Pro Bono Net is celebrating twenty years of transforming access to justice. In honor of this milestone, our current Vice Chair, Ed Walters wrote an amazing blog about how Pro Bono Net utilizes technology to amplify and extend the reach of legal services to those who need it most. This blog was originally posted on Ed Walters’ LinkedIn page.
Pro Bono Net turns 20 years old this year, and millions of families, legal aid clinics, bar associations, courts, and other partners will celebrate this milestone anniversary. Over the years, this nonprofit has powered legal aid clinics and law firm pro bono efforts alike and helped countless people through some of the most difficult challenges of their lives.
Since the founding of Pro Bono Net by Mark O’Brien, Michael Mills, and Michael Hertz in 1999, our nation has a much better understanding of the access to justice crisis. We now know that four out of five people with a legal problem will try to address that problem without the assistance of a lawyer, and we know that unrepresented people fare far less well than those with the help of a legal aid clinic or lawyer.
We also know that traditional pro bono services – volunteer legal services provided by licensed attorneys – provide critical support to people who need help, but they cannot cover enough ground to systemically address this crisis.
So at its twentieth anniversary, we understand better than ever the need for some way to amplify and extend the reach of legal services. Pro Bono Net has used software to coordinate the pro bono work across many different groups providing legal assistance: in legal aid clinics, law firms, and courts.
But Pro Bono Net has also used software as a force multiplier for good. It helps nonprofit legal aid professionals around the country to triage requests for help, stores answers to frequent questions, allows Web delivery of help into rural communities without clinics. Starting in the early days of the Web, Pro Bono Net saw that the Internet could allow us to help people at scale, beyond the old limitations of one-to-one representation, and so has helped to scale assistance nationwide. Pro Bono Net’s offerings such as Law Help, Law Help Interactive, Immigration Advocates Network, Immi, and Pro Bono Manager, are available through more than 40 state legal aid organizations and courts, and online everywhere.
The pro bono hours of lawyers are important, and scarce. Pro Bono Net’s tools helps firms to coordinate and measure those scarce hours for maximum impact. But there are not enough pro bono hours for lawyers alone to solve the access to justice problem. That’s why Pro Bono Net compliments the nonprofit work of lawyers with powerful software to power legal aid clinics and to help courts provide direct service to self-represented litigants.
At its 20th Anniversary, Pro Bono Net has connected people, coordinated the pro bono efforts of thousands of people, and created technology solutions to scale legal help and to meaningfully bridge the access to justice gap. I hope that the celebration of their team’s work next week scales nationwide as well.
Ed Walters is the CEO of Fastcase and serves as the Vice Chair of the Board of Pro Bono Net. On Pro Bono Net’s anniversary, you can find out more about its work and mission at www.probono.net/, and you can contribute to its mission at www.probono.net/donate/.