October 2012

A new webinar series developed by Pro Bono Net and its partners, “Librarians and Access to Justice,” has attracted hundreds of attendees eager to learn how librarians can use online resources to better educate and assist their patrons with legal needs. The most recent webinar, which took place Oct. 11, is summarized below. The last webinar in the series, “Developing Legal Aid-Library Collaborations: Models and Replication Resources,” takes place Nov. 1. Click to register or to see archived versions of the first three webinars.  

“Libraries serve the entire community…  [through libraries] underserved groups have equal access.” – Liz Keith, LawHelp Program Manager

On October 11, Pro Bono Net’s popular “Libraries and Access to Justice” webinar series continued with its third webinar, “Helping Patrons Find Legal Assistance in their Community: Online Referral Tools.”  This webinar served to highlight several resources available to librarians and patrons, including an overview of legal hotlines, ImmigrationLawHelp.org, and StatesideLegal.org, a website designed to provide information and referrals to service members and their families.  Presenting at the webinar were: Libby Vazquez, Director of the Legal Hotline at the City Bar Justice Center; Ken Ramsey, Program Coordinator at the Immigration Advocates Network; Peter MacArthur, AmeriCorps VISTA at Pine Tree Legal Assistance; and Kathleen Caldwell, Statewide Website Coordinator at Pine Tree Legal Assistance.  Liz Keith, LawHelp Program Manager at Pro Bono Net, moderated the panel, and gave background information on the subject.

Libby Vazquez provided insight on legal hotlines, which allow callers to speak to an attorney or advocate and receive specific legal information on their problem.  Hotlines do not typically provide full representation to callers. As Ms. Vazquez explained, there are several different types of legal hotlines.  Some provide just legal information and referral services to callers, without providing any type of representation, some provide legal information and do intake for ongoing representation within their agency, and others are hybrids of the two.  Legal hotlines may also address certain populations (such as the elderly) or certain topics (such as family law or health law).  To ensure the quality of hotline services, the ABA adopted standards for hotline programs.

Ms. Vazquez also provided numerous other resources the City Bar Justice Center uses in their hotline system, such as LawHelp.org/NY, which provides legal information and referrals (a list of all state legal information websites can be found at LawHelp.org), the state’s uniform court website, DIY forms, and e-court case look ups.  These resources not only provide legal information, but also provide listings of legal aid providers in a geographic region, and in a given subject area.   You can find a listing of legal hotlines in your area at LegalHotlines.org.   Ms. Vazquez also discussed the ABA’s Lawyer Referral Directory, which has contact information for lawyer referral services in all 50 states.

The webinar next highlighted a nationwide resource, ImmigrationLawHelp.org.  As Ken Ramsey explained, ImmigrationLawHelp.org provides information on 960 legal service providers who specialize in immigration law.  This database was created with low-income users in mind, and can assist both librarians and patrons to find advocates and attorneys in this specific field. Each listing provides the agency’s contact information, service area, types of immigration assistance provided, populations served and languages spoken.  The site also supplies information regarding other legal and non-legal services the agency may provide.

Users can search by state, county or detention facility, and can filter the results, download, print or email the results, and map the directions to the agency’s office.  The site is available in multiple languages. The directory information is updated consistently, and the site itself allows users to report any out-of-date information.    To view a demo, check out the webcast of the webinar.   ImmigrationLawHelp.org is a project of the Immigration Advocates Network.

Another nationwide resource explored during the presentation was Stateside Legal.  As Peter MacArthur explained, “Stateside Legal was created three years as a clearing house of easy-to-read information for service members and their families when they have non-criminal legal issues.”  The site was developed by Pine Tree Legal Assistance and the Arkansas Legal Services Partnership.  Stateside Legal provides self-help materials for service members and their families, as well as a referral tool.  Users can browse topics and find a library of legal content geared to the unique needs of service members.  There is also an option to view form letters that individuals can use when facing deployment or coming home, helping them deal with car or cell phone contracts, lease agreements and other contractual issues.

