Throughout the past year, Pro Bono Net has worked with courts and legal aid programs facing closures and service disruptions to ensure vital protection for at risk domestic violence survivors.  Our LawHelp Interactive program, which helps people create free and accurate legal forms, is a key strategy in this work.  

In New York State, the Family Offense Petition Program — a collaboration between LawHelp Interactive, the New York Courts and DV agencies — successfully filed more than 9,300 domestic violence petitions across the state in 2020, the highest in the program’s history. More than 3,100 petitions were filed through the program in Q3 2020, more than any previous quarter since the program was established in 2014. These landmark metrics reflect both the importance of this program that increases access to the courts, and the troubling increase in domestic violence during the pandemic that has been reported across the country

The Family Offense Petition Program (FOP) allows advocates, legal aid and government agencies to e-file petitions on behalf of survivors of abuse. With the FOP Program, trained domestic violence advocates across New York State use an online document assembly interview to help survivors of domestic abuse file petitions using Pro Bono Net’s award-winning LawHelp Interactive document assembly technology. The petition information is then electronically transferred directly into the court’s case-management system. As a result of extensive outreach and training, the program has approved advocates in all 62 New York State counties from a wide range of organizations, which include legal aid offices, probation agencies, YMCAs, and a team of social workers at a hospital. 

After a successful pilot in Bronx Family Court in 2014, the program was expanded statewide. The initiative is the product of a Grant from the Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women STOP Program and a collaboration between Pro Bono Net, New York state courts, and a wide range of stakeholders.

The Family Offense Petition Program makes the process of completing essential documents easier for litigants, advocates, and courts. It helps advocates seamlessly complete court papers with a LawHelp Interactive questionnaire, allowing them to add more details that strengthen litigants’ petitions, gets the petitions processed faster, and strengthens their relationship with courts. For litigants already detailing with stressful circumstances, this means less time spent travelling to court (when courts are open), more detailed legal papers, and less waiting time overall. It can also help victims feel more in control of their case. For courts, the tool produces legible court forms from trained advocates, saves hours in data entry, allows them to adjudicate faster, and streamlines the process so that they can handle more cases each day. 

Well before the pandemic, the FOP program played a key role in helping DV survivors complete and file forms to ensure their safety and protection, and access remote Skype hearings in many counties. The FOP program’s technology and collaboration strategy has proved even more essential in the last year, and will continue to help ensure thousands of survivors can access critical services and support under the most difficult circumstances. 

You can read more about how LawHelp Interactive helps those at risk of domestic violence, here. To learn more about the Family Offense Petition project, visit  our blog posts: Commemorating Domestic Violence Awareness Month with tools by LawHelp Interactive or NY Courts Honored with LTN Innovation Award for the Most Innovative Use of Technology in a Pro Bono Project.

Pro Bono Net, in collaboration with the Center for Elder Law & Justice (CELJ), is pleased to announce the release of a new set of resources, available at AgingSafely.us. These resources will help legal aid programs and their community partners better identify, respond to, and remedy elder abuse and financial exploitation:

  • A new set of online forms, powered by LawHelp Interactive, to help victims of abuse and exploitation access legal remedies available to them.
  • A Toolkit with information on how older adults, or providers or caregivers assisting them, can use the online forms to address and protect against common forms of abuse and financial exploitation
  • A Toolkit for programs interested in adopting the Legal Risk Detector, a web-based screening and referral app designed for use by social workers, nurses, and other professionals in aging who work with vulnerable older adults 

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. Financial exploitation of older Americans is among the most common forms of elder abuse, and the increasing sophistication of scams and fraud targeting older people is exacerbating this issue. Meaningful and timely access to legal interventions can help break the cycle of abuse, restore stability for the affected individual, and protect them from abuse in the future. The resources featured on AgingSafely.us highlight how legal services can be a crucial component of elder care, and how new technology can help identify and respond to these issues. 

The free online forms available on AgingSafely.us were developed with input from legal experts at CELJ and other nonprofit legal aid organizations serving older adults, and they can be used in any state. They cover three areas: 

  • A cover sheet for interstate enforcement of a protection order for seniors who already have a domestic violence protection order and might be travelling out of state
  • A safety planning tool
  • Consumer law forms to help identity and address theft and financial exploitation issues, including
    • Letter to a creditor to request debt forgiveness when a bill is owed
    • Letter to a creditor to dispute a charges from a bank or company
    • Letter to a credit bureau to dispute an item on a credit report

The consumer law forms are available in two formats: a set designed for use by older adults and a set designed for use by advocates or other high-volume users. 

