Author: Mark O’Brien, Executive Director & Co-Founder of Pro Bono Net

We held a very special event recently to celebrate twenty years of Pro Bono Net. My co-founder Michael Hertz previously wrote about how the idea for Pro Bono Net came about, and as this week is Pro Bono Week, I thought it would be suitable for me to follow up by sharing some of the highlights of our event, and to thank all of our fantastic speakers who took the time to celebrate with us.

Our mission at Pro Bono Net is to increase access to justice for the vulnerable in society through innovative uses of technology and collaboration. While we feel that we have made huge progress on this front in the past twenty years, it was important to us when planning this event to ensure that we use our celebrations to engage our supporters and partners in conversations about new strategies we can use to bring the power of the law to all.

Our first speaker, Lawyer and Disability Rights Advocate, Haben Girma, the first deafblind woman to graduate from Harvard Law School, is inspirational in her belief that “anything can be made accessible.” As she opened her speech, Haben gave us her first example of how the world can be equally accessible to her by taking the time to educate the audience on the technology she uses to help her communicate and to make her aware of audience reactions.

Haben shared with us a number of examples of how she has been able to do things that people assumed she never could, such as dancing or surfing, all because there have been others who have taken steps to remove barriers on her behalf. Haben pointed out that it can be easy for everyone to “choose inclusion” by refusing to accept oppression and instead to advocate for justice and remove barriers for others.

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Haben’s message speaks closely to that of Pro Bono Net. We believe that justice is a fundamental human value and we work to ensure that people know and can exercise their rights, have their voice heard, and challenge inequity and discrimination. For that to happen the law and our justice system must be accessible and useable by everyone. We grapple with many different types of accessibility issues related to our use of technology in service of our mission, including literacy, language, culture as well as the issues facing someone like Haben who is deaf and blind. For anyone interested in learning more about Haben I highly recommend you pick up her book “Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law.”

Following Haben was our panel, “Funding Access to Justice: Can New Innovations in Legal Financing Close the Justice Gap?” facilitated by Judge Shira A. Scheindlin and including panelists Heidi Dorow, Ralph Sutton and Benjamin Elga.

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The panel gave us an overview of the legal finance market and discussed why companies access this funding. They also shared with us the many ways in which public impact litigation is funded today and looked at what different models are emerging from various sources of funding, while focusing on the topic of litigation funders. It was a lively exchange on a topic that could be a major innovation for many organizations connected with Pro Bono Net. Finding new capital to support strategic advocacy and public interest litigation could be a game changer.

Our keynote speaker for the evening was Brad Smith, President of Microsoft. We are very grateful to Microsoft, Brad and our board chair Dave Heiner for all of their support over the years and we were delighted that Brad was able to join us for our celebrations.

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Brad also spoke about “closing the gap” when it comes to supply and demand in legal services. He shared his thoughts on society and technology, telling us the stories of three people he learned from in the course of researching the digital impact around the world for his book “Tools and Weapons.”

Like Brad, we believe that while technology can and is used by some as a weapon, it is a tool that is a cause for hope. The future of technologies such as artificial intelligence, when combined with groups like Pro Bono Net, who are committed to innovative human and values-centered design practices and are sensitive to the needs of people facing life-changing legal situations, means that technology has the opportunity to close the justice gap in our society.

The evening closed with a Q&A session for Brad moderated by White & Case Chairman Hugh Verrier, with some interesting questions coming from our audience. Thank you to everyone who offered a question throughout the evening and thank you to all of our speakers who kindly took the time to celebrate with us and share your knowledge and stories.

Our board and staff were honored to celebrate twenty years of transforming access to justice on this evening with so many supporters, partners and friends. You all have been an integral part of the work we do and we are very grateful. Please continue to celebrate with us through this anniversary year, and join us in bringing the power of the law to all for the next twenty years!

Thank you again to our Corporate Event Sponsors and all of the supporters who made this event possible.

Clio; JP Morgan Chase & Co; Wolters Kluwer; Validity; LawGeex; LexisNexis; intapp

This blog was originally published on our LinkedIn page. For information and highlights on Pro Bono Net’s 20th Anniversary event, please visit

In Oklahoma, survivors of domestic and intimate partner violence often seek help from their local Family Justice Centers. To shield themselves from their abusers, survivors rely on a range of support staff at the Centers for assistance filling out legal forms. One critical form is called a Petition for Protective Order (PO). POs provide protection for survivors by telling abusers that they must stop their violent and harassing behavior. POs also allow law enforcement to intervene on a survivor’s behalf before a violent event occurs.

Destiny and Crystal, Navigators at Palomar, Oklahoma City’s Family Justice Center

Although filing POs is an important legal step for survivors, the process of completing these forms also forces survivors to painfully repeat their stories and specific details, sometimes a dozen times in their search for legal support and assistance. For advocates at Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma (LASO), the harmful repetition of filling out these forms demonstrated an urgent need for a new and more thoughtful system. After a Tulsa County judge reached out to LASO for help automating the PO process, LASO decided to team up with Pro Bono Net’s LawHelp Interactive online forms program to create a new practice of completing and sharing the information needed to create POs.

