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Connecting Justice Communities

An Interview with Betty Balli Torres, Pro Bono Net Board of Directors | A Pro Bono Week Exclusive

Posted in Celebrate Pro Bono Week, Immigration, Legal Services, Pro Bono, Resources, Technology

National Celebrate Pro Bono 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 we have been celebrating National Pro Bono Week by focusing on disaster resiliency. Today we are highlighting additional pro bono work around the country, and sharing resources to help volunteer attorneys get started. 

Earlier this year, the separation of families at the boarder headlined news outlets everywhere. Now? Not so much. While headlines in the US may have moved on, many families are still separated and immigrant parents are still detained in more than 200 immigrant prisons and jails in the U.S.

According to recent numbers, more than 4,000 parents and children were separated at the US-Mexico border between May 5, 2018 and June 9, 2018 as part of earlier “no tolerance” policy under the current administration. While efforts to reunite families have begun, thousands of parents and children still face uphill legal battles for reunification and relief.

Betty Balli Torres, a board member of Pro Bono Net, and Executive Director of Texas Access to Justice Foundation, visited a detention facility in Conroe, Texas, on an information gathering visit with other industry professionals. She was kind enough to share her experience with us.

The Visit

Torres and other industry professionals were taken on a one-hour tour through the facility and were provided a few minutes to speak with some of the women in detention.  In Torres’ group there were approximately 10 women who elected to meet with them. In her words, here was her reaction to the facilities:

“They spend 23 hours in that kind of dorm facility and they have one hour of outside time and it really was depressing. And depressing isn’t even the right word, it’s heartbreaking and you could see why someone would be in bed with the covers over their head, no privacy, you’re in a prison.”

Of the approximately ten women they were able to speak to, only one had a lawyer to help her with her situation. Unfortunately, this is normal for those in detention. Facilities are often nowhere near legal resources and volunteers need to travel long distances to speak in person with their clients.

One of the women Torres spoke to shared her story of separation. She arrived at the border in Laredo and she was separated from her four years old, who was taken away to New York, while she was sent to Conroe, Texas.  She hadn’t seen her child in months. Another woman shared that she had already signed a self-deportation agreement because she didn’t have an attorney and was desperate to be reunited with her child.

“That’s heartbreaking to give up any and all rights you have because basically your child is being held hostage, at least it feels like that to you, right? You don’t know if you’re going to see your baby, you don’t know if and when. You don’t get to touch them, you don’t get to feel them. You don’t get to console them which has got to be – it’s the worst moment of your life and the worst moment of that child’s life.”

Torres’ biggest impression of her visit was that of heartbreak.

“You come to this country, you’ve gone to the border trying to seek political asylum and now there you are in a prison and in some instances, women have been separated from their children, and it was heartbreaking.”

Crisis and Lawyer’s Responses

As soon as the crisis began, volunteer lawyers across the country came out in droves to try to help and coordination became a real challenge. Volunteers need to be trained and placed where they can do the most good. Online tools, trainings, resources for attorneys, like the ones Pro Bono Net offers, help tremendously, but they cannot replace pro bono coordinators and placement specialists.

“The need, honestly, is for immigration lawyers who speak Spanish, but that universe is finite and already doing so much of the heavy lifting. It’s a challenge for a volunteer who doesn’t have any experience and doesn’t speak any of the languages who wants to help…But, there is a place for that volunteer, who can be trained and mentored…The matching piece is an important piece.”

The infrastructure for managing volunteers must be in place in order to make sure everything runs smoothly, but having funding to hire more full time attorneys can make a world of difference as well. Resources are needed at the fundamental level for pro bono coordinators and full time attorneys to continue this work over the long term.

Lawyers in this situation face an emotional toll due to working with desperate parents and extremely young children.

I was only there for an hour, and I will never be the same. I cannot imagine, day after day, hour after hour, doing this kind of work and talking to those kids.”

“The system is much more challenging than it ever has ever been. On top of the emotional turmoil, you add the systemic problems. This is resource intensive.” There are resources for attorneys who are facing personal challenges due to the emotional toll of this work. Counselors and other professionals have been brought in to provide support, but working with desperate parents and children is a major challenge.

Our Gratitude

Pro Bono Net would like to extend our gratitude to the attorneys around the country working to ensure access to justice for people who cannot afford it on their own. These legal aid organizations and volunteer attorneys are truly making a difference in people’s lives.

“This has been a moment where lawyers have come in and they are saving our democracy, through litigation and through day-to-day representation in these remote, in the middle of nowhere detention centers. They work day in and day out to make sure that there is access to justice and that the rule of law means something in this country. I can’t emphasize how proud I am of lawyers.”

We would also like to thank Betty Balli Torres for sharing her experience and expertise.

If you are an attorney and would like to volunteer to assist immigrants or others who are in need of legal services, please visit our Volunteer Tools page for a list of resources to help you get started.

