September 2012

The International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) put on another great conference last month. Pro Bono Net’s Director of Product Management Adam Licht attended the 2012 ILTA Conference, held Aug. 26-30 in Washington, DC, thanks to Peggy Wechsler and ILTA’s generosity.

ILTA showcases new technology trends in its large vendor exhibition and in 200 peer-provided educational sessions.  Adam’s takeaways for law firms were 1) efficiency through better project management, and 2) leveraging technology in support of innovation and efficiency.  

For Adam, who leads Pro Bono Manager™, Pro Bono Net’s pro bono practice management service, ILTA is a great place to reconnect with Pro Bono Manager™ customers including McCarter & English, K&L Gates and Kirkland & Ellis.  He was also able to catch up with our corporate sponsor Intelliteach, and with HotDocs, with which we partner on LawHelp Interactive™.

In addition, Adam caught up with Pro Bono Net Board member Michael Mills, CEO of Neota Logic (see related post) and learned about some exciting capabilities in Neota Logic’s product.  Adam also ran into another Board member, Ed Walters, CEO of Fastcase, as well as past board member John Alber, Technology Partner at Bryan Cave.

Of special note at this year’s conference was a speech by Don McMillan, electrical engineer turned comedian, whose keynote was entitled, “Lessons from the CCO (Chief Comedy Officer).”  Take a quick look at his video on The New Office Math.

Adam was also impressed by the ILTA mobile app, which could be easily downloaded for instant access to the conference agenda, speaker details, resort info, Interactive Exhibit Hall, the latest ILTA news and more.

“Libraries are everywhere … this is a partnership we should encourage.” – Glenn Rawdon, Program Counsel for Technology, Legal Services Corporation

This statement is one of the cornerstones of the Libraries and Access to Justice Webinar Series, a training series developed by Pro Bono Net that kicked off on September 13th.  More than 150 attendees from public and law libraries, courts, legal service providers and others participated in the first of four webinars highlighting the role of librarians in the access to justice movement.  The next webinar takes place Thursday, Sept. 27 at 1 p.m. Eastern.

In addition to Rawdon, speakers included Sara Galligan, Director of the Ramsey County Law Library in St. Paul, MN, and Liz Keith, LawHelp Program Manager at Pro Bono Net. The series is produced by Pro Bono Net, in collaboration with the Legal Aid Society of Louisville, Central Minnesota Legal Services and Legal Services State Support (MN), and with funding from the Legal Services Corporation’s Technology Initiative Grants program.

The need for public access to legal information is staggering. According to Keith:

  • 66 million people will be eligible for legal services this year, an all-time high
  • 80% of low-income people with legal needs are not being served
  • The need is not limited to only low-income people; a local legal aid office may have income guidelines or other restrictions
  • 50% of those not being served by legal aid organizations can be helped through self-help materials, videos, consumer education resources, and multilingual information

This means public and law libraries are a critical resource for a range of patrons who may not know about or qualify for legal aid assistance.  As Galligan said, “Public libraries provide effective and equal access to legal information for all in ways that are reliable, innovative, and economical.”

Public and law libraries are ideal partners in collaborations with other libraries, the courts, civil legal services providers, and other stakeholders in the legal community.  Specifically, public libraries can provide free, accessible space with flexible hours; the infrastructure to use computers, print and access the internet; and reference and referral services, including classes (such as ESL and computer literacy) and speakers to assist patrons in obtaining legal information and promoting self-help materials.  Public law librarians may have more in-depth subject specializations, additional legal training, and existing partnerships with legal community.

LSC is working to encourage collaborations between legal services and libraries, Rawdon explained.  Web-based tools such as the network of statewide legal aid websites available on LawHelp.org, which provide legal information directly to the public, are often accessed by low-income individuals through libraries.  LSC has committed to engaging librarians in a variety of ways to ensure they are comfortable with the available tools.  These efforts include involving librarians as outreach partners, content contributors, and in state-wide committees and task forces.  They also include ongoing outreach such as a 2010 conference “Public Libraries and Access to Justice” to educate the library community about the resources available.

Upcoming webinars in the series include:

September 27, 2012 – Connecting Library Patrons with Legal Information: Key Resources

October 11, 2012 – Helping Patrons Find Legal Assistance in their Community: Online Referral Tools

November 1, 2012 – Developing Legal Aid-Library Collaborations: Models and Replication Resources.

To join these webinars, or to find more information about the series and see past webinars, please visit our site at: http://www.probono.net/librarywebinars/.

In their September 2012 issue, Consumer Reports takes a look at legal DIY websites.  While interesting, the article unfortunately fails to note the availability of high-quality legal information and referral materials available for free from the nonprofit legal sector – an important resource for the increasing number of Americans facing legal issues without access to an attorney.  Pro Bono Net Executive Director Mark O’Brien wrote a letter to the editor of Consumer Reports, which we’ve reprinted below.  Richard Zorza has also responded to the article on his blog.  Take a look and let us know your thoughts in comments.