Using LawHelp Interactive’s expertise in developing online forms (LawHelp Interactive helped complete almost 42,000 domestic violence documents in 2019 alone), as well as help from Asemio, a community data systems company, LASO developed a tool that takes a trauma-informed approach towards filling out critical protective orders for survivors. This project was supported by funding from a Legal Services Corporation Technology Initiative Grant, a funding program that helps legal aid programs develop, test, and replicate innovative strategies to more effectively meet the legal needs of low-income Americans.

I spoke in depth with Margaret Hamlett Shinn, a lawyer and Community Education & Pro Se Coordinator at LASO, and Tara Saylor, an independent evaluator, about their experience developing and evaluating this tool.


What role does LASO play in its community?

Margaret: Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma is a statewide, nonprofit law firm. We have 18 offices across Oklahoma. Oklahoma, like every state, is largely rural with a few couple of major population centers. Most of our rural offices cover 8 or 9 counties. LASO is the main civil legal services provider for folks that can’t afford a lawyer. We partner with community agencies to have lawyers embedded at domestic violence safety centers, employment agencies, every place that we can find that it would help remove a barrier for someone who needs to maintain income, be safe, or get back on their feet.

Tell more about the work LASO does at domestic violence safety centers.

Margaret: When someone comes into a family justice center, they typically have a myriad of issues. The survivor may or may not want to file any legal action at the point, so we kind of stay in the background until there is a need for legal services. The center provides advocates who can help people navigate different systems like counseling, nurse examiner services, law enforcement reports, and human trafficking support services.

…when someone has suffered a trauma, typically like the ones inflicted in a domestic violence situation, the brain takes over in a way that we’re not accustomed to.

We provide two roles. First, we help advocates interview survivors in a more trauma informed way as they prepare the forms needed for a Protective Order. After that step, our lawyers look at cases where intervention may be needed, such as divorce, child custody, paternity, some other type of legal intervention.

How have survivors historically had to complete the PO process?

Margaret: Over the years, paper forms have developed and the court now requires a set of standard paper forms, which includes 8 forms. But in order to complete these forms, there is a packet of about 17 different pages of materials. There is a lot of handwriting and a lot of repetition. In some cases, filling out these forms means writing your name on the top for filing purposes, other times it’s providing the abuser’s name over and over again. Survivors can’t just tell their story one time, to one advocate, or fill out one very short form.

That sounds exhausting. How does this process affect survivors?

Margaret: I’m not an expert by any means, but I do know that when someone has suffered a trauma, typically like the ones inflicted in a domestic violence situation, the brain takes over in a way that we’re not accustomed to. It really goes into fight or flight mode and is trying to assimilate all of the things [someone needs] to survive. Really basic things become obscure. To avoid retraumatization, it’s important when working with a survivor to let them tell their own story and proceed in places that they allow you to, and to avoid continually referring to the pieces of trauma unless there is a need to. It’s more important to then continue on with the true help that someone needs. Typically at violence centers, that’s safety planning and answering questions like, “How do I proceed from here? Where do I get shelter?”

How does this tool help minimize retraumatization?

Tara: One of the most obvious ways that this tool reduces retraumatization is to shorten the PO process. Typically the paper PO process takes between an average of an hour to 2 hours for a victim to complete. But with the introduction of the LHI Connect tool, we observed that this time was reduced dramatically. With the tool, the average victim was completing the PO in only 45 minutes. By reducing the time that people take to retell their story and reducing the number of times that they have to, for example, write out their perpetrator’s name, it just naturally leads to less [retraumatization]. The electronic version gives the victim an opportunity to tell their story as they want to tell it. An advocate or navigator can go into the Connect system and fill out pieces of the PO very quickly and seamlessly in the order that the victim presents it. It’s harder to do that on paper.

How did your team design this tool to take a trauma-based approach?

Navigator Rhiannon Dennis and Billy the Police Officer at the entrance to the site of the Tulsa Family Safety Center in the Police/Courts Building in downtown Tulsa.

Margaret: First, we engaged the expertise of LawHelp Interactive’s Claudia Johnson. Having worked with Claudia for many years, we could count on her expertise working with all of the tools LHI offers. We wanted to develop an interview-style tool that would elicit information from survivors in a natural way, while also taking into consideration that everyone is different after experiencing trauma.

We ultimately went with the tool that allows the most flexibility for the navigator to move through the interview. We worked with LHI to integrate data from the Salesforce data management system at Palomar OKC. The Salesforce integration allows data management systems and databases like Salesforce to transfer information directly into an LHI Interview in a LHI Connect Point. This avoids the repetition of hand written forms and creates a unique way to manage review and printing of the PO’s prepared at a Safety/Justice Center. This new process makes it easy for a navigator or advocate to take a look at a case and find any holes the paperwork might be missing, assigned a matter for review by another, or close the file.

How else does this tool improve the PO process for survivors?

