January 2013

This past summer, Pro Bono Net engaged a graduate student from the University of Michigan School of Information to run a usability study on one of our programs, LawHelp Interactive (LHI), in the New York Courts.  The graduate consultant, Yanting Zhang, summarized her findings in an earlier blog post.  LawHelp Interactive allows low-income people without access to a lawyer to prepare their own legal forms online for free. The system increases opportunities for self-represented litigants to achieve justice on their own and improves efficiency for legal aid, pro bono and courts-based access to justice programs.

The New York Courts were very supportive of this project. Yanting visited with Sun Kim, Senior Assistant Counsel at New York State Unified Court System,  the New York County Civil Court; Michael Hausler in the Surrogate’s Court Bronx County; and Mike Williams in the Family Court Bronx County, among others.  Many of these New York courts were early adopters of LawHelp Interactive, and are strong proponents of increasing access to justice and improving courthouse efficiency. For example, Bronx County Chief Clerk Mike Williams’ Self-Help Center is a recipient of the DIY Star Award for exceptional use and promotion of DIY forms.  (The New York Courts Access to Justice Program powers its DIY forms project using LawHelp Interactive.)  Beyond visiting the NY courts, Yanting and the Pro Bono Net staff did a review of other states using LHI in different ways, so the usability review is based on different installations of LHI powered forms across the U.S.

During the usability review, we gained insights about what does and does not work when a computer is set up in a public area so individuals can create their own legal documents with or without assistance.  These insights span across the different LHI components including A2J Author interviews, HotDocs, and the overall LawHelp Interactive infrastructure managed by Pro Bono Net.

One of the areas of focus in our review is the physical layout of computer stations for litigants in self-help environments. The environments can be run or managed by various groups, including libraries, law libraries, legal aid groups, victims’ centers in police departments, shelters, and courts. Some of the important takeaways from our research include the importance of setting up a comfortable area that minimizes distractions, maximizes privacy, and delivers enough guidance so that the user can start and finish their documents.

Here are some of the highlights:

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The (lucky) 13th annual Technology Initiative Grants Conference kicks offs this week in Jacksonville, Florida, and we are proud to say that we have been to all 13 of them! This year, Pro Bono Net is well represented at the conference with our LawHelp and LawHelp Interactive staff both in attendance and presenting at many workshops.

Pro Bono Net got an early jump on the events in Jacksonville before the conference started. Our Executive Director, Mark O’Brien, participated in the Legal Services Corporation’s second Technology Summit, convened over the two days before the TIG conference started.  Pro Bono Net board members Betty Balli Torres and Michael Mills were among the other legal services and technology leaders invited from around the country.  The two day Summit was a follow up to the one held last year that Mark also attended, and focused on implementing the technology vision developed in 2012.

Also kicking things off before the conference, Pro Bono Net staff members Claudia Johnson and Mirenda Watkins hosted a two day in-person training on HotDocs and A2J Author to support our LawHelp Interactive network. Learn more about the training here.

During the TIG Conference, Pro Bono Net staff in attendance will be participating in a number of sessions including:

Best Practices in Accessible E-filing, Wednesday, 1/16 • 10:30 – 11:45 am • St. Johns

Claudia Johnson, Presenter


Ignite Plenary Session – Show and Tell of Technology Projects and Ideas, Thursday, 1/17 • 1:00 – 2:00 pm • Ballroom AB

Liz Keith and Xander Karsten, Presenters


Systems Integrations—bringing together powerful tools to enable higher attorney/staff performance and higher quality services, Thursday, 1/17 • 2:15 – 3:30 pm • Ballroom CDE

Claudia Johnson and Jim Wiegand, Presenters


Innovations in Pro Bono, Thursday, 1/17 • 2:15 – 3:30 pm • St. Johns

Liz Keith, Presenter


LawHelp Network Session: What’s New, What’s Next, Thursday, 1/17 • 4:00 – 5:15 pm • Ballroom AB

Liz Keith and Jillian Theil, Presenters


Adoption of Online Forms By Legal Aid Staff and Pro Bono Attorneys, Friday, 1/18 • 8:30 – 9:30 am • Ballroom AB

Claudia Johnson, Tony Lu and Mirenda Watkins, Presenters


If you are currently at TIG and have a chance to participate in the sessions Pro Bono Net is participating in, we invite you to share your feedback in the comments.

In November 2012, the New Americans Campaign was launched by a national network of more than 80 legal-service providers, businesses, faith-based organizations, community leaders and foundations. The campaign aims to fundamentally transform the entire system of naturalization assistance to encourage eligible individuals to naturalize, providing legal immigrants the support they need to become Americans.

Both Pro Bono Net and the Immigration Advocates network are among the campaign’s founding national partners. This unprecedented effort will focus on eight cities across the country with large populations of citizenship-eligible residents, helping more immigrants who are legal permanent residents become citizens and updating the system of naturalization assistance.

CitizenshipWorks, an online platform and a project of the Immigration Advocates Network, Pro Bono Net and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, plays an important role in the new national effort to make citizenship services more effective and accessible.

CitizenshipWorks provides easy-to-use online tools to help low and moderate-income individuals answer questions about their eligibility for naturalization, better understand the naturalization process, find legal help, and prepare for the naturalization tests. The site is empowering more legal permanent residents to take an active role in the citizenship process, putting them on a path toward deeper participation in civic life, including the ability to vote.

Currently, more than eight million individuals in the United States qualify for citizenship as legal residents.  Often deterred by the complex process associated with naturalization as well as the costly fees, only 8% of eligible residents take the steps to become citizens each year. Within the next three years, the New Americans Campaign hopes to modernize and streamline the naturalization process. The campaign employs a number of innovative approaches, including:

  • Novel partnerships between service providers, elected officials, faith-based organizations, the business sector and media to reach aspiring citizens;
  • New technology tools to assist applicants; and
  • Outreach to rural and other hard-to-reach communities

Read more about how the program is helping pave the road to citizenship for immigrants in this LA Times article.