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

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

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

National Pro Bono Opportunities Guide

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

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

Remote Legal Support Platform

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

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

LawHelp Interactive

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

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

Immigration Advocates Network’s Pro Bono Resource Center

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

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


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

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

Ashley Carter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn More

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

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

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

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

Quoted from a LiveHelp user:

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

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

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

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

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






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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Background

Our Method

Our Keys to Success

Know your tech

Over-communicate

Patience

Conclusion


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

Why a Co-Design Workshop?

The Key Difference

Activity 1: Photo Feedback

Activity 2: Creating Icons with Autodraw

Activity 3: Imagining Screens

Conclusion


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

Background

***

Think of data as borrowed, not given

Set your team up for success

Logistical details matter!


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

This blog post was originally created and published by New Americans Campaign on their blog “From New Americans: Stories from across the Campaign.” Thank you to the New Americans Campaign for granting us permission to repost this piece

The online platform Citizenshipworks was launched in 2011 to make applying for citizenship easier and more accessible. It was designed by three non-profits, Immigration Advocates Network, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center and Pro Bono Net, to provide in-person naturalization service providers with an online tool to help complete naturalization applications.

The world has turned upside down since then because of the COVID-19 pandemic. While people shelter in place, remote legal services are the only way to keep the naturalization momentum going. The Citizenshipworks platform and team have been at the ready and in demand for the New Americans Campaign partners. We reached out to Sandra Sandoval Chavarria, Citizenshipworks Program Manager, to learn more about how the online platform is meeting this moment.

New Americans Campaign: How has the world of virtual review changed from your perspective?

Sandra Sandoval Chavarria: We already had in place virtual review partners, Advancing Justice LAGMHC, BPSOS, and several IRC offices. If someone starts an N-400 application online through Citizenshipworks and has a problem, we refer them to one of these partners who provide this remote service.

But we have seen changes. For example, there are a number of folks that are coming in on their own. During regular times, it was usually about a quarter to 30% of the visitors to the site. But during this COVID-19 period, about half of our traffic is made up of what we call DIY (do it yourself) applicants. We will frequently refer them to a partner for legal support. The other half of the traffic is from our partners who use Citizenshipworks as the starting point for applicants.

New Americans Campaign: But now the world is completely different. Are more partners reaching out to you?

Sandra Sandoval Chavarria: Yes. We hosted a series of four webinars at the end of February and the beginning of March, where we shared the experience of our virtual review partners. There were over a hundred people who attended each of the sessions. Our partners have been really creative with how they are using Citizenshipworks, or how they might change their workflow. I think the pandemic has motivated partners to think about what these remote services should look like.

We’ve always encouraged partners to think about a process in which they provide some sort of service over the phone, whether it’s getting people to start on Citizenshipworks, or to begin the application ahead of a workshop event. That way, if a problem comes up, they can reach out beforehand.

New Americans Campaign: Do you have examples?

Sandra Sandoval Chavarria: One example that comes to mind is how the Immigrant Welcome Center in Indianapolis and the virtual review team at Asian Americans Advancing Justice-LA are working together. The Immigrant Welcome Center is a NAC affiliate who needed more remote legal capacity during this time. So, the Immigrant Welcome Center will help the applicant work their way through the application and then they will refer them to Carolyn Kim and her team at Advancing Justice for a final legal review and next steps.

We also have partners like Arkansas United who works with Michigan United. They’ve been a really good example of partners that have built their own workflows in which they incorporate volunteers. For people who might not be tech savvy, Arkansas United is able to help clients create their accounts over the phone and answer basic questions. Ultimately someone at Michigan United reviews the application. While aspects of Citizenshipworks and a workshop model worked really well, we are trying to replicate it in a way that works over the phone and still serves their populations.

New Americans Campaign: Since the pandemic began keeping everyone at home, have you noticed changes in the ways that the lawful permanent residents, themselves, are coming to Citizenshipworks, or accessing and completing the N-400 form?

Sandra Sandoval Chavarria: We have always wondered whether people would be hesitant about services delivered over the phone or video. Since the pandemic, people are less hesitant than before. It may be because they see their children going to school over Zoom, but I also think they are more comfortable with getting services over the phone from a legal partner. It makes sense to them now. We  give the applicant context, and we explain the process and the steps toward completion. But there are still barriers. People don’t necessarily have access to a printer, and maybe they don’t feel comfortable going to a FedEx. The big barrier that we’re now facing, of course, is the upcoming increase in the naturalization application fee. We hear people say, “I’ll just wait until the office opens up again,” and we inform them they have to balance that against waiting too long and paying a new, higher fee.

New Americans Campaign: Now that many people are becoming acquainted with videoconferencing platforms like Zoom, how does the video component on Citizenshipworks compare?

Sandra Sandoval Chavarria: You can certainly look at each other by video on Citizenshipworks, but our platform doesn’t screen share. We are looking at the needs of partners and taking notes and trying to figure out what would add to the legal review experience, for example sharing documents in real time. It’s something that we’ve continued to evolve. We are lucky to be part of Pro Bono Net. They are always learning from their other virtual services and that comes in handy when we think about legal consultation as a whole.