Tara: A victim will spend at least 3 hours in a Family Safety Center in Oklahoma. She’ll meet with multiple parties that can help her, which is a wonderful concept. Essentially all of the partners who can assist with the domestic violence case coalesce around the victim as opposed to the victim having to run all over town. That is such a huge benefit. But if there is a drawback, it’s that when the domestic violence survivor presents at a Safety Center, she may not realize that she will meet with an advocate, a navigator, a police officer, a nurse, a lawyer. And so that can be a really time-consuming day for victims. To add the PO process onto a victim is a lot. So I think it’s important to understand the context and why shaving the PO process down to 45 minutes is really significant in and of itself.

Was there anything that a survivor or navigator said that stood out to you during the evaluation process?

Tara: When we designed the data collection for this project, we were very sensitive to the fact that a survivor isn’t really served by meeting with an evaluator after hours of domestic violence assistance. So we were really careful to think about not just how can we reduce trauma in the PO process, but also how can we prevent trauma in the evaluation process. I purposefully did not meet with any survivors. But I did meet with advocates and navigators who work directly with survivors. What surprised me the most was how much time saved was reported. To save almost an hour, that’s perhaps a third or a quarter of the time a victim is there.

We also did a short survey for survivors to fill out, if they wanted to, after they completed the paper PO. I was especially interested in respondents who had previously filled out the paper PO. We asked whether respondents have previously filled out a paper PO so we could understand the difference between that experience and this new experience. Survivors commented things like “This was so much easier, it was calmer, it was more streamlined. It was better and faster.” All of the survivors comments were really positive. So I found really inspiring because this is a group of people who have filled out a PO both ways and much preferred the new way.

How else did the team ensure that the process become more accessible?

Margaret: One of the things we wanted to do was to translate the interview itself into Spanish in case someone comes into a center who wants to fill it out themselves. We have a pretty large Spanish speaking population in Oklahoma, so we translated not only the interview itself, but also the paperwork into Spanish and English on one page. We were told by the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office that when someone is served who is a Spanish speaker, [the perpetrator] often runs straight to the victim to interpret [the document]. So it puts everyone in jeopardy. When someone is served, they receive an official copy and they immediately see that document in their own language. The defendant or respondent is being served with papers that state exactly what the issue is and why they have to go to court and what they need to do in their own language.

What else LASO has done to support the development of this tool?

Margaret: We have implemented the use of the forms automation (not the integration) at two other Safety/Justice Centers in Oklahoma. The Tulsa Family Safety Center (FSC) with advocacy partners, Domestic Violence Intervention Services (DVIS). The FSC actually helped develop the concept initially and participated in the development and enhancements made to LHI Connect. We have also implemented the forms automation with ProjectSafe, serving survivors in Pottawatomie and Lincoln Counties in Oklahoma.

We’ve begun reaching out to other counties in Oklahoma who have Safety/Justice Centers or DV advocacy providers. Each of the 77 counties in Oklahoma have judges and sheriffs who want something to look a little differently on the forms or service information. With this tool, we can customize what a county might need so that if someone comes to me in Tulsa county but I know that they’re filing a PO in Pawnee county, we are able to have the forms and all of the information correct for reach county’s preferences, including the information the sheriff’s need for Service. This will be a lengthy process and but the tool is flexible enough to allow for this type of customization of one single automated interview.

What are you most excited about in rolling out this tool?

Tara: I’m really excited to see how the integration that they developed for this project is going to be used in totally different types of projects. The National Alliance for Hope and three family justice centers in Tulsa, New Orleans and Oregon, might use this. It’s just really exciting to see a project that’s been really focused in Oklahoma have a potentially national scale. The sky’s the limit in terms of how this integration with Salesforce can be applied to other legal problems. I think that’s very exciting. I just continue to be inspired by the creativity of LASO and Pro Bono Net in creating these tools that really have the ability to make a significant change in people’s lives.

Margaret: [The SalesForce integration developed] free code that’s available on Github. It could be used not just for the domestic violence context, but it is pretty impactful in the domestic violence context because the upshot is when one part of the system moves more efficiently, the human side of it has more time and capacity to really help people. For a navigator or advocate to have more time to work with someone to ensure some safety, then that’s to me the most impactful part of it. Any place we can expand the skills that the lawyer brings to the table in an efficient way for the benefit of other people, not just in our own community, that’s a good thing.

Interested in learning more about how you can use LHI Connect and integrate LHI forms with standard legal aid or advocacy case management systems? Contact Claudia Johnson, LawHelp Interactive Program Manager, at cjohnson@probono.net.

Pro Bono Net is celebrating twenty years of transforming access to justice. In honor of this milestone, our current Vice Chair, Ed Walters wrote an amazing blog about how Pro Bono Net utilizes technology to amplify and extend the reach of legal services to those who need it most. This blog was originally posted on Ed Walters’ LinkedIn page.

Pro Bono Net turns 20 years old this year, and millions of families, legal aid clinics, bar associations, courts, and other partners will celebrate this milestone anniversary. Over the years, this nonprofit has powered legal aid clinics and law firm pro bono efforts alike and helped countless people through some of the most difficult challenges of their lives.

