May 2013

Pro Bono Net staffers Mirenda Watkins and Adam Friedl share their top takeaways from the Equal Justice Conference, which they both attended (and presented at) for the first time this year.

  Mirenda Watkins

Mirenda Watkins, LawHelp Interactive Coordinator, attended EJC for the first time in 2013.

 

Since joining the Pro Bono Net team, I heard a lot of great things about the Equal Justice Conference (EJC), so I was really looking forward to attending.  The 2013 ABA/NLADA EJC took place May 8-12 in St. Louis, MO and had over 700 attendees. It was a busy, but fantastic time. I saw a number of new, as well as familiar faces, and came away inspired by the panels and updates on the work being done nationwide to increase access to justice. I learned so much by attending the panels and talking to conference participants. In this post, I’ll share just five of the many things I learned in St. Louis (in no order of importance):

 1)      50 Tech Tips is a popular conference session for a reason! I came away with great advice on  new tools, apps, and software that I can use at work and at home (With one visit to https://www.catalogchoice.org/, it’s sayonara Restoration Hardware Catalogues!).

 2)      Jeff Hogue is amazing. Well, I already knew this, but wanted to shout out Jeff and Legal Assistance of Western New York for winning the NLADA Innovations in Technology Award.  Jeff and I also co-presented on a panel entitled, Emerging Technology to Enhance Delivery of Services to LEP Communities: An Overview of Tools and Innovative Approaches. His presentation on translation methods and tools, including machine translations, as well as his ideas for the future really energized the crowd.

3)      I am the only person not on Twitter. My dad keeps telling me to get an account and I don’t listen. Check out #ejcstl to find out what was said in the twitterverse about this event.

4)      There were no construction-related deaths in building the St. Louis Gateway Arch. The conference took place in downtown St. Louis with stunning views of the arch and in close proximity to Old Courthouse, where the first two trials of the historically significant Dred Scott case were heard.

5)      Gamification can have valuable use in the access to justice community. Lisa Colpoys, Executive Director of Illinois Legal Aid Online, gave an informative presentation on gamification in the Self-Presented Litigants Pre-conference session. Games are a great way to convey legal information and can also be used as a learning tool to familiarize self-represented litigants with the legal process. She noted that 3 billion hours a week are spent gaming worldwide (which makes me think I may need to slow down on Words with Friends…).

 

 Adam Friedl

Adam Friedl, Pro Bono Coordinator, also attended EJC for the first time this year.

 

Mirenda is a tough act to follow (she should have warned me she was taking notes!). Trying to match her for quality of insight and observation is probably a lost cause for me, but I can win on quantity! Here are the six almost-as-thoughtful-as-Mirenda’s lessons I’m taking away from my first EJC conference:

1)      Non-traditional service delivery models are the way of the future. Numerous sessions focused on uses of technology, unbundled legal services, new ways to educate self-represented litigants… but even the talks I attended that nominally had nothing to do with these topics ended up discussing them in some form.

2)      Collaborative gatherings like EJC spread innovative ideas and create new ones. I frequently found myself explaining some new project I’m involved with, and the response was “we do something kind of like that, just different in way,” or “you know who you should talk to about that.” I learned so much from other folks there about different ways to tackle similar problems, and came home with entirely new (to me, at least!) ideas inspired by what I’d heard.

3)      The Arch is the world’s tallest stainless steel monument, and its width equals its height (630 feet). Perhaps the algebraically-inclined among you could deduce that latter fact by looking, but I never would have guessed.

4)      Important people are paying attention to the economic challenges faced by current and future legal services lawyers. For public interest lawyers like Mirenda and myself who went to law school, after it cost about $8 million, things can get a little disheartening. I was really impressed that the conference organizers invited national student loan expert Heather Jarvis, as well as Equal Justice Works, to hold a session on student loan strategies—and that so many program directors were there!