“I am very excited about the availability of these new online forms and hope domestic violence counselors and support groups encourage their clients to take advantage of the safely planning tool, which is specifically crafted to the needs of older adults,” said Claudia Johnson, LawHelp Interactive Program Manager. “And with identity theft and financial exploitation on the rise, the consumer law forms will help many older adults gain peace of mind and control of their credit records.” 

The Legal Risk Detector was initially created through a collaboration of Pro Bono Net, JASA and Georgetown University Law Center in 2016, and expanded in 2017 in collaboration with the Center for Elder Law & Justice.  Developed using Neota Logic software and designed for use on tablets, laptops, and mobile devices, the Risk Detector enables non-legal professionals to conduct legal screening, triage, and referral activities for homebound and other vulnerable seniors in settings that are often difficult to reach through traditional service models. The screening encompasses financial exploitation, consumer debt, housing, abuse, and health care matters – legal issues that disproportionately impact the elderly but often go undetected or unreported. Pro Bono Net has partnered with programs in other states to adopt the Risk Detector or create state-specific versions of it.

A recent evaluation of the Risk Detector’s use by CELJ found that, in the Western New York region, the Risk Detector helps to identify cases from a variety of vulnerable and marginalized groups, including veterans, clients who live in rural areas, disabled people, and those who live alone, many of whom would not otherwise be identified as victims of abuse and would not engage in legal action. This shows that legal technology tools like the Risk Detector that are designed for use by non-legal organizations can help increase access to and awareness of legal services for hard to reach communities.”

“Elder abuse is such a prevalent crime but, here at CELJ, we realized that many of our community partners did not know how to recognize the signs, “ said Karen Nicolson, CEO for the Center for Elder Law & Justice.  “Although both domestic violence and elder abuse have similarities, the manifestations of elder abuse often are passed off by the abuser as normal signs of aging.  This easy-to-use tool will help our community partners  flag abuse and to also understand when a referral for legal assistance could be helpful.”

The Legal Risk Detector Project Toolkit contains information about the origins of the Legal Risk Detector, what it is, how it works, how the Center for Elder Law & Justice has used it, how it can be customized for new regions, as well as suggested practices and tips for deployment.  AgingSafely.us also features recordings from a three-part webinar series highlighting how programs can take advantage of these resources to create or expand innovative partnership models to serve older adults.

For more information about the Legal Risk Detector, contact Liz Keith, Program Director, at lkeith@probono.net. To learn more about LawHelp Interactive, contact Claudia Johnson, LawHelp Interactive Program Manager, at  cjohnson@probono.net.  


Pro Bono Net (http://probono.net) is a national nonprofit that works to bring the power of the law to all by building cutting edge digital tools and strengthening collaboration in the civil justice sector to tackle justice problems. LawHelpInteractive.org and the Legal Risk Detector have been developed and are maintained by Pro Bono Net. 

The Center for Elder Law & Justice (https://elderjusticeny.org) is a civil legal services agency in Buffalo, New York, serving eight Western New York counties. Since 1978, CELJ has provided comprehensive free legal services to the community’s seniors, people with disabilities, and the low-income population.  

***

AgingSafely.us and the resources featured on it were supported through grant number 2017-VF-GX-K135 to Pro Bono Net from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) for Field-Generated Innovations in Addressing Elder Abuse and Financial Exploitation. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in these resources are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Practising Law Institute (PLI) is a nonprofit learning organization dedicated to keeping attorneys and other professionals at the forefront of knowledge and expertise. PLI offers pro bono training, scholarships and access to live programs, webcasts, and on-demand archived programs, as well as an extensive Pro Bono Membership program. 

Pro Bono Net was lucky enough to interview Leonard McKenzie, PLI’s Scholarship/Pro Bono Privileged Membership Manager; and Janet Siegel, PLI’s Director of Pro Bono. We were able to discuss topics such as PLI’s Pro Bono Membership and its benefits, PLI’s Pro Bono Podcast, what topics are addressed in their plethora of programs, and what scholarships PLI offers and who qualifies.

 Question: How would you describe PLI and the work it does?