Since the founding of Pro Bono Net by Mark O’BrienMichael Mills, and Michael Hertz in 1999, our nation has a much better understanding of the access to justice crisis. We now know that four out of five people with a legal problem will try to address that problem without the assistance of a lawyer, and we know that unrepresented people fare far less well than those with the help of a legal aid clinic or lawyer.

We also know that traditional pro bono services – volunteer legal services provided by licensed attorneys – provide critical support to people who need help, but they cannot cover enough ground to systemically address this crisis.

So at its twentieth anniversary, we understand better than ever the need for some way to amplify and extend the reach of legal services. Pro Bono Net has used software to coordinate the pro bono work across many different groups providing legal assistance: in legal aid clinics, law firms, and courts.

But Pro Bono Net has also used software as a force multiplier for good. It helps nonprofit legal aid professionals around the country to triage requests for help, stores answers to frequent questions, allows Web delivery of help into rural communities without clinics. Starting in the early days of the Web, Pro Bono Net saw that the Internet could allow us to help people at scale, beyond the old limitations of one-to-one representation, and so has helped to scale assistance nationwide. Pro Bono Net’s offerings such as Law HelpLaw Help InteractiveImmigration Advocates NetworkImmi, and Pro Bono Manager, are available through more than 40 state legal aid organizations and courts, and online everywhere.

The pro bono hours of lawyers are important, and scarce. Pro Bono Net’s tools helps firms to coordinate and measure those scarce hours for maximum impact. But there are not enough pro bono hours for lawyers alone to solve the access to justice problem. That’s why Pro Bono Net compliments the nonprofit work of lawyers with powerful software to power legal aid clinics and to help courts provide direct service to self-represented litigants.

At its 20th Anniversary, Pro Bono Net has connected people, coordinated the pro bono efforts of thousands of people, and created technology solutions to scale legal help and to meaningfully bridge the access to justice gap. I hope that the celebration of their team’s work next week scales nationwide as well.

Ed Walters is the CEO of Fastcase and serves as the Vice Chair of the Board of Pro Bono Net. On Pro Bono Net’s anniversary, you can find out more about its work and mission at www.probono.net/, and you can contribute to its mission at www.probono.net/donate/.

Hello! My name is Katie Lam and I am Pro Bono Net’s Legal Empowerment and Technology Fellow. With support from the Open Society Foundation, Pro Bono Net is partnering with civil justice communities across the nation to advance the strategy and practice of technology-enabled legal empowerment efforts in the US. Over the next year, I’ll be sharing our about our work here on Pro Bono Net’s blog.

In March 2019, members of the Immigration Advocates Network (IAN), a program of Pro Bono Net, and organizers from Make the Road New York’s (MRNY) Workplace Justice program held a co-design sprint to explore what role technology could play in improving the wage recovery process. This sprint resulted in ¡Reclamo!, a digital legal tool designed to make it easier to identify if someone has been a victim of wage theft.

Wage theft runs rampant in New York, with nearly 2 million workers experiencing wage theft in NYC alone. Researchers estimate that low-income and hourly employees working in places like restaurants, construction, and nail salons are cheated out of a cumulative $3.2 billion in wages and benefits. Of these workers, undocumented immigrants are especially at-risk of exploitation, retaliation by employers, and severely lack access to justice.

Wage theft victims who try to recover their wages often struggle to, especially without a lawyer. In addition, lawyers who do help them often find themselves caught up in necessary paperwork that doesn’t require legal expertise.

“Carlos approached an attorney at Make the Road NY to help. Only after Carlos was represented by an attorney, and they resubmitted the claim, did the DOL start investigating his case…” -from an interview with Carlos, a MRNY community member.

A growing movement of legal empowerment advocates and researchers have found that for community members like Carlos, relying entirely on public interest lawyers is an inefficient way of resolving workplace injustices. ¡Reclamo! strives to increase efficiency and recover stolen wages by empowering workers and non-lawyers to independently file wage theft claims. For lawyers, such a tool could reduce severe bottlenecks in the wage recovery process and allow attorneys to focus their legal expertise on critical tasks instead.

I spoke to Rodrigo Camarena, Director of the Immigration Advocates Network, about his experience leveraging co-design to enable access to justice.

¡Reclamo! was recently selected as a 2019 Worker’s Lab Innovation Fund Finalist. 

Congratulations!

Thanks!

What inspired IAN to collaborate with MRNY on this project?

Last fall, I read an article in El Diario where one of MRNY’s Workplace Justice advocates was quoted saying that worker intimidation and retaliation had risen in the Trump era. Anecdotally and in terms of clients coming in, there was a sense that employers felt emboldened by this president to intimidate and threaten workers who asked for their wages or who asked to be paid a fair wage. That angered me, so I reached out to Cristobal Gutierrez, who was quoted in that article and said, “Hey, we’re IAN, we use technology to help immigrants and their advocates advance immigrant justice. Can we chat?”