Stateside Legal provides referral resources under their “Find Legal Help” section.  This information includes military legal assistance, to locate legal services that can assist with deployment-related issues; general civil legal aid help, assisting low-income service members with general legal issues; civil or criminal legal services for justice-involved veterans who may be facing criminal charges; and legal service providers who can help with service-related benefits (such as VA related claims and disability benefits).  One new feature of the site was highlighted by Kathleen Caldwell, who explained that users will be able to search different legal help organizations in the database and see all the organizations in a map with their contact information.

If you’re interested in listening to this or any of the past webinars, or registering for one of the future presentations, visit the Libraries and Access to Justice Webinar Series Homepage for information, recordings, and registration information.  All recordings are free and open to the public.  The webinars are being produce with funding from a Legal Services Corporation Technology Initiative (TIG) grant, in collaboration with the Legal Aid Society of Louisville, Central Minnesota Legal Services and Legal Services State Support (MN).

I am a perfectionist. If you meet me, it is not apparent because I have a relaxed demeanor—particularly if I am wearing a tie-dye and my favorite pair of Birkenstocks (I just got a new stash of Birkis in Hamburg that I hope will last me a lifetime and in very cool designs and colors).  However, though I am a typical informal Gen Xer, I drive myself hard and have very high expectations for myself and the projects with which I am involved, be it a student run class at a low-income high school in North Philadelphia, a hotline, a lawyer in court program, or a national online document assembly clearinghouse and training camp, like my beloved LawHelp Interactive. I am always looking to make my projects better, generally with a sense of urgency.

I am very lucky in that for the past four years I have been working on changing the way poverty law is practiced in the US through

LawHelp Interactive

innovative uses of technology here at Pro Bono Net. In leading LawHelp Interactive, which allows low-income people to fill out interactive legal forms online for free, I am constantly looking, thinking, reading, and writing about ways in which we can improve our already excellent service. There are two events that happen with enough periodicity that always make me happy.

These are:
1)    Our quarterly statistics, when we see the numbers of people using the online forms to get access to justice
2)    Daily emails from those who share with us how LawHelp Interactive made a difference for them in their lives.

These two feedback methods help me reconfirm that what we are doing here at LawHelp Interactive with our partners is leading to great positive impact, and it is even sweeter because it is not just because I say so.  Let me share:

Every day we serve 1,900 interviews, and assemble 1,087 documents.  Credit here goes to the legal nonprofits that do the outreach about their websites and online forms in their local communities.

In the past 6 months, our partners have created and uploaded close to 700 new interviews for use online, some of them using A2J Author, all of them using HotDocs to assemble the form, through LawHelp Interactive.

The numbers are good but more important to me are those feedback emails that come in—and these are the ones that truly warm my heart and make each day a great new opportunity to keep pushing, thinking, writing, reading, sharing, talking about improvements, not only for LawHelp Interactive, but for our whole community. These emails confirm to me that the resources legal nonprofits and courts invest to create these forms and the technical infrastructure, support and training we provide them while they do this are worth it.  Some of my favorite examples are below:

Foreclosure Forms Users
“This was very helpful and easy.  This step by step interview is useful during a very difficult time in one’s life.”

“This was extraordinarily helpful!  A fantastic service!  A very big heartfelt thank you!”

Divorce Forms Users
“I first dreaded going to this web site with pre-conceived ideas it would be complicated and only add to my frustration.  I was surprised at the simplicity and convenience.  This is a mind/heart breaking chore, but thank you for making it a little easier.”

“Thank you so much!  This was much easier than I thought and it was something that I dreaded doing, but this helped me process things smoothly and quickly.  Thanks again.”

Consumer Debt Affidavit to Vacate Judgment Form Users
“Thank you so much for providing this service. I was almost ready to give up in trying to vacate an unfair judgment.”

“It was really helpful and self-explanatory. Thank you for the information.”

Application to Sue as an Indigent Users
“Excelente ayuda……gracias.” (Excellent help, thanks.)