Leonard McKenzie

Leonard McKenzie: We are a nonprofit educational organization with pro bono at the core of our mission. Our official description notes that we are “dedicated to keeping attorneys and other professionals at the forefront of knowledge and expertise.” We do this by offering a variety of programs and publications developed and presented by world-class faculty and experts.

Question: Can you share with us a little about your roles at PLI?

Janet Siegel

Janet Siegel: As Director of Pro Bono, I am responsible for the advancement of PLI’s pro bono initiative and am continually looking for opportunities for PLI to help the access-to-justice community. Along with the pro bono team, I carefully monitor new developments to be sure that we are meeting the needs of our pro bono customers. 

Leonard McKenzie: As Scholarship/Pro Bono Privileged Membership Manager, my primary role is to oversee our scholarship program, where we grant individuals access to our content at little or no charge. I also manage our Pro Bono Membership program, which grants access to organizations at no cost.

Question: Can you tell us about what topics you feature in your programming and how you choose them? Which programs are most important in today’s climate?

Janet Siegel: Our pro bono team works to raise awareness of the great need for pro bono representation, which is especially urgent during this pandemic, and offers training to support attorneys so that they can better represent pro bono and legal services clients. We offer programs on a wide array of ongoing substantive topics of interest, including immigration, domestic violence, criminal justice, nonprofit organizations, consumer bankruptcy, housing, and veterans’ issues, as well as updates on important new legal developments relevant to the access-to-justice community. 

We choose new programs by following current developments to determine what programs might be of the greatest assistance.  Responding to recent events, we offered a series of web-based programs (now available on-demand) on the impact of COVID-19 on immigration, nonprofit organizations, housing, and employment, as well as best practices and ethical issues in providing remote legal services, all of which drew very large audiences. In response to the protest movement in the wake of George Floyd’s death earlier this year, we quickly organized our civil rights, diversity, and criminal justice programs so that they could be accessed easily at pli.edu/accessjustice.

Question: Can you explain what the Pro Bono Membership is at PLI? What are the benefits of being a PLI Member?

Leonard McKenzie: PLI’s Pro Bono Privileged Membership is a program we started over a decade ago, with the objective to grant IRC Section 501(c)(3) organizations access to our programs at no cost. We now have over 600 Members nationwide.  Pro Bono Privileged Members receive free, unlimited access to a wide selection of live programming, including over 10,000 hours of on-demand programs, as well as our state-of-the-art Interactive Learning Center. They can earn CLE credit free of charge and manage their credits and compliance requirements using PLI’s My Credit Tracker tool. More information is available on our Pro Bono Privileged Membership site

Question: Does PLI offer scholarships? How does that work?

Leonard McKenzie: Yes, we offer scholarships to a wide range of individuals, including law students, pro bono attorneys, attorneys experiencing a financial hardship, and government employees, just to name a few.  Scholarships generally range from a 75% to 100% discount, and the process for applying is quite simple. Visit this link, complete the application form, and click “submit.” We’re proud to have a very generous scholarship program — this year alone, we have granted access to over 2,800 applicants.

Question: What topics are showcased in PLI’s Pursuing Justice: The Pro Bono Files podcast?

Janet Siegel: The purpose of the podcast is to highlight the “real world” experiences of lawyers who are doing pro bono work and to encourage other attorneys to consider pro bono representation. We have covered a variety of topics, including attorneys helping with disaster relief, helping small businesses during the pandemic, and helping veterans obtain their benefits.  

Question: How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed how PLI operates?

Leonard McKenzie: I would say that the biggest change is that for the past nine months, we have not hosted any in-person programs.  However, when it comes to technology, PLI has always been extremely forward thinking, and as a result we have been able to deliver our programs online in both live and on-demand formats. We also work closely with state regulators to be certain that all our programs are compliant with any changing regulations during these challenging times.

Janet Siegel: PLI has always supported the legal profession and, more broadly, the rule of law.  We are proud to support the access-to-justice community, and will continue to provide the highest quality, timely training programs for both pro bono attorneys and attorneys working at nonprofit and legal services organizations so that they can better represent their clients. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confirmed speakers to date include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Pro Bono Opportunities Guide

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

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

Remote Legal Support Platform

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

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

LawHelp Interactive

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

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

Immigration Advocates Network’s Pro Bono Resource Center

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

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


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

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

Ashley Carter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn More

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

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

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

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

Quoted from a LiveHelp user:

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

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

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

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

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






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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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