Were you familiar with wage theft before reading this article?

I was familiar with wage theft as a recurring problem among immigrant communities, but I found it worrying that employers are using this opportunity in this era to further exploit people. I also thought that wage theft is an issue we can tackle locally without requiring changes in federal laws, so I felt like this was an opportunity to take action.

When you first started this conversation with Cristobal, did the topic of human-centered design come up pretty quickly?

Initially, we wanted to learn as much as we could, so we did a lot of observational engagements. We went over to Make the Road and tried to learn about their process. We wanted to put ourselves in their shoes and see what they dealt with on a day to day basis. Through that period of watching and observing them, and getting to know Cristobal and their ideas around how to work in a smarter way, co-design emerged as a sensible strategy.

Why use co-design?

Even though we are immigration subject matter experts, we are not labor and wage-hour experts. So I think in this case, and like in other cases, we really needed to leverage the expertise of people who are doing the work on the ground. It felt natural to include Make the Road’s attorneys, paralegals, and worker organizers in the design process so they could educate us on the issue and we could help them identify opportunities for technology to play a role.

Was there a key lesson that you took away from the process?

One lesson we learned was even though we were working to think of a new intervention or a new way of approaching a problem, we kept getting fixed in how the process currently works and what rules we need to follow to file wage theft claims. It took us a while to think outside the box. For us, that meant not really addressing the wage theft form itself and instead, being more strategic about what ultimately needs to happen for workers to have access to justice. In this case, that means the ability to file wage theft claims in a secure and efficient manner. So while we were thinking about recovering wages, it took us a minute to really think about other strategies and how technology may play a role.

What advice do you have for fellow civic technologists around building trust?

We spent a lot of time listening and building the relationship. We went out to MRNY’s offices a couple of times and sat with their members and listened to their challenges. We didn’t come in there saying, “Hey, we have all of the technology to solve every problem.” We just wanted to learn more about the issue. We approached the challenge together. We didn’t come in there with a set of ideas that we wanted to impose. It was a much more generative process.

¡Reclamo! tackles a problem associated with access to workplace justice, immigrant justice, and economic justice. Why did IAN and MRNY prioritize legal empowerment as a remedy during the sprint?

Filing the wage claim form is just one part of the puzzle. Ultimately, the work is about educating workers on their rights. It’s about informing workers so that they know that they have power and agency and that collectively, we can change laws and the status quo. Scaling or accelerating the filing of wage theft claims is a component of workplace justice, but the ultimate goal is achieving structural change. In this case, that process starts with legal empowerment.

What do next steps look like for ¡Reclamo!?

We are actively fundraising so that we can build and test a beta version of ¡Reclamo!. We’re focused on supporting workers in the construction industry. We’ll start with construction, release a beta version of the project, test it a lot, try to break it, and see what happens from there.

What excites you most about ¡Reclamo!?

I’m excited for ¡Reclamo! to become a household name. I want workers to share it. I want worker advocates to feel like it’s their own. I want to hear stories about ¡Reclamo! saving people time, that the process of reclaiming wages wasn’t as scary since you can approach it from your cell phone or from a computer lab at a library. I want to help demystify the wage theft claim process and really give people a sense of power and being able to come forward. As an immigrant or undocumented worker, it’s extremely difficult to come forward and communicate that you are a victim of wage theft, especially in this climate, and so once people have that confidence and trust, I want workers to be able to use it and reclaim what is theirs.

Pro Bono Net is celebrating twenty years of transforming access to justice. In honor of this milestone, our current Board Chair, Dave Heiner wrote an amazing blog about Pro Bono Net’s relationship with Microsoft. This blog was originally posted on Dave Heiner’s LinkedIn page.

Ten years ago, Mark O’Brien, the Executive Director of Pro Bono Net, came to Microsoft to meet with Brad Smith. (Brad was the general counsel of Microsoft at the time and now is its president.) Mark had a straightforward message: Microsoft ought to get involved in Pro Bono Net’s mission. Mark had co-founded Pro Bono Net a decade earlier because he saw the potential of using the internet to help close the access to justice gap in the United States. Brad could see right away that if that was a good idea in 1999, it was an even better idea in 2009, as the internet had become more powerful and broadly accessible.

Brad asked if I’d be interested in getting involved with Pro Bono Net. I was immediately intrigued. I’d recently read Peter Singer’s book, The Most Good You Can Do, which develops Singer’s ideas for “effective altruism.” For me effective altruism meant putting my legal skills to use to help people who have a legal problem but cannot afford a lawyer. I was focused on undocumented immigrants, people who typically face great hardship to come to the United States, often fleeing a dangerous situation at home. They find themselves caught up in a foreign and complex legal system, often alone, and without a lawyer.  And chances are they don’t speak English.  My first immigrant client was a political refugee from Eritrea, who followed a circuitous and dangerous path through Ethiopia and South Africa to South America and eventually to the States. He had been imprisoned and physically tortured by the Eritrean government. He was granted political asylum, and today he lives with his wife and children in Seattle, where he is a small business owner.