“Your Interactive Form was very helpful.  I wouldn’t have known what to do on my own.  Thank you very much.”

Child Guardianship Forms Users
“The information and documents to file were a tremendous help. Thank You.”

“This site is absolutely wonderful! Thank you so much!”

Medical Support Order

“This website is a godsend for people with limited resources. It’s very easy to use and provides tremendous guidance. Thanks for everything!”

The Immigration Advocates Network (IAN) is hosting its first annual e-conference, “Cutting Edge Issues in Immigration Law,” a week-long series of interactive online trainings with national experts, from October 29 to November 2, 2012.

IAN is the country’s largest network of nonprofit  and public interest immigration advocates, with over 5,500 members representing every state in the U.S.  It was developed by a coalition of leading national immigration groups, in partnership with Pro Bono Net.

“The e-conference will allow immigration legal services providers and private attorneys to hear from some of the most respected experts in the field, without having to leave the office,” said Matthew Burnett, Director of IAN.  “Anyone interested in increasing access to justice for immigrants should take advantage of this opportunity to learn about new developments and strategies.”

The cost of each two-hour training session is $40, which will help to ensure that IAN is able to continue to offer free trainings and resources throughout the year.  To learn more and to register, visit the conference website or use the links below.

The e-conference sessions include:

Latest Developments in Immigration Relief for Children and Youth
This session will examine the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA) and Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), highlighting all the latest developments in these areas. It will also provide up-to-date “best practices” on the recently implemented Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, including recommendations for filing a request. The panelists are Charles Wheeler, Director of the National Legal Center for Immigrants, Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.; Kristen Jackson, Senior Staff Attorney, Public Counsel; and Lourdes Martinez, Staff Attorney, Immigrant Legal Resource Center. This two hour training is offered Monday, October 29th at 2:00 pm Eastern / 1:00 pm Central / 12:00 pm Mountain / 11:00 am Pacific. The cost of this session is $40.

The U Visa: Emerging and Complex Issues
This session will briefly review U visa basics, then discuss emerging and more complex issues that arise with aging-out derivatives, consular processing and adjustment, and final orders of removal. The panelists are Sally Kinoshita, Deputy Director, Immigrant Legal Resource Center; Gail Pendleton, Co-Director, ASISTA; and Christie Popp of the Popp Law Office. This two hour training is offered Tuesday, October 30th at 2:00 pm Eastern / 1:00 pm Central / 12:00 pm Mountain / 11:00 am Pacific. The cost of this session is $40.

Naturalization for Spouses of U.S. Citizens and Members of the Military: Special Rules and Considerations
In certain cases, spouses of U.S. citizens may qualify for naturalization after three years as a permanent resident or even after no specific period of continuous residence. Also, special rules apply to naturalization applicants who are members of the armed forces. This session will discuss who qualifies for these exceptions, the special requirements for eligibility, and the application process under these provisions. The panelists are Susan Schreiber, Managing Attorney at the National Legal Center for Immigrants, Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc (CLINIC); Kristina Karpinski, Training and Legal Support Attorney at the National Legal Center for Immigrants, CLINIC; and Cassie A. Strom, Attorney at the Veterans Advocacy Project, Catholic Charities, St. Louis, Missouri. This two hour training is offered Wednesday, October 31st at 2:00 pm Eastern / 1:00 pm Central / 12:00 pm Mountain / 11:00 am Pacific. The cost of this session is $40.

Asylum Hot Topics
This session will address evolving law and practice for asylum based on social group membership. Speakers will discuss strategies for domestic violence-based asylum claims, how to frame gender-based asylum claims, working with clients who have suffered abuse, and legal arguments regarding social group visibility and particularity. The session will touch on the intersection of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals with pending or potential asylum cases. The panelists are Lisa Frydman, Managing Attorney, the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS); Christine Lin, Staff Attorney, CGRS; and Vanessa Allyn, Staff Attorney, Refugee Protection Program, Human Rights First. The moderator is Emily Good, Staff Attorney, Research, Education & Advocacy, The Advocates for Human Rights. This two hour training is offered Thursday, November 1st at 2:00 pm Eastern / 1:00 pm Central / 12:00 pm Mountain / 11:00 am Pacific. The cost of this session is $40.