 


Texas Access to Justice FoundationThe Texas Access to Justice Foundation is the leading funder of legal aid in Texas. The organization is committed to the vision that all Texans will have equal access to justice, regardless of their income.

Pro Bono Net Joins Dentsu Aegis Network for an IdeaJam to Connect Disaster Survivors with Free Legal Help

Posted in Celebrate Pro Bono Week, Disaster Legal Aid, Legal Services, Pro Bono, Resources, Staff News, Technology

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 we are celebrating National Pro Bono Week by focusing on disaster resiliency in addition to pro bono work around the country. Throughout the week we will be sharing events, resources, and highlights of the work being done to help people facing legal challenges post-disaster. We are very proud to showcase this work and hope that it will inspire more people to get involved.

We’re excited to commemorate the American Bar Association’s National Pro Bono Week, a celebration of pro bono legal assistance involving events planned and attended by public interest legal advocates and the organizations they work with. This year’s celebration is focused on disaster resiliency. Recent disasters such as Hurricanes Michael and Florence and Typhoon Mangkhut devastated communities in the southeast and U.S. territories in the Pacific.

This month, Pro Bono Net joined Dentsu Aegis Network, a global marketing communications network, for a 2-day event titled IdeaJam Hackathon, to mark the beginning of a media campaign for disaster survivors and pro bono attorneys.

Dentsu Aegis Network IdeaJamThousands of volunteer lawyers and hundreds of legal aid organizations work tirelessly after a disaster to help those who do not have the means to afford an attorney. Disaster survivors not only benefit from access to free legal resources, but also from meaningful legal representation. That’s why providing relevant and timely information to affected communities is important. Recruiting pro bono lawyers who can provide disaster legal aid and connecting them directly with disaster survivors becomes an urgent and vital step towards a long-term recovery process. However, a lot of this information does not reach many communities and legal aid providers simply cannot serve the legal needs of every single person affected by a disaster. Fortunately, Dentsu Aegis Network is committed to solving these challenges.

Miri Miller, Associate General Counsel, Americas, for Dentsu Aegis Network, explained “While working to launch our global legal pro bono program last year, I read LSC’s 2017 report, The Justice Gap, which identified specific reasons why people do not receive needed pro bono legal services. Some of the most significant obstacles were related to knowledge of legal rights and awareness of pro bono legal services. I realized that the resources and skills of the Dentsu Aegis Network would be invaluable in overcoming those communication challenges. Because this initiative is a natural extension of Dentsu Aegis Network’s commitment to tackling the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG #16 is Peace, Justice & Strong Institutions), Dentsu Aegis executives were keen to support the goal of improving access to justice through a strong marketing and communications program.”

Participants, divided into teams, were encouraged to consider two questions: “how do we get legal information into the hands of disaster survivors?” and “how can we recruit and keep pro bono attorneys engaged in disaster relief work?” Pro Bono Net’s Disaster Response Legal Fellow, Jeanne Ortiz, presented alongside Eve Runyon, Pro Bono Institute’s President & CEO, on the legal challenges low-income individuals and families are most likely to face in the wake of a disaster. After a brief session on the challenges, media strategists were divided into teams to work through their initial thoughts and start developing their approach for a disaster relief media campaign. Teams were encouraged to think about www.DisasterLegalAid.org as a channel for amplifying legal resources and pro bono opportunities.

Pro Bono Net Staff and Participants

Carat, iProspect, isobar, Merkle, Fetch, Accordant Media, Gravity, Posterscope, mcgarrybowen, MKTG, Amnet, and Dentsu X were all participating Dentsu Aegis Network agencies. At the end of the day, teams had time to work through their expected solution through a “Stress Testing” session. They also checked in with senior DAN business leaders to receive feedback on their proposed campaign strategies.

Staff from Pro Bono Net’s LawHelpNY Program Tim Baran and Quisquella Addison also participated.

“It was exciting and energizing to be part of the IdeaJam and watch brilliant young minds in the media sector come up with creative solutions to legal problems,” said Tim.

After having 24 hours to come up with a groundbreaking campaign, teams had eight minutes to pitch their ideas to the judges, Michael Epstein, CEO of Carat USA, Lilian Laskin, Gravity Media’s VP, Operations & HR, and Jim Pharo, General Counsel, mcgarrybowen.

“One of my favorite ideas was a blockchain-powered supply chain legal services model for unbundled, limited-scope pro bono work that included a killer presentation. It confirmed the value of collaborating with people in other sectors when looking for answers to problems in a changing legal industry,” said Tim.

After an hour of deliberation, judges voted for two teams.

IdeaJam Screenshot

The first winning team created a campaign to allow DisasterLegalAid.org to “be the lighthouse” in the storm – a place where everyone can go for education and mobilization and to match people needing help with lawyers wanting to volunteer. Campaigns would focus on pre-disaster preparedness and reach, with KPIs around signups for information and volunteer opportunities. They also designed a “Social Gives Back” theme to leverage the strengths of social platforms for different aspects of messaging campaigns: Facebook to educate affected communities, LinkedIn to engage lawyers, Twitter for “what’s happening now” news.