That was gratifying work, but I’d been wondering if there was a way to effect more systemic change—to help thousands of lawyers to provide pro bono representation, or to help millions of people who can’t afford a lawyer to help themselves. I was the chief antitrust lawyer for Microsoft at the time, and that work was focused on the value that Windows delivers by serving as a “platform” that connected computer users and applications developers.  I wondered: if a platform like Windows provides so much value in the commercial space, could platforms be built to help close the access to justice gap?

So when Brad told me about Pro Bono Net’s mission—leveraging the power of technology and collaboration to promote access to justice—I was eager to get involved. In partnership with the Legal Services Corporation, Pro Bono Net already offered platform software called LawHelp that legal aid organizations in at least 30 states and territories are using today to efficiently build statewide web sites that  provide helpful information to people who can’t afford a lawyer. And it offered a service called LawHelp Interactive that helped people to fill out legal forms (to contest an eviction, or to apply for an order of protection against an abuser, etc.) so that they could represent themselves more effectively. There seemed to be a great opportunity to build on emerging technologies and to really scale up platforms that could help millions of people.

Today LawHelp, LawHelp Interactive and other Pro Bono Net offerings are available in more than 40 states and territories. These and other Pro Bono Net programs facilitate collaboration—collaboration between legal aid organizations and people in need, collaboration among legal aid organizations and collaboration with the courts. And that is essential because technology alone cannot ensure that access to the justice system is accessible to all. That requires people working together. That is also why Pro Bono Net created the Immigration Advocates Network, the largest network of immigrant rights organizations. Today the Immigration Advocates Network is leveraging the power of cloud technology to offer services like Immi, an online service that helps undocumented immigrants to figure out if they have a path to obtain legal immigration status, and Citizenshipworks, an online service that helps people who qualify to apply for citizenship. Both are available nationally and support the work of hundreds of local nonprofit organizations that can leverage these platforms to drive innovation in service delivery.

As Pro Bono Net celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, the promise of technology to help secure access to justice is greater than ever. I bet Mark and his co-founder Michael Hertz weren’t thinking about artificial intelligence when they founded Pro Bono Net in the late 1990s. Yet today AI is transforming large parts of the economy and society more broadly. AI is helping businesses to seize new opportunities, doctors to diagnose illnesses, and drivers to get to their destination (and sometimes AI is even doing the driving!). Can AI help people who have to navigate the justice system on their own? That is precisely the mission of a prototype solution, aptly called Legal Navigator, that is a joint project of the Legal Services Corporation, Pro Bono Net, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Microsoft and Accenture. Legal Navigator aims to leverage AI to connect people with the right resources—legal aid lawyers, court rules, online forms, or other self-help resources—far more effectively than a simple web search.

Next month Brad Smith will deliver the keynote address at Pro Bono Net’s 20th anniversary celebration. There will be a lot to talk about. Every day seems to bring a new story about the societal challenges that technological advances can bring—for privacy, for the environment, even for democracy. Brad will share his thoughts on how we can benefit from technological innovation while preserving timeless values. I know one piece of the puzzle: we need to ensure that technology is put to work to benefit everybody. That’s why I’m excited to see what Pro Bono Net—with support from the technology community—can build in the next ten years to promote access to justice for all.

According to the National Council on Aging, approximately 1 in 10 Americans age 60 or over has experienced some form of elder abuse, but studies estimate that only 1 in 14 cases are reported to authorities.

With support from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), Pro Bono Net and the Center for Elder Law & Justice have partnered on an initiative to create and expand two online tools to enable innovative partnership and outreach models to identify, respond to and remedy elder abuse and financial exploitation: 1.) the Legal Risk Detector, a web-based screening and referral app designed for use by social workers, nurses and other professionals in aging; and 2.) online forms, powered by LawHelp Interactive, to help victims of abuse and exploitation access legal remedies available to them.

For nonprofit legal aid organizations and professionals serving the aging, this three-part webinar series will highlight the goals of this project, how these tools are being used by senior-serving organizations, and how other programs can take advantage of resources and learning developed under this project. Nonprofit legal services staff, victim advocates, social workers, librarians, educators and health care professionals working with aging populations are welcome.

We hope you are able to join us for this free webinar series!

Questions about this series? Please contact jtheil@probono.net

This series is supported by grant number 2017-VF-GX-K135, U.S. Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), for the FY 2017 Field-Generated Innovations in Addressing Elder Abuse and Financial Exploitation Project. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this program are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Disaster1Pro Bono Net and the Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN) are pleased to announce the launch of a new two-part media campaign that will help connect volunteer attorneys with disaster legal aid resources and amplify legal rights information to communities impacted by natural disasters. The first campaign is intended to connect lawyers with disaster relief volunteer opportunities, trainings and resources, and a growing national network centered on disaster response and resiliency. Click below to watch the full video and http://www.disasterlegalaid.org/get-started to learn more.

The second campaign will aim to help inform underserved communities impacted by natural disasters about their legal rights and connect them with self-help information and legal help resources.

