Legal Connect does not require a download is of great assistance to our clients, who often have limited data capacity on their phones. 


Legal Aid of Nebraska relies on attorneys from within the organization, but also includes the private bar to assist in their work ranging from divorce and custody cases to public education issues. To learn more about the work of Legal Aid of Nebraska, click here

Remote Legal Connect was initially developed with the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York, before being adapted to fit the needs of various communities across the country. Presently, Pro Bono Net is proud to partner with legal aid organizations and pro bono initiatives in New York, Ohio, Georgia, Nebraska, and Alabama to support remote legal services even during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Because of the platform’s simplicity, users  with computers or mobile devices require no additional software to use Legal Aid Connect. Legal Aid of Nebraska provides complimentary training on local law, preparing volunteers to advise clients and complete court forms. We look forward to continuing to expand the outreach of the Remote Legal Connect tool to self-represented individuals.  To learn more about Remote Legal Connect and its uses, visit www.remotelegalconnect.org.

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 “Moving Forward in a Post-Pandemic World” The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the delivery of legal services and pro bono across the country. It is important to celebrate the hard work and progress volunteer attorneys and organizations have made during the pandemic and will continue to make as we start to move towards a “post-pandemic” world. 

Below are some of the ways Pro Bono Net has been responding to COVID-19. These initiatives have been helping advocates as well as those affected legally by the pandemic since COVID-19 first became a threat. Legal issues caused by the pandemic, such as housing issues, unemployment, child support and family law issues, domestic violence, and more, will linger well into a “post-pandemic” world and Pro Bono Net programs will continue to support those affected. 

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  organizations offering pro bono opportunities across the United States, has been viewed over 23,000 times since COVID-19 became a pandemic in March 2020. Pro bono does not have to slow down due to the pandemic. To visit the guide and volunteer, visit  www.probono.net/network/volunteer/.

Remote Legal Connect Platform

Pro Bono Net’s Remote Legal Connect 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. The Remote Legal Connect technology was originally created to provide remote legal services in New York, and since the pandemic, has been adapted in three additional regions. The program has helped address a surge in legal needs related to COVID-19 pandemic, and continues to enable self-represented litigants to virtually connect with pro bono attorneys for legal advice and document preparation. To learn more, visit www.remotelegalconnect.org

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 empowers people to create free and accurate court forms simply and easily, an essential step towards resolving a legal problem. LHI forms are created by expert legal aid and partner courts, and LHI serves the forms and provides the infrastructure that creates on average 2000 free documents per day. 

As the global COVID-19 pandemic and financial crisis exacerbated inequality and disproportionately affected people of color and low-income communities, it also increased the civil legal needs of millions.  By using LawHelp Interactive’s easy-to-use online forms, courts and nonprofits were immediately able to expand access to critical legal documents and empower those who the American legal system leaves to fend for themselves.  In 2020, LHI served one million interviews resulting in 710,378 legal documents to help put the power of the law into the hands of the people. Toward the end of September 2021, LHI has already served almost the same amount of forms with three months left to go. LHI usage continues to grow because it is a lifeline for those without access to legal resources in their regions.

Pro Bono Manager

For over 10 years, Pro Bono Manager™ has helped law firms run their pro bono programs more efficiently. Pro Bono Manager is a cloud-hosted SaaS application that securely integrates data from your firm’s personnel, billing, timekeeping, and docketing systems, and conforms to your firm’s brand and identity. Features can be configured to meet your unique pro bono management needs. Our web-based, mobile-responsive tools increase your firm’s capacity to manage pro bono work. 

Immigration Advocates Network

Immigration Advocates Network (IAN), a program of Pro Bono Net, welcomes pro bono lawyers to our Nonprofit Resource Center. It features a training calendar, alerts, libraries organized by topics, and more. Membership is free for pro bono lawyers and nonprofit staff. Helpful materials include:

To view IAN’s library, recorded webinars, and podcasts, join the Nonprofit Resource Center.  

To sign up for updates and receive our newsletter, scroll to the bottom of www.immigrationadvocates.org and enter your email address. Check back weekly for new library content, updated links, and more access to resources, to support your pro bono work.

Emergency Response & Recovery 

Pro Bono Net continues to support capacity-building efforts for emergency response and recovery related to climate-driven disasters and the pandemic. This year, we partnered with Equal Justice Works, the American Bar Association Disaster Legal Services Program, and Lone Star Legal Aid to co-host a program on strategies attorneys have used in responding to climate-related emergencies during the COVID-19 pandemic. The program, which was part of the first-ever Disaster Resilience Awareness Month, increased visibility about the role of legal aid and pro bono in disaster recovery and resilience efforts. 