The other winning team was composed of people from Dentsu Aegis’s offices across the country. This team created a holistic plan that was even more impressive considering they worked together entirely over Skype and across three time zones. One part of their plan was to leverage community influencers to get information into the hands of the most vulnerable in their communities.

The team would use experiential and Out-of-Home marketing to reach communities on the ground (particularly important where internet connections may be limited or disrupted). They also built – in less than 24 hours! – a “Wizard App” that is a user-friendly way of getting relevant information into the hands of the people who need it.

Other team ideas included an interactive quiz for the National Disaster Legal Aid Advocacy Center that would assess attorneys’ level of knowledge and lead them to appropriate resources and opportunities based on their expertise. Another team suggested the use of chatbots to keep volunteer attorneys engaged for the long-term.

“We are excited to continue working with Pro Bono Net as we take the ideas presented today and bring them to life. We plan to set up a working group within Dentsu Aegis Network to tackle the execution plan,” said Miri.

Miri is also responsible for managing the Dentsu Aegis Network’s global pro bono program.

 

DisasterLegalAid.org Advocacy Center | Pro Bono Week

Posted in Celebrate Pro Bono Week, Disaster Legal Aid, Legal Services, Pro Bono, Technology

Celebrate Pro Bono WeekPro 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 we are celebrating National Pro Bono Week by focusing on disaster resiliency in addition to pro bono work around the country. Throughout the week we will be sharing events, resources and highlights of the work being done to help people facing legal challenges post disaster. We are very proud to showcase this work and hope that it will inspire more people to get involved.

Volunteer attorneys make a big difference in the lives of disaster survivors. In order to help those volunteers with their work, Pro Bono Net partners with organizations around the US and its territories to develop resources, tools, and networks to better prepare and facilitate volunteering. In addition to the roundtables we discussed yesterday, Pro Bono Net offers access to news and alerts, listservs, trainings, libraries and volunteer opportunities specially designed for disaster legal aid advocates.

This year, Pro Bono Net and Lone Star Legal Aid developed a new Advocacy Center for DisasterLegalAid.org to help address a nationwide need to network public interest legal advocates working on disaster legal aid and share advocacy resources and tools across regions. Advocates and volunteers from nonprofit legal aid organizations, bar associations, pro bono counsel from law firms and corporations, law school students and faculty, and allied nonprofits working on disaster legal aid are welcome to join for free by signing up at www.disasterlegalaid.org/advocates.

By joining the Advocacy Center, members can access:

  • Disasterlegalaid.org Advocacy CenterA national disaster legal aid listserv to ask questions and discuss issues around disaster legal relief
  • Registration details for the 2018 roundtable discussions and recordings from previous roundtables
  • A library with specialized advocacy resources, including a FEMA appeals brief bank with templates provided by leading legal aid organizations working on disaster response
  • A calendar with upcoming disaster legal aid training, workshop, conference, and webinar events
  • News and alerts of interest to the community

DisasterLegalAid.org is a national website that provides legal rights information for people affected by disasters and resources for advocates serving them. The site is a joint effort of Pro Bono Net, Lone Star Legal Aid, the American Bar Association, the Legal Services Corporation, and the National Legal Aid & Defender Association.

We are making a call to all those who can volunteer to sign up to help disaster survivors, especially in recently impacted areas like Florida, the Carolinas, Georgia, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands. Volunteer sign up forms are available at and there are different ways attorneys can help. Organizations across the country are working hard to provide volunteer attorneys with the resources they need to help those affected by disasters. Below is a list of additional resources from our partners:

 

Ready, Willing & Able: Organizing the Legal Community’s Response to Disasters | A Pro Bono Week Roundtable Discussion

Posted in Announcements, Celebrate Pro Bono Week, Disaster Legal Aid, Pro Bono, Technology

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 we are celebrating National Pro Bono Week by focusing on disaster resiliency in addition to pro bono work around the country. Throughout the week we will be sharing events, resources and highlights of the work being done to help people facing legal challenges post disaster. We are very proud to showcase this work and hope that it will inspire more people to get involved.

This summer Pro Bono Net launched a national roundtable series to discuss topics of cross-cutting interest to disaster legal aid practitioners across regions, in partnership with Lone Star Legal Aid and the Legal Services Corporation.

On Wednesday, October 24th, in honor of Pro Bono Week, we will be hosting Ready, Willing & Able: Organizing the Legal Community’s Response to Disasters. This roundtable will explore various approaches to rapid post-disaster mobilization of legal volunteers from the 2017 major disasters.

The Disaster Legal Aid 2018 Roundtable Series is an opportunity to discuss the work and challenges associated with legal issues in the aftermath of the 2017 & 2018 natural disasters, and to aid programs in preparing for future events. They are hosted by Pro Bono Net, Lone Star Legal Aid and the Legal Services Corporation, along with leading programs and subject matter experts in the area of disaster response.