Both campaigns will be advertised via DAN’s people-based marketing platform and consist of videos and creative ad inventory donated by DAN media partners, including Facebook, LiveIntent, NinthDecimal, Viant, Teads and Oath . This work is the result of an IdeaJam Hackathon held last year that marked the beginning of DAN’s new pro bono initiative. The campaign is a collaboration between DAN and Pro Bono Net, and in partnership with Voices for Civil Justice, Lone Star Legal Aid, the ABA Center for Pro Bono, the ABA Young Lawyers Division Disaster Legal Services Program, and the National Legal Aid & Defender Association.

Disaster2

Pro Bono Net would like to extend our special thanks to Miri Miller, Associate General Counsel, Americas, Dentsu Aegis Network and Kathleen Dowse, Director, Program Management and Global Communication, Carat, for spearheading the campaign, along with campaign partners Fetch and iProspect for their invaluable creative and design expertise in developing the campaign.

To learn more about the campaign, please visit DisasterLegalAid.org/Get-Started.

To learn more about other ways Pro Bono Net’s programs mobilize and network the legal community to assist the legal needs of disaster survivors, visit  https://www.probono.net/our-work/initiatives/disaster/.

Pro Bono Net is celebrating twenty years of transforming access to justice. In honor of this milestone, co-founder of Pro Bono Net, Michael Hertz wrote an amazing blog about how we got our start, and how far we’ve come. This blog was originally posted on Michael Hertz’s LinkedIn page.

This year we are celebrating twenty years of Pro Bono Net. As one of the co-founders, I’m proud to see how the organization has developed over the years, establishing a national presence through partnerships and providing access to justice for the poor and other vulnerable populations.

As with a lot of technology-based solutions, the idea for Pro Bono Net came out of the need for a solution to a basic problem. I was working as a young partner at Latham & Watkins, and heavily involved in developing its pro bono program, while my co-founder Mark O’Brien was managing the pro bono program at Davis Polk. We knew each other well from meeting in pro bono circles and both became involved in a series of cases stemming from the 1993 Golden Venture incident, where a cargo ship carrying a large number of Chinese immigrants ran aground in New York. All survivors from the ship claimed asylum but were detained. Many firms across the city took cases on a pro bono basis, including Latham & Watkins and Davis Polk.

It was a massive undertaking for every lawyer involved in the Golden Venture cases to ensure that they were able to collaborate with each other. This was in the early stages of the internet, so in order to be as efficient as possible we were faxing documents, having conference calls and meeting together in person wherever we could.

The Golden Venture cases went on for a number of years and by the time we were done it was obvious to Mark and I that there had to be a better way of coordinating pro bono work. The internet had come a long way by 1998 and we could see how the new web technology could be used to make a difference.

Pro Bono Net came from a pretty simple idea of building a technology platform that would link all pro bono lawyers together. What Mark and I wanted was to set up a place on the web where the legal services and public interest lawyers, volunteers and private attorneys could collaborate on issues more effectively than they were able to do at the time.

With this idea in mind, I applied for support from the Soros Foundation’s justice program and was approved for a fellowship. I took what I thought would be a short leave of absence from Latham & Watkins and shortly afterwards Mark came over from Davis Polk. It was wonderful to have the support of our firms at the time and also the support of Michael Mills, the then Chief Knowledge Officer at Davis Polk, who is still a member of our board today. We were incubated at the Soros Foundation for a couple of years until we moved out to our current office and grew our investor base.

Pretty soon after we set up Pro Bono Net we saw how it worked in doing exactly what we intended. When 9/11 happened, the legal community in New York was able to use the platform to respond very quickly to people who had lost friends and family members in the attack. Legal groups were able to collaborate and assist people in navigating the legal system and accessing help. This was amazing to see and to be able to help people in this way really meant something and it encouraged us to keep developing our services.

Something that really helped Pro Bono Net to grow and become what it is today was the interest that the Legal Services Corporation took in working with us. By partnering with them we were able to secure more funding and create connections with legal aid services around the country. This resulted in the creation of LawHelp.org, which has expanded public access to legal rights information and to pro bono lawyers. It’s been really exciting to watch how Pro Bono Net has evolved over the years with the development of diverse legal services and technologies, all with the aim of assisting those in need.

Another of these important developments has been the creation of the Immigration Advocates Network, where we worked to bring together immigration services and groups from around the country. Again, Pro Bono Net has found different ways of using technology in order to provide immigration services where possible and this means that we can help people in areas of the US where there may be very few immigration experts to assist those in need.

The use and development of technology has been so important in getting Pro Bono Net to where it is today. Looking back on everything that we’ve achieved in the twenty years since we created the platform, and seeing how technology has developed at such a rapid pace in recent years makes me really excited for the things we can continue to do to expand the platform and provide broader and smarter services for the pro bono community.

If you would like to learn more about Pro Bono Net and the ways you can help us to continue in these developments please feel free to drop me a line. I look forward to sharing more of our stories in the future.

The Pro Bono Net team in the New York offices today are pictured above. The earlier image showed the team from the early start-up years.