Crimes of Violence and Crimes of Domestic Violence
This training session is for both immigration practitioners and criminal defense practitioners. It will provide strategies for criminal defense practitioners to avoid crimes of violence (COV) and crimes of domestic violence (CODV); and it will provide strategies for immigration practitioners to defend against immigration charges based on COV and CODV.  The panelists are Dan Kesselbrenner, Executive Director, National Immigration Project; Sejal Zota, Staff Attorney, National Immigration Project; and Rose Cahn, Associate Attorney, the Law Offices of Norton Tooby. This two hour training is offered Friday, November 2nd at 2:00 pm Eastern / 1:00 pm Central / 12:00 pm Mountain / 11:00 am Pacific. The cost of this session is $40.

“With a surge in the number of people seeking assistance for issues with a legal dimension there is a need for partnerships between libraries and agencies that care about access to justice in the community.” – Mary Ann VanCura, Continuing Education & Library Development Specialist, Library Development Services, Minnesota Department of Education

With Mary Ann VanCura’s words in mind, on September 27th, over 200 public and law librarians joined civil legal service providers, advocates and others in the second of the Libraries and the Access to Justice Movement webinar series, “Connecting Library Patrons With Legal Information.”  The resources highlighted in this 90 minute webinar, summarized below, included state legal information websites, interactive forms, consumer information through the Federal Trade Commission’s new siteconsumer.gov and the Public Libraries & Access to Justice site.

LawHelp

Liz Keith, LawHelp Program Manger at Pro Bono Net, reviewed the information available on the system of Legal Services Corporation-funded statewide websites, all of which can be found via LawHelp, a gateway to 54 state and territory sites. These statewide legal aid websites use plain language, and are produced by consortiums of agencies across the state’s legal aid community, to create trusted, credible content, accessible in many formats, and often in multiple languages. Typically a site will have fact sheets, booklets, frequently asked questions, self-help forms, as well as referral and court information.  Many sites also offer live chat assistance to help users navigate the site.  Although legal aid agencies may focus on low income residents, “many of the sites have information that cuts across all demographics, and can be helpful to patrons from all walks of life,” Liz said. Public and law libraries serve as advisory, content and outreach partners on LawHelp.org projects in several states.

Liz also discussed self-help legal information and forms available through many law libraries and court websites. An online directory of court self-help resources is available on the National Center for State Courts website. The Georgetown Law Library also provides user-friendly online research guides for primary legal information in each state, as well as substantive research guides in more than a dozen issue areas.

LawHelp Interactive

LawHelp Interactive is a tool someone in a library can use to create a legal document … [it] guides them through from beginning to end,” Claudia Johnson, LawHelp Interactive Program Manager at Pro Bono Net, explained.  These free, online forms are available in most states (currently 46 states either have such forms or are in the process of developing them).  The forms are created by not-for-profit legal aid agencies and coalitions, and deal with topics such as evictions, foreclosures, divorce, child custody and support, as well as small wills and estates issues.   LawHelp Interactive hosts over 3,000 forms, although not all forms are available in all states.  To learn more about how libraries can get involved in LawHelp Interactive projects in your state, contact Claudia at cjohnson@probono.net.

Consumer.Gov

Carol Kando-Pineda, of the Division of Consumer and Business Education at the Federal Trade Commission, presented on several tools available to users. The Federal Trade Commission’s website provides print publications, video, audio, games, puzzles, social media and more to inform the public about a host of different consumer issues.  The FTC has completely revamped their general consumer information materials, including the “Taking Charge” booklet, and has created a tool kit with presentation slides, agendas, press releases and anything else a library, or any community group, would need to give a presentation on identity theft.