We welcome all leaders and staff at public interest legal organizations, law school students and faculty, pro bono counsel from law firms and corporations and allied efforts involved in disaster legal aid work after a disaster. To register for the roundtable, visit www.disasterlegalaid.org/advocates/roundtables.

Previous roundtables include: 25 Pro Tips for Working with FEMA, Introduction to Federal Disaster Benefits and the ABA-YLD Disaster Legal Services Program, The Disaster Never Seems to End: Insurance Issues Post-Disaster and more. Recordings of these roundtables along with their materials are available at www.disasterlegalaid.org/advocates/roundtables. While you need to be a member of the National Disaster Legal Aid Advocacy Center, the membership and all resources and materials are FREE.

For more information on our celebration of Pro Bono this week, visit www.probono.net/celebrate.

 

New York Crime Victims Legal Help being piloted in Erie, Genesee and Niagara counties

Posted in Legal Services, Pro Bono, Technology

Originally published by NYS Office of Victim Services

New York, NY (October 1, 2018) – The New York State Office of Victim Services today announced a new website connecting crime victims with information and free civil legal assistance is being piloted in three Western New York counties, allowing victims to learn about their rights and connect with resources or legal representation. Established using $1.5 million in federal funds secured by the state agency, the New York Crime Victims Legal Help website will initially serve Erie, Genesee and Niagara counties and will expand to serve crime victims Upstate and on Long Island by the end of 2019.

“Too often, we see crime victims struggling to pull their lives together in the months and even years after they’ve been victimized,” Office of Victim Services Director Elizabeth Cronin said. “Many times, they are unsure of the assistance they need or unaware of the legal resources that are available. This website will be a beacon for these individuals – a place where they can easily learn about their rights as a crime victim and locate critical legal resources to help them navigate civil matters.”

The Office of Victim Services partnered with the Empire Justice Center, Pro Bono Net and the University at Albany’s Center for Human Services Research to create the website, which will assist crime victims outside of New York City. Civil legal resources can be scarce or difficult to access in the rest of the state, particularly in rural communities. The website features a user-friendly screening tool that allows crime victims to identify what legal needs they may have and then locate relevant resources; a searchable legal service help directory with filters to isolate organizations that can assist with specific issues; a self-help resource library to inform them of their rights; and a live chat function to access referral information in real time.

The website’s screening tool and legal help directory will help connect crime victims from Erie, Genesee and Niagara counties with advocates and non-profit legal organizations that may be able to assist them. Crime victims in areas outside of those three counties may still use the website to find information about their rights, learn more about their legal issues, and access resources such as legal forms and links to other service providers. By the end of next year, the screening tool and legal help directory will be available in the state’s 57 counties outside of New York City.

The New York Crime Victims Legal Help website focuses on the most common civil legal problems identified by crime victims and service providers through a needs assessment conducted by the Center for Human Services Research: family, housing, finances, employment, and immigration matters. Erie, Genesee and Niagara counties were selected for the pilot because they already have a strong network of civil legal services and the three counties have a cross-section of urban and rural communities.

Pro Bono Net and the Empire Justice Center also identified legal advocates who will assist crime victims using the website and recruited trained law student volunteers who will staff the website’s live chat function. The federal Office of Victims of Crime awarded the $1.5 million grant to the state Office of Victim Services for the project.

Remla Parthasarathy, Crime Victims Legal Help Project Leader at the Empire Justice Center, said, “Empire Justice Center is proud to be part of this project and we are really excited about its potential. While the online resource is currently being piloted on a limited basis, much of the site is accessible throughout the state, making the ‘Know Your Rights’ library and the free legal forms sections available to provide current, accurate information to any victim of crime who has civil legal concerns. We look forward to continuing to expand the content and legal directory on the site to include civil legal providers from across New York.”

Pro Bono Net Program Director Liz Keith said, “New York Crime Victims Legal Help offers a user-friendly online resource to ensure victims of crime can find and understand the information they need in legal matters pertaining to housing, family law, and safety concerns. We look forward to working with our partners on this effort to expand the site’s capacity to reach more victims statewide and to strengthen the essential work of legal advocates and nonprofit organizations assisting them.”

Susan Ehrhard-Dietzel, Senior Research Scientist at UAlbany’s Center for Human Services Research, said, “Crime Victims Legal Help will be a phenomenal resource for underserved and disadvantaged populations in Western New York and throughout Upstate and Long Island in the near future. UAlbany’s Center for Human Services Research has been a proud partner in this meaningful endeavor and looks forward to seeing the positive impact the network will have in helping and empowering crime victims.”

The Office of Victim Services provides a safety net for crime victims and/or their family members, helping eligible individuals with medical and counseling expenses, funeral and burial expenses, lost wages and support, in addition to other assistance, all at no cost to taxpayers. The agency also funds 222 victim assistance programs that provide direct services, including counseling, advocacy and legal services, across the state. For more information, eligibility guidelines and to locate a victim assistance program, visit www.ovs.ny.gov or call 1-800-247-8035.