 

August 7, 2012

Consumer Reports
101 Truman Avenue
Yonkers, NY 10703-1057

To the Editor,

I was disappointed that the article “Legal DIY sites no match for a pro,” in your September issue, focused only on consumer offerings from for-profit companies, and did not take note of the high-quality legal information and referral materials available for free from the nonprofit legal sector.

It is certainly true, as your article points out, that “many consumers are better off consulting a lawyer.”  But millions of Americans cannot afford to do so, and are forced to navigate civil legal issues affecting their family, home and livelihood on their own.

These individuals can turn to free resources produced by nonprofit legal aid organizations and courts around the country, including the network of statewide consumer legal information websites funded by the federal Legal Services Corporation, all of which can be accessed through www.LawHelp.org.   In addition, in many states, excellent court websites, often funded by state access to justice commissions, offer self-help tools and information.  In both cases, users can feel confident that all of the content is produced by trusted and reliable subject matter experts.

Many of these websites also feature automated online forms, similar to those discussed in your article, powered by Pro Bono Net’s LawHelp Interactive service, which enables users to create legal forms for free, based on user-friendly, plain language interviews created by legal aid programs and/or courts with expertise in their jurisdictions.  LawHelp Interactive is used by self-helpers in almost thirty states to complete more than 1,000 legal forms per day.  Commonly-used forms include those for family law, including child custody and support; housing; wills and advance directives; and consumer debt.

As a mission-based organization working to ensure fairness, Consumer Reports understands the importance of ensuring that justice is not limited to those with means or ability to pay.  I hope you will take the opportunity to let your readers know that there are resources available for those facing civil legal issues on their own.

Thank you.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Mark O’Brien
Executive Director

 

The Practising Law Institute, one of Pro Bono Net’s corporate sponsors, contributes a guest post this week on its upcoming program: Courtroom Skills for Pro Bono Attorneys.  Read on to learn more about this free program.

PLI is excited to offer a new pro bono program, Courtroom Skills for Pro Bono Attorneys, to be held live at our San Francisco Conference Center and via live webcast, Friday, September 21, 2012.  The program is free.

The program will provide an overview of trial skills helpful to attorneys handling pro bono litigation matters, and will use a typical Unlawful Detainer case to illustrate general trial preparation and representation techniques.

Program chair, Katie Danielson, Senior Supervising Attorney, Homeless Advocacy Project, Volunteer Legal Services Program of The Bar Association of San Francisco, and the distinguished faculty will share their extensive knowledge and background in pro bono litigation to help you hone your courtroom skills and tackle litigation challenges.  Whether you are new to litigation or a seasoned veteran, this program will give you the foundation you need to confidently represent pro bono clients.

The faculty will discuss the following topics:
•    Development of theory and theme of your case and how to translate that into a persuasive story at trial
•    Tips on trial preparation, witness preparation, jury selection and pre-trial motions
•    Direct and Cross examination, presentation of exhibits
•    Effective use of objections and other evidence issues
•    Persuasive closing arguments

Given the current economic downturn and deep cuts to legal services programs, the need for quality pro bono representation for low-income clients is more important than ever, we hope you will join us for this exciting new program and get inspired to take on a pro bono case!  (Then find a case on www.probono.net).

Courtroom Skills for Pro Bono Attorneys
September 21, 2012, PLI SF Conference Center, 685 Market Street, Suite 100
September 21, 2012, Live Webcast
9:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. (PDT)

Want to attend the program with your colleagues and volunteers but can’t make it in person? Schedule a PLI Groupcast to allow group viewing via live or on-demand webcast in your office! Contact the Groupcasts Department via email at groupcasts@pli.edu for more details.

Follow PLI’s Pro Bono Law Practice Group on LinkedIn and on Twitter: @ProBonoPLI.  Or learn more about PLI Pro Bono activities!

This fall, Pro Bono Net is producing four national training webinars for public and public law librarians about free, online resources for people with legal needs. The Libraries and Access to Justice Webinar Series kicks off this Thursday, Sept. 13, with an overview of the legal information needs among low-income Americans and why libraries are essential partners in access to justice.

Additional topics in the series will include training on free legal information and self-help tools developed by the nonprofit legal aid community, referral resources for patrons looking for a lawyer, and successful models for legal-aid library collaborations to connect people with legal information.

Pro Bono Net is producing the series in collaboration with the Legal Aid Society of Louisville, Central Minnesota Legal Services and Legal Services State Support (MN), and with funding from the Legal Services Corporation’s Technology Initiative Grants program. The series builds on groundwork laid by the 2010 Public Libraries and Access to Justice Conference  hosted by the National Center for State Courts, the Self-Represented Litigation Network, and the Legal Services Corporation.

Why a training series for libraries? Today, legal aid programs are serving more clients with fewer resources and courts are struggling to help more people access self-help assistance. At the same time, many low-income individuals are turning to libraries to access online information, complete legal forms, and seek assistance with problems that have a legal dimension. According to a 2009 American Library Association study, “More people…are turning to libraries to file unemployment forms, apply for Food Stamps or find other government information or services. Eighty percent of libraries report helping patrons connect with government information and services online.”