However, as she pointed out, “30 million people do not read well enough to read a newspaper or apply for a job.  That’s 14% of people over 16.”  This called for a rethink of the current site, to better serve the needs of these users.  From this, Consumer.gov was created.  This site doesn’t replace the current materials on the FTC website, but gives users quick and easy to use materials designed not to overwhelm them.   Focusing on small chunks of key information concerning money management, credit loans and debt as well as identity theft, the FTC partnered with linguists as well as legal aid agencies to create a site that goes beyond plain language, using simple video as well as audio to assist users.  The resources encompass information for both users and information providers (such as teachers, librarians and advocates), and all the print materials can be ordered from their bulk order websiteConsumer.gov is available in English and Spanish, and the print materials on the site are available in Tagalog, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Spanish.

Continue Reading Connecting Library Patrons with Legal Information

On Wednesday, September 19, 2012, LSNTAP (Legal Services National Assistance Project) and Pro Bono Net conducted a community training that evaluated what the legal services community is learning about implementing online intake, including best practices, and discussed how this technology is transforming the delivery of legal services.  Participants were encouraged to tweet about the webinar under #LSNTAP.

You can find LSNTAP’s review of the webinar on their blog. Thanks to LSNTAP and the panelists, you can check out the various online intake systems in the recap.

Pro Bono Net’s Deputy Director Allison McDermott moderated the webinar and kicked things off by laying out the definition of online intake and conducting a few polls to see what participants are doing.  Online intake is used by approximately 30% of the

Over 50% of states have at least one legal aid program using online intake.

participants.  Those who had implemented online intake had, like the majority of our panelists, only done so recently.

A newbie to the community webinar trainings and online intake, I had the opportunity to attend the webinar, which LSNTAP reports was the best-attended yet.  The following are my top ten takeaways and tweets from the event. I quickly learned that with decreasing resources and increasing needs, many organizations are happy with their decision to implement an online intake program as it improves the effectiveness and efficiency of their program ultimately having improving services to the individuals in need of help.  Please feel free to share your top takeaways from the webinar in the comments.

The overall consensus?  Online intake is a #wisechoice.

  1. Tweeted during the program – “Will more online apps save FTE (full-time employee)?”  Yes, it appears from respondents.  Debra Jennings, of Legal Aid Line/ABLE/LAWO reported that her program saved roughly the time of one FTE.
  2. Online intake will level the playing field geographically.  Jennings says online intake has increased access points for her service area which is mostly rural.
  3. Online intake can function as triage.  Craige Harrison of Utah Legal Services could not hire more staff and says online intake acts as triage for his program.  Unlike Jennings’ program, Utah Legal Services requires all applicants to call them back.
  4. Online intake expands access beyond rural communities; Harrison says it also increases availability to those who are hard of hearing, victims of domestic violence, and those who are temporarily out of the country.  He encourages everyone to go to online intake because of the increased accessibility and efficiency.
  5. Systems need tweaking. Jennings says Advocates for Basic Legal Equality will continue to do online intake and tweak their systems as needed.  She adds that it allows them to provide more services and resources with fewer staff.
  6. Clients struggle with financial and income questions.  Robert Stroud of Legal Services Alabama said that clients often misinterpret financial and poverty guidelines. One tweeter suggested that someone study this to create a set of excellent questions to establish income requirements.
  7. Stroud suggests having good written policies so that the staff knows what is expected of them when starting online intake services.  His team tries to reach individuals 3 times and then refers them to the director.
  8. Stroud also says that people may prefer the online intake since the hold time on the phone is often 20 minutes.  This prompted a tweeter to respond “Online 24/7, follow up phone call is 9-5 (or less). That’s a problem.”
  9. Online intake applicants tend to be younger. And as Jennings reports suggest, mostly female. But most individuals are finding the technology, as older clients are going to the library. See our recent post on libraries and access to justice.
  10. Online intake is used 24/7. William Guyton, Jr., also from Legal Services Alabama, said that there is not a day that’s gone by in three years that they’ve not had a single intake.

This year, a number of projects were funded by TIG related to online intake, you can find the full list here.