For more more information about Pro Bono Net’s programs and initiatives, visit our website at: www.probono.net/programs

In March 2021, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) released a statement committing financial assistance for COVID-19 funeral expenses incurred after January 20, 2020. Last month, Amanda Bosley from Lone Star Legal Aid, Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz from Pro Bono Net, and Brittany Perrigue Gomez from Texas RioGrande Legal Aid presented policy updates regarding the COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Program and FEMA’s Individual Assistance Program and Policy Guide. These updates were part of an online One-Hour Briefing sponsored by the Practising Law Institute, a nonprofit organization that organizes continuing legal education programs for attorneys and other professionals. Amy Taub from the Practising Law Institute acted as the Program Attorney for the briefing. The online event also highlighted ideal practices for representing individuals under the COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Program as well as resources available to those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

From the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020 through August 11, 2021, there were a reported 615,459 COVID-19 deaths in the United States. By August 9, 2021, FEMA had received approximately 250,600 applications through its COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Program. Considering the recent weather hazards across the country, like Hurricane Ida, FEMA is also processing disaster-related assistance applications. FEMA  has revised and streamlined its policies affecting disaster survivors through its response to crises over the years. The main differences below distinguish applications received in natural disaster situations in comparison to COVID-19 expenses:

FEMA COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Program

Those eligible for the FEMA COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Program include U.S. citizens, non-citizen nationals, or qualified immigrants who have paid for pandemic-related funeral expenses after January 20, 2020. These expenses include transportation, burial, ceremony costs, and any other additional expenses qualified by local government mandates. Applications can be submitted using the FEMA hotline at 844-684-6333. To this date, there is no deadline to apply. Panelists provided additional information related to the program, such as:

  • The award maximum for the program is $9,000 per funeral with a $35,500 maximum cap.
  • 100% of funds for the program are administered federally.

FEMA’s Ongoing Response to Climate-Driven Disasters

Natural disaster applications must be submitted within 60 days from when the disaster is declared and can be extended up to 30 days for “good cause.” Funding for natural disaster compensation is 75% federal and 25% state cost share.

Besides the COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Program, there has also been recent legislation to protect victims of natural disasters. The Disaster Recovery Reform Act (DRRA) was signed into law on October 5, 2018, with the goal of creating a culture of preparedness and to ready the nation for catastrophic disasters as well as to reduce the complexity of FEMA. Under the DRRA, maximum award amounts were separated for Housing Assistance and Other Needs Assistance. The maximum benefit for both categories is $36,000, although this amount changes each year based on inflation. The DRRA also increased the Group Flood Insurance Policy coverage and premium, which is equivalent to the FEMA Individuals and Households Program maximum combined grant amounts for Other Needs Assistance and Housing Assistance.

Changes in FEMA’s Individual Assistance Program and Policy Guide allow for greater financial coverage for victims of the pandemic as well as other natural disasters that have taken great financial tolls on families across the country. Shortly after the program, FEMA announced a change in its policy to ensure access equitable access all survivors. There are many ways in which attorneys can provide legal help assistance to individuals navigating FEMA. Attorneys can learn more on the required documentation, eligibility, and application process using the resources below.


Maxwell Lawson is a third year student at the George Washington University studying International Affairs with a concentration in Comparative Political, Economic, and Social Systems. He has studied Spanish, Korean, and Mandarin and aims to use these languages in the field of international law after graduating college. At Pro Bono Net, he serves as a Communications and Development Intern contributing to outreach and content production for the organization.

October was first declared as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month in 1989. A staggering number of Americans experience violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. According to the CDC, “ [a]bout 1 in 4 women and nearly 1 in 10 men have experienced contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime and reported some form of IPV-related impact.” Domestic Violence Awareness Month shines light on this issue and provides information to victims as well as the public about tools and resources available.

In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we spotlight two important tools that help victims of intimate partner violence. 

Family Offense Petition Program / Training 

The Family Offense Petition (FOP) Program is a collaboration between Pro Bono Net and the New York State Unified Court System. The FOP program allows trained advocates and legal aid providers to create  an order of protection petition on behalf of domestic violence survivors. The petition information is then electronically transferred directly into the court’s case -management system. The program is powered by Pro Bono Net’s award-winning LawHelp Interactive document assembly technology. As a result of extensive outreach and training, the court has approved advocate organizations  in all 62 New York State counties, which include legal aid offices, probation agencies, YMCAs, and a team of social workers at a hospital. 

Last month, in partnership with the New York Courts, Pro Bono Net organized a webinar on the program to train over 150 advocates and provide guidance on how organizations can obtain approval from the court to use the program. 

Victim Compensation Online Claim Application Guide & the Victim Compensation Claim Navigator

The Victim Compensation Online Claim Application Guide and the Victim Compensation Claim Navigator is a recently launched tool that ensures that eligible crime victims are successful in submitting their applications for crime victim compensation through the New York State Office of Victim Services (OVS) Online Portal. The Victim Compensation Guide offers page-by-page tips and reminders to help victims with the application process. The Navigator was created to help crime victims determine if they are eligible for victim compensation and the type of claim they can apply for.