The mission of the Empire Justice Center (www.empirejustice.org)  is to protect and strengthen the legal rights of the poor, disabled or disenfranchised through advocacy, training to other advocates, and high-quality direct civil legal representation. Based in New York City, Pro Bono Net (www.probono.net) is a nonprofit leader in developing innovative technology and forging collaborations to increase access to justice.

The Center for Human Services Research (www.albany.edu/chsr) is part of UAlbany’s School of Social Welfare and has more than 20 years of experience conducting evaluation research, designing information systems, and informing policy and program development for a broad spectrum of agencies serving vulnerable populations.

Crime Victims Legal Help (https://crimevictimshelpny.org/) was established as a result of work done by the New York State Office of Victim Services and its partner agencies, the Center for Human Services Research, the Empire Justice Center and Pro Bono Net, under Grant No. 2014-XV-BX-K009 awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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Update on Disaster Legal Response Efforts in Puerto Rico

Posted in Disaster Legal Aid, Legal Services, Pro Bono, Resources

Puerto Rico and other areas affected by last year’s hurricanes have been in the news prominently in recent months, but what happens when the media spotlight fades? After the cameras are gone, the physical damages remain and rebuilding is an arduous process. Pro Bono Net recognizes the importance of providing access to legal assistance in the wake of natural disasters and works with partners across the country to build innovative solutions to the short and long-term legal needs arising from these events, which disproportionately impact low income and vulnerable communities.

These needs range from housing instability, job loss, loss of important personal documents, as well as issues applying for FEMA aid or being denied by FEMA, that severely complicate the recovery process. As the Louisiana justice community’s experience with Hurricane Katrina demonstrated, it can take up to ten years (sometimes longer) to resolve the range of legal issues that many survivors face after a disaster.

Spotlight on Puerto Rico

Pro Bono Net has been particularly involved in the disaster response effort in Puerto Rico following Hurricane María, which hit the island on starting on September 19, 2017. With the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season in full swing, not only is Puerto Rico still working to rebuild, but communities are preparing for the next disasters to hit.

Though Puerto Rico is facing a variety of issues, in our work with justice community stakeholders in Puerto Rico, we have learned that one of the largest is the disconnect between laws in Puerto Rico and the federal laws that govern the FEMA process. For example, in Puerto Rico houses can be passed down from generation to generation, and the generation in the house at that specific time is considered to own the house. However, according to federal law that house belongs to the person who’s name is officially on the deed.

Other issues include loss of homeownership and other documents that the federal government requires. These documents are easily destroyed by hurricanes and often left behind during evacuations. With roughly 300,000 homes destroyed in the hurricane, numerous foreclosures and evictions, as well as relocations, it is clear that housing in Puerto Rico is a big concern.

In the months after the hurricane, many Puerto Ricans could access services due to a lack of power, cellular service or internet access needed to do so, or an inability to access the physical location of services. Some people are hard to reach if they live far away or if they are hard to get to because of debris and damage. Even now 5% of the population still lacks power and connections are inconsistent. Many individuals faced significant challenges in applying for and appealing FEMA claims, even with multiple extensions, and FEMA’s own records show that nearly 60% of claims filed in Puerto Rico have been denied – double the number following Hurricane Harvey in Texas.

Since October 2017, Pro Bono Net has worked with Ayuda Legal Huracán María, a coalition of justice community organizations s in Puerto Rico and the mainland supporting disaster response efforts. This coalition is led locally by the AyudaLegalPR.org Project Director, Ariadna Godreau-Aubert. AyudaLegalPR.org, Puerto Rico’s first comprehensive online civil legal rights resource, was developed in 2015 through a collaboration between justice community organizations in Puerto Rico and Pro Bono Net, and has had more than 850,000 users to date.

Ayuda Legal Huracán María partners in Puerto Rico are leveraging a dedicated portal on AyudaLegalPR.org to support online and offline outreach to affected communities, including through“brigades” of pro bono attorneys, law students and community organizers who have conducted dozens of disaster legal rights workshops and clinics throughout Puerto Rico. The portal focuses on providing legal information regarding housing issues, insurance claims, unemployment assistance, and much more. Ariadna was a guest speaker at a Pro Bono Net event in March bringing together lawyers, volunteers, nonprofits and other members of the justice community to discuss disaster recovery efforts and the latest challenges facing Puerto Rico. Click here to learn more and view clips of the event. Many other justice community organizations, including Servicios Legales de Puerto Rico, are playing a vital role in helping individuals and communities rebuild and recover.

Pro Bono Net’s Involvement in Broader Disaster Response Efforts

Ensuring that disaster survivors know their rights and legal options in the wake of disaster is the first step to recovery and rebuilding. From 9/11 through Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, Pro Bono Net has been deeply involved in developing and supporting disaster response strategies that leverage online tools and resources to provide meaningful and timely legal assistance for survivors.