New Americans Campaign: What is on your wish list moving forward? Particularly now that Citizenshipworks has grown in importance as a tool.

Sandra Sandoval Chavarria: For us, it would be something to help leverage non-legal volunteers, who are perhaps on the phone, helping an applicant complete their form. It might be separate accounts or a breakout room that doesn’t need to link to Citizenshipworks accounts and doesn’t need a password. This wasn’t necessary during an in-person workshop, but volunteer accounts have become more important during quarantine. We’d like to get the volunteers incorporated in a more official, systems-oriented way.

New Americans Campaign: What are some of the biggest lessons that you think you’ve learned from this whole process?

Sandra Sandoval Chavarria: For me, it’s taking it back to some of the basics. I think we did a good job when we started with our webinar series about remote services. But looking back on it now, I might have expanded the discussion of basic technology more. For example, when you encrypt emails that you’re sharing, what does encryption mean? Our partners look to us for that information because we do the technical work. I would also like to simplify the definition of remote services. I think for applicants and partners remote services sounds really abstract. Virtual review sounds even bigger and more complex. It’s intimidating even though it may just mean that you can call someone on the phone if you don’t have video.

New Americans Campaign: Is there a more inviting name for virtual review?

Sandra Sandoval Chavarria: We go back and forth over this. Apply from Home? Citizenship services in the palm of your hand? Over the phone citizenship consultations? Most people either have a phone or maybe someone in their household has a phone. You can create an account and access Citizenshipworks with your phone. You don’t even need an email address. I think the legal field has always been hesitant with new technology, but it’s been great to see how NAC partners are open to new ideas and new ways of doing things. There’s no single right way of doing remote assistance.

New Americans Campaign: Back to the LPRs themselves; is there any myth busting you can do from the perspective of an applicant? 

Sandra Sandoval Chavarria: We are finding ways to connect people to technology during this time. Perhaps a relative or a friend has a phone. We’ve also seen applicants who are being assisted by family members. We’ve heard, “I’m helping my husband,” or “I need help from my children.”

We’ve also tried to make Citizenshipworks as simple as possible. If you go to our website, there’s a little help button at the bottom of the page that leads to customer support for anybody needing help. I think we’ve seen applicants become more proactive around advocating for themselves, telling us they need help with some aspect of their case, and we can then refer them. I think in general, the idea of receiving services online for free sometimes feels like it’s too good to be true. Not all partners provide free services, some have a sliding scale, but many of our remote partners do provide their services for free. Also, I often find that a lot of people don’t know about the fee waiver. Many partners try to promote it, but the fee remains a big barrier. We sent out a message about the application fee increase and to let people know that they may qualify for a fee waiver.

New Americans Campaign: Citizenshipworks performs so well for the N-400; I’ve heard practitioners wishing for it to work for the fee waiver form as well. Is that on the horizon?

Sandra Sandoval Chavarria: It’s certainly been on the horizon. But every time we’ve attempted to incorporate it, the fee waiver was changing so we would decide to wait. It is something that we continue to consider and hope to add to the site. It is something that partners would like to see so we are working on ways to make it happen.

New Americans Campaign: When it comes to handling the new challenges that came with this pandemic, what are your proudest of?

Sandra Sandoval Chavarria: I’m really proud of how we were able to respond. As partners started closing their offices, a few people reached out and we saw a wider need to respond. The pandemic also brought a number of people back to Citizenshipworks, to join the conversation around virtual assistance and how to serve specific populations.

I’m also really proud of the partners themselves. They began taking chances, whether it was through Citizenshipworks or another platform. I’ve heard from the field and from partners themselves about how hard it is to rethink their own processes. We were able to step up to the plate to provide tools, best practices, and other resources and to leverage our knowledge from both Citizenshipworks and Pro Bono Net. What makes me really happy are some of the partnerships and workflows that have emerged and that we’ve been able to connect virtual review partners with community-based organizations that don’t have legal capacity.

On September 15th, the American Legal Technology Awards (ALTA) announced that Pro Bono Net received its inaugural Access to Justice award. The ALTA awards “honor companies and individuals who are making a difference in law through technology innovation,” noted Bob Ambrogi in his piece spotlighting the nominees.

The Access to Justice award recognizes “an organization or individual who has made a difference by helping the underserved access the legal system through the use of technology.” 

We would like to thank the American Legal Technology Award judges for lifting up the work of Pro Bono Net and other groups making a difference in law through innovation, and the exclusive sponsor for this category, ARAG Legal

Pro Bono Net’s mission is to bring the power of the law to all by building cutting-edge digital tools and fostering collaborations with the nation’s leading civil legal organizations. Since our founding two decades ago, our programs have been adopted in more than 40 states and US territories. Each day, they help thousands of people – particularly those living on the economic or social margins – understand their legal rights and options, find help in their local communities, and resolve life-changing legal problems. Our tools also strengthen the work of legal aid advocates and pro bono lawyers advocating on behalf of people whose home, family, safety or livelihood is at stake.   

