March 2013

Allison McDermott, Deputy Director, Pro Bono Net

We wanted to share the news that after twelve years at Pro Bono Net, our Deputy Director Allison McDermott is leaving at the end of this month. Allison has been appointed Executive Director of the Havens Relief Fund Society, a New York institution with a long and rich history of providing emergency financial assistance to needy individuals.

An announcement of the appointment ran recently in the New York Nonprofit Press.

This is terrific news for Allison, her family and certainly the New York philanthropic community.  She will be a fantastic leader at Havens, and we look forward to watching what she does there. While Pro Bono Net will miss her leadership, we take considerable comfort in what a terrific job she’s done over the past twelve years to build our capacity. Our programs are strong, our partnerships stable, and we have a terrific staff that brings a similar range of talent and commitment to our mission.

We are currently working through how best to fill the many roles Allison played at Pro Bono Net, and to take this opportunity to re-tool in order to ensure that we are best able to meet the needs of our many and diverse stakeholders going forward.  We hope you will join us in wishing Allison the very best going forward.

LawHelp.org, originally developed by Pro Bono Net in 2001 with funding from the Legal Services Corporation, the Open Society Institute, and others, announced last year the rollout of a redesigned platform, dubbed LH3. LawHelp.org is a national, online network of consumer legal information websites that help low income people find timely and accurate legal aid referrals, information about legal rights, and self-help resources.

The new platform simplifies the search process for users who, on average, view over 8,000 know-your-rights resources per day and receive referral information for free and low-cost legal services across twenty five partner sites and the national portal page. Thanks to financial support from the Legal Services Corporation Technology Initiative Grant, and with significant input from the national LawHelp network and the redesign steering committee, the new LawHelp platform allows for expanded support for multilingual content, tools to spotlight important content such as online legal forms or videos, and improved searchability from external search engines like Google or Bing. You can read more about the history of LawHelp.org and the initial roll out of the new platform in the June 27th blog“Have You Seen LawHelp Lately?”

Since we initially announced the updated platform last year, twenty partners have launched their new LH3 sites, six of them in the last few months.  On February 5, 2013 sites using the LawHelp.org domain launched, including South Carolina, Washington DC, Hawaii and GuamPennsylvania and Washington both launched their sites in January.

We are very excited about some of the content on these sites and hope you’ll take a moment to look over the changes.

On South Carolina’s LH3 page, take a look at their self-help videos content page and the video embedded on the top of their self-help forms pageDC ‘s website highlights upcoming clinics and self-help court forms, as well as information on agencies working east of the Anacostia River throughout their homepage.  They also utilize a portal page to provide information on the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Program Community Economic Development ProjectHawaii uses a separate issue area to highlight legal research resources on their homepage, and sidebar to tell users how to access their intake program, and provides information about The Legal Aid Society of Hawaii.  Guam uses images on the bottom of their page to highlight legal information and do it yourself forms.   PaLawHelp.org utilizes two sidebar editors to highlight not only news on their homepage, but also their greater legal network. They also use the two editors on the bottom of their page to highlight special initiatives with images to draw the viewer’s eye to their content.  Washingtonlawhelp.org highlights their extensive video and self-help form collections through two editors on their homepage, and features an online intake system using an editor on the right hand toolbar.

Other sites that have launched on this new platform include

Congratulations to all the project staff and stakeholders who made these launches possible.

Look for AlaskaLawHelp.org, NevadaLawHelp.org, NYLawHelp.org, OregonLawHelp.org, and the MicronesiaLawHelp to launch in the upcoming months!

We are really excited about the potential of our new consumer debt project that launched recently here in New York City in partnership with MFY Legal Services. MFY Legal Services (MFY) is an independent, not-for-profit law firm that provides community-based legal representation to low-income New Yorkers in the areas of housing, public benefits, consumer rights, foreclosure, employment, civil rights, disability rights, and family matters.  With a grant from the New York Community Trust, we are leveraging technology and legal expertise to help New Yorkers sued for consumer debt or harassed by credit agencies. While debt collection abuse is widespread, legal services organizations can only provide direct help to a fraction of those who need it.

Each year, tens of thousands of New York City residents go to court for a range of consumer problems – credit card debt, medical debt, identity theft, telemarketing and other financial scams – without an attorney. Without knowledge of the law or an attorney, they have very little recourse in these matters. Most are members of our city’s most vulnerable populations, including the elderly, recent immigrants and the working poor. For these populations, the results can devastate already strained incomes.

The new NYC Consumer Debt Defense Project puts information in the hands of low-income New Yorkers sued for consumer issues and increases the capabilities of the attorneys serving them.

Last month, we launched the new, automated legal forms for pro se litigants, giving low-income New Yorkers the tools to advocate for themselves. The information is available on LawHelpNY. The online forms for pro se litigants include:

  • Answer to a Complaint
  • Demand for Documents
  • Debt Verification Letter

The legal advocacy forms were launched in December 2012 and have been met with enthusiasm from consumer advocates. They allow legal services and volunteer attorneys to quickly and efficiently generate high-quality legal documents. Four online document assembly forms were developed as part of the project for use by pro bono attorneys, law students, and legal services advocates. Specifically, these templates produce:

  • Answers to a Complaint
  • Demands for Documents
  • Debt Verification Letters
  • Oppositions to Motions for Summary Judgment

The forms have been particularly effective in clinical settings where advocates often face an overwhelming demand for services with a limited window of time.