In addition to our work with local field programs, in 2008 we co-developed the National Disaster Legal Aid Resource Center in partnership with the American Bar Association, LSC, and NLADA. Since 2012, Pro Bono Net has jointly managed this initiative in partnership with Lone Star Legal Aid, one of leading legal aid programs in the disaster response arena. The Resource Center is designed to help those affected by natural disasters rebuild their lives, and serves as a vital support resource for legal aid and pro bono attorneys working to assist those in need of legal help after disasters. The Resource Center also provides information and tools to mobilize and support pro bono attorneys and other legal professionals engaged in disaster response efforts.

This summer, Pro Bono Net also launched a new online Advocacy Center for DisasterLegalAid.org to help network public interest legal advocates working on disaster response issues across regions. Registration is free, and advocates from nonprofit legal aid organizations, bar associations, pro bono counsel from law firms and corporations, law school students and faculty, and allied nonprofits working on disaster legal aid are welcome to join. The Advocacy Center includes a new national listserv, a library of specialized advocacy resources, information about a monthly roundtable series Pro Bono Net is co-hosting through 2018, and more. This was made possible in part by the generous support of the JPB Foundation.

What you can do

If you or someone you know are looking to learn more about your legal rights after a natural disaster or how to prepare for upcoming disasters, click here for more information.

If you are an attorney or other legal professional and are looking to volunteer pro bono and help Puerto Rican communities, please visit www.disasterlegalaid.org/volunteer/ or join the Disaster Legal Aid Advocacy Center. If you are not an attorney but you still want to help, raising awareness is important too. Stay informed and help others become informed as well.

 

Join us June 5th for “Achieving 100% Access” with Honorable Jonathan Lippman

Posted in Legal Services, PLI, Pro Bono, Staff News, Technology, Webinar

Pro Bono Net is teaming up with the Practising Law Institute to bring you a discussion about the access to justice movement and the role of pro bono in closing the gap with Honorable Jonathan Lippman and Pro Bono Net’s Executive Director, Mark O’Brien. Register now for this FREE presentation.

Achieving 100% Access: A Conversation with the Honorable Jonathan Lippman About Pro Bono’s Role in Bridging the Justice Gap is a one-hour discussion between the Honorable Jonathan Lippman, former Chief Judge of the State of New York, and Mark O’Brien, Executive Director of Pro Bono Net, on a number of topics related to the access to justice community and the roles of Pro Bono and technology in closing the justice gap.

Questions to be addressed include: how can pro bono effectively help meet the legal needs of the underserved? How should pro bono respond to emerging trends in the access-to-justice movement? What are – and how do we address – the limitations of the traditional role of pro bono in the access-to-justice movement? Register now for the one-hour briefing on June 5th.

If you are interested in additional discussions between Mark O’Brien and Honorable Jonathan Lippman on access to justice, please visit our website for highlights from our 2016 event A Conversation with Judge Jonathan Lippman.


Practising Law InstitutePractising Law Institute is nonprofit learning organization dedicated to keeping attorneys and professionals at the forefront of knowledge and expertise, as well as preparing them to fulfill their pro bono responsibilities. For more information about PLI’s pro bono programs and activities, please visit www.pli.edu/probono.

Immi Wins 2018 ClearMark Award for Plain Language

Posted in Announcements, Immigration, Legal Services, Staff News, Technology

The Immigration Advocates Network (IAN) and Pro Bono Net (PBN) won this year’s ClearMark Award from the Center for Plain Language, for best Spanish-language website.  The winning site,  https://immi.org/es, which was launched shortly after the November 2016 elections, helps immigrants understand their legal options and find legal help.  

Immi is a free online resource, in English and Spanish. It uses accessible language to reach a wide audience.  An estimated 15 to 20% of the 10 to 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. are eligible for legal status.  Immi’s interactive quiz asks questions about family, immigration history, and circumstances to help them identify the options.  The site provides additional plain language articles on immigration law, legal rights, how to get good legal help, and more. It has a directory of over 1,000 nonprofit legal service providers, searchable by location. Most recently, we launched a new “Make a Plan” interview on immi, to help immigrants prepare for the risk of arrest or deportation, and protect their families.

Pat Malone Accepting the ClearMark Award

“We created immi to empower immigrants,” said IAN associate director Pat Malone. “Plain language is essential, if we want people to understand the law and their rights.”  IAN’s in-house team worked with plain language experts at Transcend, subject matter experts at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) and PBN’s tech team to deliver the language-accessible screening interviews and articles.

The ClearMark judges commented, “Immi’s straightforward, ethical, and easy to use tools and information on immigration options represents a great free educational service to millions of undocumented people in the United States.”

For more about the ClearMark Awards:  https://centerforplainlanguage.org/awards/clearmark/2018-winners/

Congrats to all involved!

 

Pro Bono Net at this year’s Equal Justice Conference

Posted in Announcements, Conferences, Staff News, Technology

Pro Bono Net staff members will be presenting on a variety of equal justice issues at the 2018 Equal Justice Conference (EJC) this week in California. The Conference takes place May 10th – 12th in San Diego and is hosted by the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service and the National Legal Aid & Defender Association.