Pro Bono Net’s work has been focused on how technology and information can help overcome known barriers to legal services access and delivery,” says Mark O’Brien, Pro Bono Net’s Executive Director. “It’s exciting work and we get to work with people who have tremendous ideas and are working on the front lines all around the country – we are really happy to have that work recognized and lifted up.”

LawHelp Interactive Garners Technology Award

The American Legal Technology Awards also recognized one of our national programs, LawHelp Interactive (LHI), with the final award, in the Technology category, for “technology applied in a new or novel way in the legal industry that achieves a significant benefit.” LHI is the only free, national online document assembly platform used across 40 states. It allows people representing themselves to create free and accurate court forms, simply and easily. It is also used by nonprofit legal aid programs and courts across the country to help people navigate complex processes – and to make those processes more accessible, responsive and person-centered.

At a moment when there’s widespread interest across the legal sector in technology’s potential to close the justice gap, 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 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. 

LawHelp Interactive has done an amazing job of demonstrating how technology can help improve access to justice and is a shining example of how we can create scalable solutions for people that need legal help through technology,” says Jack Newton, Pro Bono Net Board member and CEO & co-founder of Clio.

Even as the COVID-19 pandemic led courts to completely shutter or severely limit in-person services, LHI has helped many courts and nonprofit legal services providers ensure people in crisis can access, complete and easily file essential forms. The ALTA awards recognized one of  LHI’s partners, Rita Blandino, the Director of the Domestic Violence Division at DC Courts, with the Individual award for her leadership ensuring that DC residents seeking a protection order during the Covid-19 pandemic are able to have their request heard without risking their immediate safety or health. We recently profiled Rita’s work transforming the DC Courts Domestic Violence services to remote services in a matter of days at the start of the pandemic, using LawHelp Interactive. Another LHI-powered initiative to assist domestic violence survivors, the New York Family Offense Petition program, was a finalist in the Court category. 

LHI is operated in partnership with Ohio State Legal Services Association and has received long term support from the Legal Services Corporation’s Technology Initiative Grants (TIG) program, as well as through significant in-kind donations of HotDocs Server Software from AbacusNext. LHI has also benefited from longstanding technology partnerships with the A2J Author™ team at the Center for Computer Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI), and with industry leading online document assembly experts, Marc Lauritsen and Bart Earle of Capstone Practice System.

Pro Bono Net’s work is grounded in bringing justice community partners together to collaborate, network and invest in new ways to solve pressing common justice problems. We would like to thank the exclusive sponsor for the Technology category, Clio, and the organizers and judges of the inaugural American Legal Technology Awards. We’re so grateful for the support, and congratulate all of the nominees, finalists and winners of this year’s awards. Visit the America Legal Technology Awards’ website to view the full list of nominees, winners and acceptance videos. 

Pro Bono Net, in partnership with Lone Star Legal Aid and Neota Logic, is pleased to announce the launch of the Disaster Assistance & Recovery Tool (DART) in Texas. DART is a free web-based application that Lone Star’s community partners can use to screen low-income disaster survivors for potential legal issues and refer them to Lone Star Legal Aid for help. Lone Star Legal Aid is a legal aid provider based in Texas and the fourth largest free legal aid provider in the United States. 

The application was designed for use by staff at community-based organizations helping people affected by disasters, including Hurricane Harvey and Tropical Storm Imelda. In the aftermath of natural disasters, lawyers are well-positioned to provide help around issues like obtaining public benefits or assistance, housing, insurance claims, and employment. DART asks issue-specific questions in an interview format and determines which issues present a low, medium, and high legal risk. The DART concept is modeled off Pro Bono Net’s Legal Risk Detector, a web-based issue-spotting and referral app designed for use by social workers to conduct legal health “check ups” for older adults. 

“DART is an example of how technology can help reach more people through community advocates and workers. The tool flags legal issues that may emerge in the aftermath of a disaster and facilitates timely legal intervention that can be critical for a just recovery,” said Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz, Pro Bono & Strategic Initiatives Manager at Pro Bono Net. “We are so proud to have worked with Lone Star Legal Aid and Neota Logic on this project and support families recovering from the impact of natural disasters.”

Through DART, survivors can submit a pre-application form that Lone Star will receive after the interview is completed. Applicants can also choose whether to receive a report of their answers and overall risk. “DART promotes the understanding of the fact that most issues in our daily lives, specifically those that arise after a disaster, have a legal solution,” said Shrushti Kothari, Project Manager of National Disaster Resources and Content at Lone Star Legal Aid. “It simplifies the life of a case manager by providing a legal risk detector which helps determine when there is a legal issue and increases access to free legal services by providing an alternate method of application,” she explained. 

With the Atlantic Hurricane season underway and recent severe weather events in Iowa, California and other regions, we hope DART can serve as a model for other collaborations between legal aid programs and community partners to help detect and address the legal needs of disaster survivors.    

For a full announcement, please visit Lone Star Legal Aid’s blog post, Lone Star Legal Aid Launches Disaster Assistance and Recovery Tool (DART). To learn more about Pro Bono Net’s work, visit www.probono.net or email Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz at jortiz@probono.net