For example, the template for Opposition to a Motion for Summary Judgment revolutionizes the way cases are handled in New York. It allows an advocate to create, in a matter of minutes, a thoroughly researched and carefully drafted response that previously would have required hours to prepare. Litigants can then file those papers and effectively oppose the motion, thus robbing savvy plaintiffs’ attorneys of one of their favorite weapons for taking advantage of pro se individuals. Dora Galacatos of the Feerick Center calls this tool “a huge leap forward in practice.”

Legal aid and pro bono attorneys can find these forms in the new project website that also includes a library full of resources (including training materials, important case law, sample documents, and more), up-to-date news, an events and training calendar, recent case law, podcasts and webinars, and a listserv that is the primary discussion forum on consumer debt defense for consumer advocates in New York City.

In New York City, volunteer attorneys in the CLARO clinics are already using the new site and forms. CLARO is the leading consumer debt clinic providing limited legal advice to low-income New Yorkers sued by debt collectors.  Mark Weliky, Pro Bono Coordinator and Executive Director of the Queens Volunteer Lawyers Project, Inc. told MFY and us that the forms are, “… an invaluable resource in dealing with the complex issues being faced by persons sued for an alleged credit card debt. The vast majority of these litigants cannot afford to hire legal counsel and this new program will help our CLARO clinics to provide free legal assistance to these individuals.”

This project is excellent example of the role Pro Bono Net plays in narrowing the justice gap, combining innovative technology with strong collaborations to benefit vulnerable and low-income individuals who go to court without an attorney and face potentially devastating situations.

Since 2011, the Practising Law Institute (PLI) has helped us champion the necessity of pro bono as one of our Bronze Sponsors. PLI is dedicated to providing attorneys with information and techniques to develop a professional, competitive edge and recognizes the importance of pro bono in helping attorneys cultivate their skills, develop time management and give back to their communities.

This spring, PLI is offering several workshops that will be particularly beneficial to legal services organizations, pro bono attorneys, and those new to pro bono.  These workshops are in line with our mission, and we are very pleased that PBN staff member Liz Keith and board member Tiela Chalmers will join two of the panels.  Below are brief descriptions of upcoming workshops. For more information, please visit www.pli.edu. For more information on becoming a sponsor of Pro Bono Net, visit www.probono.net/sponsors.

 Basic Immigration Law 2013

New York, New York March 14, 2013   9:00 am – 12:30pm ET

 Why you should attend

This program explains the basic concepts of U.S. immigration law and procedure, and reflects current developments and trends.

What you will learn

  • Overview of U.S. immigration law
  • The difference between nonimmigrant (temporary) and immigrant (permanent/green card) visas
  • Employment-related visas and work authorization
  • Family-sponsored visas
  • Asylum and immigration benefits for crime victims
  • Removal proceedings against immigrants
  • Judicial review of immigration cases
  • Naturalization
  • Protecting an employer from sanctions
  • Unique ethical issues in immigration practice

Who should attend

Attorneys who are new to immigration practice and those who need a refresher on immigration law or immigration policy.

 

Social Media for Non-Profit and Public Interest Organizations Featuring Pro Bono Net staff member, Liz Keith

March 21, 2013 9:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. PT

 Why You Should Attend

Learn how to stay on the forefront of new technology and harness the potential of social media to grow your donor and volunteer base and expand your organization’s footprint.

What You Will Learn

  • Entering the social media landscape
  • Efficiently and effectively integrate social media tools
  • Tools to recruit volunteers and promote cases
  • Introduction to social fundraising
  • Cutting edge technologies and what’s to come

Who Should Attend

Executive Directors, development and marketing managers, volunteer coordinators, managing and supervising attorneys, and staff from small and large non-profit and public interest organizations.

 

Working with Immigrants: The Intersection of Basic Immigration, Housing, and Domestic Violence Issues in California

May 14, 2013  9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

 Why You Should Attend:

Many immigrant clients require assistance with a constellation of related yet distinct issues.  This day-long program addresses these particular areas of overlap.  Experienced practitioners in the areas of immigration, family law, and housing share their expertise,providing insight into cultural issues that arise when working with immigrant clients.

What You Will Learn:

  • Cultural competency issues to be aware of
  • What is domestic violence and how does it impact immigrant communities.
  • How immigration status affects eligibility for federally subsidized housing.
  • Fair Housing laws that protect immigrants and domestic violence survivors.
  • Special housing protections for domestic violence survivors
  • What family law issues are implicated when working with immigrant survivors of domestic violence.
  • How to get your client legal immigration status based on domestic violence.

Who Should Attend:

Legal aid and private practitioners who work with immigrant clients or who would like to provide pro bono services to immigrant clients in the areas of immigration, housing, or domestic violence.

 

How to Find and Handle Your First Pro Bono Case Chaired by Pro Bono Net Board Member, Tiela Chalmers

May 29, 2013    9:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

 Why You Should Attend

This program is a great opportunity to get a strong overview of the world of pro bono, how it can enrich and advance your professional development, and how to make it happen.

What You Will Learn

How to find the right case:

  • What types of cases are right to meet your goals
  • How to pick pro bono opportunities that fit in with your current employment situation
  • Where to find cases or matters
  • Options in types of volunteering commitments

Handling your first case:

  • Ensuring that you are or become competent
  • Handling your first client meeting
  • Understanding your client’s circumstances
  • Working with the court
  • Finishing up the case

Who Should Attend

People who have not yet handled their first pro bono case, or have just taken their first matter, and people who work with newer attorneys in professional development or pro bono.