Pro Bono Net is a national nonprofit leader in increasing access to justice through innovative uses of technology and collaboration. Our staff is made up of a cross-disciplinary team from legal, technology, and community engagement backgrounds who are committed to finding innovative, sustainable solutions for expanding access to justice. The Equal Justice Conference brings together all components of the legal community to discuss equal justice issues as they relate to the delivery of legal services to the poor. Staff members will present on a wide range of topics, including cutting-edge collaboration models in the justice communities, technology to expand pro bono participation, and designing and delivering better tools to assist self-represented litigants.

Staff attending the conference includes Mark O’Brien, Executive Director; Liz Keith, Program Director; Quisquella Addison, LawHelpNY Program Director; Claudia Johnson, LawHelp Interactive Program Manager; Mike Grunenwald, Program Manager; Jeanne Ortiz, Disaster Response Legal Fellow; and Jessica Stuart, Pro Bono Manager Product Manager.

Pro Bono Net staff are participating in the conference workshops below. For more details on each workshop, please visit the EJC website here. In addition, PBN Board Chair and Microsoft Strategic Policy Advisor Dave Heiner and Program Director Liz Keith will be presenting about the Legal Access Platform initiative at Saturday’s National Meeting of State Access to Justice Commission Chairs, along with representatives from LSC, the Alaska Court System and the Legal Aid Society of Hawai’i. 

Thursday, 10 AM

Beyond the Pro Bono Manual:  Mobile-Centric Strategies to Engage and Support Volunteers

  • Barbara Siegel, Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association
  • Mike Grunenwald, probono.net Program Coordinator, Pro Bono Net

Incubating Innovation in the Aloha and Midnight Sun States: Updates on the Justice Portal Initiative

  • Nalani Fujimori Kaina, Legal Aid Society of Hawai’i, Honolulu, HI
  • Liz Keith, Program Director, Pro Bono Net, San Francisco, CA
  • Stacey Marz, Alaska Court System, Anchorage, AK
  • Glenn Rawdon, LSC, Washington, DC

LSC, Microsoft and Pro Bono Net are partnering with Alaska and Hawaii to develop new justice portals to help all people with civil legal needs more easily access assistance. We will highlight findings from user immersion studies and ideation workshops conducted in each state, intersections with Justice for All initiatives, and developments in this project’s cutting-edge technology and partnership strategies.

Thursday, 11:45 AM

LawHelp / probono.net / LawHelp Interactive Network Gathering / Affinity Group

Programs are invited to share project highlights and connect with others around the country working on or interested in LawHelp.org, probono.net, LHI online forms initiatives or other innovative uses of technology to expand pro bono participation. Contact Liz Keith at lkeith@probono.net with any questions.

Thursday, 1:45PM

Beyond The Hotline: Expanding Through Live Chat And Pro Bono

  • Quisquella Addison, LawHelpNY Program Director, Pro Bono Net
  • Melissa LaRocco, Legal Aid of Western Ohio
  • Eve Ricaurte, Iowa Legal Aid

Many legal service organizations provide legal information and referrals through hotlines staffed internally. This panel will invite providers to consider expanding hotline-type services through live chat programs that don’t unduly tax staff, take advantage of pro bono, and reach community members where they increasingly seek out information – online.

Thursday, 3:30 PM

Courts, Legal Aid, and Self Help Centers Working together to Help Many

  • Ana Maria Garcia, Managing Attorney, Access to Justice Initiatives, NLSLA
  • Claudia Colindres Johnson, Program Manager, LawHelp Interactive, Pro Bono Net

When every day at 8am there is a line of people seeking help at your doorstep, your program needs to develop methods and tools to be efficient, effective and provide quality services without compromising quality of compassion. In this workshop we will share how two of the highest volume self help centers in Southern CA run and manage their self help centers to be able to serve all that come in a timely basis. They will share about staffing, workflow, and systems that they use to provide quality services with high quality and high capacity.

Friday, 8:30 AM

50 Tech Tips

  • David Bonebrake, Legal Services Corporation, Washington, DC
  • Liz Keith, Program Director, Pro Bono Net, San Francisco, CA
  • Glenn Rawdon, Legal Services Corporation, Washington, DC
  • Jane Ribadeneyra, Legal Services Corporation, portland, OR

50 new technology tips! This fast-paced session will provide tips about free and low-cost tools, apps and software to help improve your efficiency and effectiveness in providing legal assistance to the low-income community.  This session will help further equal justice for diverse client communities or workplaces by providing advocates with technology tips and tools that can help them do their jobs more efficiently and effectively. Tips will be geared toward specific legal applications and general software tips and tools that address common challenges.


About Pro Bono Net

Pro Bono Net is a national non-profit organization dedicated to increasing access to justice. Through innovative technology solutions and expertise in building and mobilizing justice networks, Pro Bono Net transforms the way legal help reaches the underserved. Comprehensive programs including www.probono.net, www.lawhelp.org,  www.lawhelpinteractive.org and the Immigration Advocates Network, enable legal advocates to make a stronger impact, increase volunteer participation, and empower the public with resources and self-help tools to improve their lives.