For libraries, statewide legal aid websites available through LawHelp.org are essential tools in helping patrons understand the nature of their legal issue and how to access services. Through statewide websites, libraries are able to offer their patrons credible, attorney-reviewed, state-specific resources. Many statewide websites also provide court information, self-help forms, and multilingual content for LEP library patrons.

For legal aid programs, library systems provide a network for information dissemination that legal services programs simply cannot match on their own. Libraries are often the only source of free access to computers and the Internet in their community. Many libraries also provide computer training, help navigating websites, and printing options, all of which benefit patrons with legal needs. Librarians also can help ensure that those who are not able to be served by legal aid are aware of self-help resources and alternative services.

Why is Pro Bono Net involved in this area? As part of our program support, Pro Bono Net works to increase awareness of and access to LawHelp.org, LawHelp Interactive and related resources, facilitate collaboration and involvement by new partners, and support innovative, replicable models for bridging the justice gap. As free, equitable access points to information, government institutions, and computing resources, libraries are key partners in that effort.

The webinar series is free, and attendees are welcome to join for the entire series or attend individual webinars on topics of interest. Please help us spread the word to libraries in your area!

For more information, visit www.probono.net/librarywebinars or contact Liz Keith, LawHelp Program Manager, at lkeith@probono.net.

 

On August 9, 2012, Pro Bono Net had the opportunity to attend the Annual Supreme Court Review: 2011 hosted by our corporate sponsor Practising Law Institute (PLI). This year’s review brought together a distinguished panel of PLI faculty that represented leading constitutional scholars, civil rights experts, a law school dean, and a Supreme Court journalist to analyze, discuss, and debate the leading Supreme Court decisions of the October 2011 Term. The program is available on-demand on PLI’s website

Now in its fourteenth year, this program is organized by Erwin Chemerinsky, Founding Dean and Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, and Martin Schwartz, Professor of Law at Touro Law Center. We spoke with Dean Chemerinsky about the program and his dedication to pro bono work.

The Annual Supreme Court Review has become one of the most popular of PLI’s programs.  This year, more than 350 people gathered at PLI’s New York City office and another 150 participated online. “The first year we had 60 people,” says Chemerinsky.  “But every year people come to the event, realize it is worthwhile, and tell others.” The idea for the program came out of a brainstorming session between Chemerinsky and Schwartz and resulted in an annual in-depth analysis of the Supreme Court’s decisions including their precedential, doctrinal and, where appropriate, societal and litigation significance.

Chemerinsky is inspired by the civil rights lawyers of the 1950s and 1960s and firmly believes that law is a tool for social change.  “I still believe the law can inspire social change, but social change seems more difficult to achieve [today]. You can see its influence in both litigation and legislation. I look at Brown [vs. Board of Education] to see what litigation can do,” says Chemerinsky.  He adds that understanding and reviewing the decisions of the Supreme Court is important to pro bono work as its decisions impact the outcome of much pro bono work.

Chemerinsky tries to instill in his students a drive to work for social change. Says Chemerinsky, “I try hard to communicate that as a lawyer they have the opportunity to change society and use law to make it better. That’s not a political stance. They [the students] have to determine their own view of society and work to make it better.  The opportunities they have to make a difference are part of their duty to their profession. I hope I lead by example. My students know I’ve been involved in pro bono litigation; I try to involve my students as researchers or conduct moot courts at the school. I hope, in that way, to lead by example.” Chemerinsky has regularly argued appellate cases, criminal and civil—virtually always pro bono—in the Supreme Court, federal courts of appeals and state supreme courts.

When asked to lead the School of Law at UCI, Chemerinksy sought to create the ideal law school. “I think a [21st century] law school has to put tremendous emphasis on experiential learning, teaching students to be lawyers,” says Chemerinsky. “Being the dean of a new law school I was given the opportunity to work with a blank slate, which is a great benefit.  We knew we needed to do it differently and better. We had great community support.”  UCI, the first new public law school in California in more than 40 years, opened its doors to its first class in August 2009.

Chemerinsky says that at UCI there is “tremendous emphasis on preparing students for the law.” He points to three specific ways the school is helping do this. First, UCI is one of the few law schools in the country that requires clinical experience of all its students. Students also must do intake interviews with legal aid or the public defender.  The required intakes are part of the first year Lawyering Skills course, and the requirement is separate from the required clinical course, which students are required to take during their 3rd year. “This gives students experience under close supervision,” says Chemerinsky. Secondly, the externship program offers students the skills they will need in the future. And thirdly, the school puts a strong emphasis on pro bono work.  “They [the students] do pro bono of all sorts. We do other things to promote public service including bridge funding, a loan forgiveness program, and a scholarship program for students doing public interest work.”

Pro bono work is strongly encouraged at UCI. “I encourage students to get appointed to pro se court of appeals to get an experience many lawyers don’t get. We all want to feel we’re doing something important. Here, they get the social benefit but also the career benefit,” says Chemerinsky.  As an example, Chemerinsky points to his own son’s recent experience arguing a pro bono immigration case. “Here he was, three years out of law school, at a day long immigration hearing.  The benefit of that is tremendous,” he says. Continue Reading Dean Erwin Chemerinsky on the Supreme Court, Social Change and Prepping Students for the Law