PLI, a leading provider of legal training and CLE, grants complimentary access to its robust catalog of training programs to more than 500 nonprofit and legal services organizations across the country.

This tremendous value is available to both individuals and organizations that directly provide pro bono legal services. With a wealth of programs, ranging from Ethics to Immigration to Professional Skills, lawyers and organizations working on behalf of pro bono clients can stay up-to-date on the latest legal developments, improve their legal skills, and fulfill their CLE requirements.

“It is truly amazing that you offer your programs free of charge to the myriad organizations that engage in full-time advocacy for marginalized people,” said one user. “You do this in the best possible way: without rhetoric or partisanship, with your eye on simply preparing the legal community to do a good job.”

PLI’s pro bono privileged membership has proved popular and garnered a diverse userbase. More than 100,000 legal professionals have utilized PLI’s renowned training and instruction to improve their guidance to pro bono clients.

“What excellent presentations, these speakers were all dynamos,” said another. “Please continue these excellent programs which are critical to meeting the huge need for volunteer lawyers. Keep it up. You are needed!”

PLI is a membership-based nonprofit institution that has mentored the legal community for more than eighty years.  Find out more at www.PLI.edu and apply today. Or contact PLIProBonoMembership@pli.edu with any questions.

Frequently asked questions

What does PLI Pro Bono Privileged Membership include?

Pro bono privileged members have unlimited access to PLI’s robust catalog of training programs at no charge. This includes entrance to more than 400 programs that feature 4,000 distinguished volunteer faculty from private practice, in-house counsel, government agencies, and legal services/nonprofit organizations across a range of mediums:

How does my organization apply and become a Pro Bono Privileged Member at PLI?

Complete and submit our short application if your organization meets the following criteria:

  • Registered as an IRC Section 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization
  • Have at least 3 attorneys on staff
  • Provide direct pro bono legal services to low-income communities

What if my organization does not qualify? Can I apply individually?

If your organization does not qualify for our membership program, we grant complimentary access to individuals seeking to take any one of our programs on a case-by-case basis. Discounts and fee waivers are available to:

  • Lawyers and staff working for nonprofit or legal services organizations
  • Pro bono lawyers providing no-fee legal assistance to clients
  • Government lawyers
  • Judges and judicial law clerks
  • Law professors and law students
  • Senior attorneys (age 65 and over)
  • Unemployed lawyers or individuals with financial hardships

All qualified individuals are encouraged to apply.

Tim Baran is the LawHelpNY program manager at Pro Bono Net. His two-decade journey in the legal space has taken him from the Federal Courts to Law Firm Library Director to Legal Tech Ambassador to Legal Marketing. He works closely with legal services and community-based organizations and manages initiatives that leverage technology and LawHelpNY’s online resources to expand access to legal assistance for low-income and vulnerable communities and strengthen collaboration within the civil justice sector in New York. These are his thoughts on his first ever Equal Justice Conference.

Summer camp, winter camp…band camp. People who attend conferences year after year refer to their experience as fondly as they recall their adolescent and teen camping experience.

Summer camp is how I refer to my dozen or so years at the ABA Techshow, although it’s in February, in frigid Chicago. Why? Because it’s a fond recollection of spending the summer in the Poconos during some of my teen years, meeting new people and building meaningful friendships, learning new things, and just having a grand ole time

My first Equal Justice Conference (2019) in Louisville felt like the beginning of such a tradition, another summer camp experience, because, well, I never went to winter camp. A “justice” summer camp. My Twitter connections – people I deeply admire – became IRL friends. Hanging out with my Pro Bono Net teammates drew us even closer, if that’s even possible.

But it wasn’t just about all the feels, it was also about all the learning. Absorbing the rich experience and knowledge of those around me who’ve been walking the talk for many many years was almost overwhelming. I imagined one of the days being devoted to “speed dating” where we schedule chats in 15-minutes increments with people we want to learn from, give to, and build relationships with. One can wish.

The learning continued at dynamic sessions with thoughtful speakers although the multitude of concurrent sessions made it difficult to choose. A highlight was attending Rebecca Sandefur’s session because when Rebecca Sandefur speaks, we listen. Another was the session on community lawyering. The exuberance and passion on display was electric and inspiring, and their inclusion of the community they serve on the panel drove the message home. A model for future panels.

They say teaching is the best way to learn, and the opportunity to participate in a couple of panels was indeed instructive and a privilege. I witnessed with pride, my teammates, Quisquella, Mike, Jess, Claudia, and Mirenda prepare for and give presentations. Liz, weathering all sorts of travel issues, may have pulled a Hermione to participate in four panels! She modeled calm and cool under pressure.

Finally, the community. We’re nothing without community, and oh, what a community!  Lawyers, techies, project managers, pro bono and civil justice advocates…all working to address the legal needs of the marginalized and underserved. One of the highlights for me was the POC luncheon with fellow sisters and brothers of color in the access to justice space supporting each other, sharing our stories, and bringing our perspectives.

Can’t wait for next year’s justice summer camp!