About the Equal Justice Conference

The Equal Justice Conference, hosted by the American Bar Association and NLADA, brings together all components of the legal community to discuss equal justice issues as they relate to the delivery of legal services to the poor and low-income individuals in need of legal assistance.

The emphasis of this Conference is on strengthening partnerships among the key players in the civil justice system. Through plenary sessions, workshops, networking opportunities and special programming, the Conference provides a wide range of learning and sharing experiences for all attendees.

National Volunteer Week 2018 Highlight: Wantee Ramkaran, LiveHelp Volunteer

Posted in Legal Services, Technology, Volunteer Profile

In honor of National Volunteer Week we will be highlighting volunteers and sharing ways lawyers and advocates can get involved. Today we would like to highlight Wantee Ramkaran, a LiveHelp Volunteer for LawHelpNY

LawHelpNY.org, is a website designed to help low-income New Yorkers solve their legal problems. Volunteers staff LiveHelp, an online, real-time chat service that directs users towards relevant self-help materials, legal services organizations and court information.  

Wantee Ramkaran, LiveHelp VolunteerWantee Ramkaran
LiveHelp Volunteer, LawHelpNY

Wantee is a first-year law student at Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center, and started working with LawHelpNY in October 2017.  Although she completed her New York State pro bono requirements months ago, Wantee continues to volunteer as a LiveHelp Operator for LawHelpNY because in her words, “it is truly a rewarding experience.”  Through LiveHelp, Wantee has continuously provided excellent support for people in crisis.  She has connected people in need with helpful legal information and referrals to legal service providers.  In addition to providing great information, Wantee has shined in maintaining a compassionate and helpful tone in her chats.

Hear more about Wantee’s experience as a LiveHelp Operator:

Why did you decide to do pro bono volunteer work with LiveHelp?

When I learned about LawHelpNY and its’ mission, it was something I definitely wanted to become a part of. I didn’t know there was a resource out there like LawHelpNY. There is so much information available on the website. I was surprised that I could play such an important role as a law student. Knowledge is power and I am an advocate for making New Yorkers better aware of their basic rights and the resources that are available to them.

Why were you interested in volunteering with LiveHelp?

At first, I wanted to make a difference. However, I was actually surprised about the vast amount of New York law I’ve learned about since I started my service with LawHelpNY.

Can you share a highlight from a memorable case?

After providing legal information and resources to someone, the person replied “You’re wonderful! …This website is very helpful!” The individual was so ecstatic and it was the greatest feeling knowing that I helped bring so much happiness to a person. It was a reminder of how rewarding pro bono work can be.

Why do you feel it’s important for you to do pro bono work? What motivates you?

Being a law student or a lawyer is very special. It is more than a “title.” When you are a law student or lawyer, you are exposed to unique positions that can positively impact the lives of others. I think law students and lawyers should take advantage of these opportunities that are available.

I wanted to attend law school and become an attorney for as long as I can remember. I am a first-generation college graduate and the first in my family to attend law school. I want to give back to the same low-income community that I came from as well. I worked really hard to get where I am in life, but there are a lot of people who has helped me get where I am today – family, teachers and professors, past supervisors and mentors. I believe giving back to my community serves as a “thank you” to everyone that has helped get to where I am today. It is the least I can do.

How has your pro bono service impacted you?  

My pro bono service has helped me find my passion of working in public interest. When I started law school, I was unsure about what area of law I wanted to practice in. However, I enjoy serving my community and I would not mind going to work a single day in my life if I am able to help those in need of assistance.

What did you find most challenging?

The most challenging part is speaking with individuals who are facing a difficult time and now knowing if their problems are resolved. When you become involved with helping others, you just wish the best for everyone and hope that no one will go through difficulties in life. It serves as a constant reminder to be nice and respectful to everyone because you never truly understand what type of difficulties someone is facing.

So it is obvious that the need is overwhelming, but so is a busy work day: how do you find the time?

Law school is very stressful and sometimes it is difficult to find time to volunteer. However, I look forward to stopping for three hours to complete my shift because I am able to think about something other than school. It is a win-win: I am able to relax while helping others.


LiveHelp is a bilingual online simultaneous live chat service that offers legal information and referrals to legal services providers for visitors to LawHelpNY, AyudaLegalNY, NYCourts.gov/CourtHelp’s Families and Children and Foreclosure sections, LawHelpNY’s micro sites and the Legal Information for Families Today website. LiveHelp is available Monday-Friday 9 am – 9 pm, and is available on mobile devices. LiveHelp is staffed by law student, law graduate, attorney volunteers, under the supervision of a barred attorney in New York State. Additionally a staff member from Legal Information for Families today staffs LiveHelp Monday-Friday 10-1pm offering live chat assistance to visitors facing family court issues.