You can find the Victim Compensation Guide and Navigator on NY Crime Victims Legal Help (crimevictimshelpny.org). The New York Crime Victims Legal Network (CVLN)’s Guide & Navigator was developed by Pro Bono Net, Empire Justice Center, and SUNY Albany Center for Human Services Research. 

LawHelp Interactive offers free online legal forms to provide essential assistance to those with unmet civil legal needs. LawHelp Interactive (LHI) provides an easy-to-follow process that empowers individuals without legal counsel to create legal documents on their own. 

LHI is an especially essential and powerful tool for rural residents of the US, more than 14 million people, who face unique barriers to accessing justice. The Georgetown Journal on Law and Poverty reported that only about 2% of small legal firms are located in rural areas. This lack of availability and supply of legal experts and tools for legal support can lead to the creation of legal deserts – areas where residents, even those who can afford to pay, have extremely limited access to legal support. Government assistance in its current form widens this access-to-justice gap: rural states receive less federal and state funding for legal aid because this funding is issued on a per capita basis rather than being directly tied to need. 

On the LHI platform, rural residents can easily create legal documents through high quality online forms created by expert attorneys from courts and nonprofit legal aid organizations. Residents of rural areas can use LHI forms for free – without incurring high legal expenses or traveling long distances to get to an urban area for help. In rural areas where there is often limited investment in legal services, including legal self-help and access to justice initiatives, forms powered by LHI are truly a legal lifeline. In some regions, the LHI powered forms are one of the only available resources to prepare needed legal documents that can be completed in a timely manner. That’s why LHI and its partners are committed to providing legal forms for free, especially because our resources are often the only help available in critical areas of law such as family law, housing, and guardianships. 

While LHI forms are used all across the country to assist in a wide variety of civil legal needs, a review of LHI form use in 2020 shows that people in rural communities use LHI’s forms at a disproportionately high rate. Nationally, around 14% of Americans live in rural areas, yet 32% of LHI survey respondents reported living in a rural area. To further understand the increased use of LHI forms in rural communities, Pro Bono Net conducted a review of LHI’s 2020 evaluation, focusing on usage in states with a high percentage of rural residents.

First, to understand the magnitude of free online form use in rural areas, it is important to know that most of the form use through the LHI platform comes from states with large urban areas, including NY, CA, MI, and IL. 

So in order to best assess the needs of LHI users in rural areas, we looked at data from Maine, Kansas, Iowa, and Arkansas, states having a significant percentage of residents living in rural areas. According to the National Center for Access to Justice, these states all have fewer than 35 civil legal aid attorneys per 10,000 low income residents. Not surprisingly, as the pandemic resulted in heightened civil legal needs for many, usage of LHI in rural states has been increasing. In 2020, these states saw an increase of 16.8%. 

All data cited above leads to the conclusion that national infrastructures like LHI are key to preserving access to justice for a significant portion of our rural population, and that rural areas need an infusion of funding to improve the legal services available for residents. Lack of a legal market or inability to pay due to high poverty and high unemployment trends in vast regions of the country means that foundations and funders at the local, state, and federal level, prioritize supporting tools with long track records of trust and use by residents in those areas. 

Residents of rural legal deserts should not be doomed to a systemic and perpetual lack of access to justice. Looking towards the future, LHI will continue to provide forms for free to end users while seeking additional revenues to ensure the costs of use can be covered to continue meeting the needs of rural residents. 

As an organization committed to justice, Pro Bono Net continues to work to bring the power of the law to all and to make the law work for the many and not the few. 

Pro Bono Net honors and celebrates the countless achievements, contributions, and rich history of Latinx American communities during this year’s National Latinx Heritage Month. 

Latinx Heritage Month commenced on September 15th, which marks the independence days of many countries in Central and South America, and ends tomorrow on October 15th. This month is all about “celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America,” says the National Hispanic Heritage Month website

As part of the celebration at Pro Bono Net, Latinx staff hosted a virtual gathering where all staff had the opportunity to learn more about what this month means to staff who identify as Latinx and ask each other questions about the culture, history, and traditions of the Latinx community. This is the first time that Pro Bono Net as an organization has hosted such a gathering, and as the year progresses we hope we can do the same for other groups.

Pro Bono Net is grateful for all Latinx staff and Board members, partners, advocates, and supporters’ contributions of work. We are also grateful that as a technical solutions leader in the area of access to justice, we strive to serve the Latinx community in parity with national demographics, and we remain committed to creating and building tools and partnerships that serve all, regardless of language and national origin, race, ethnicity and religion.