5)      The innovative work that Chief Judge Lippman and Judge Fisher are doing on Access to Justice in New York is being recognized and replicated across the country. It makes me even more excited to have a small part in those efforts.

6)      It’s important to pace yourself: the hundred-plus session offerings all look fantastic, but you have to accept that it’s not possible to take everything in. It reminds me of those all-you-can-eat buffet restaurants my grandparents took us to—just because they have 100 kinds of pie doesn’t mean that you should try to eat that many.

So Mirenda: EJC, Portland, 2014? I’ll tweet you about it.

LSNTAP and Pro Bono Net kicked off their spring webinar series on Wednesday April 24th. First up in the Community Training Series was the ever popular 50 Tech Tips. The presenters included Anna Hineline, of Legal Assistance of Western New York,  Leah Peabbles of Colorado Legal Services, Kim Marshall of the Arkansas Legal Services Partnership, and Liz Keith of Pro Bono Net. Out of the 50 tips presented on the webinar, we’ve highlighted what we consider to be the Top Ten.  Those interested in discovering the other 40 tech tips will be able to find the webinar on lsntap.org, where it will be uploaded in several shorter videos over the course of the next few weeks. For those who are members of the SWEB support site, the power point slides used in the webinar are available here in the SWEB training section.

THE TOP TEN TECH TIPS

1. Online Training Resources

Several websites that provide free tech training were mentioned during the hour. These sites can be valuable tools in educating your staff about how to best utilize online resources.

  • http://www.howto.gov/training provides a number of useful tutorials and workshops, and while their newest workshops have a fee attached, there is enough free content in the archives to be a big help.
  • Teachparentstech.org is another site mentioned during the tech tips webinar, which provides a more basic set of tutorials for efficient computer use.

2. 7-Zip

7-Zip is a tool for compressing and uncompressing files with versions available for PC and Mac. It is comparable to WinRAR, but as the advantage of being free. 7-Zip is a reliable way to deal with all your file archiving needs.

3. ShareLaw.org

ShareLaw.org is an LSC funded website that provides access to a library of legal aid resources. Legal aid organizations, including Vermont Law Help and the Arkansas Legal Services Partnership, upload many resources to ShareLaw on over 50 topics and numerous sub-topics.

4. Chrome Remote Desktop.

For users of Google Chrome, the Chrome Remote Desktop feature allows others temporary access to remotely control your computer. It can be very helpful for tech support or quick collaboration on projects.

5. Ninite.com

Ninite.com is another useful site, as it lists some of the best and most useful free programs from across the web. If you are looking for a way to quickly and easily install a number of important programs, Ninite is one of the best ways to do so.  Ninite will also work to quickly and automatically install updates to any of the programs you have chosen, keeping you constantly equipped with the latest updates.

6. Password Tips

A number of tips were provided for improving your password strength and thus increasing security. While Microsoft provides some Tips for password creation, websites like PasswordSavvy.org  can be used to complicate existing passwords.

7. Google Apps

Google Apps can be a vital tool for modern businesses. Tools like Google Drive and Google Docs allow for easy collaboration and updates on group projects, while Gmail and Google Talk (gchat) help keep team members in touch. The Google Apps support pages are also very helpful for familiarizing yourself with the services offered by Google Apps and transitioning from Microsoft Office programs. Another tool provided by Google that got a specific mention was Google Keep, a note taking program similar to Evernote.

8. Ustream.tv

Ustream allows users to stream live video on their own channels. It is relatively easy to use and only requires a webcam and an internet connection. An account can be created and put into use within minutes.  This is an easy way to get around the participant restrictions imposed by programs like Skype and Google hangouts. Also, it is great for lectures, presentations, or other events.

9. Toggl Timekeeping

Toggl Timekeeping is a free tool that can be used to monitor the way you spend your time at work, and can give you valuable information which can be used to increase your efficiency. While the basic uses of Toggl Timekeeping are free, there are advanced features that can be unlocked with a small fee. Toggl can also be used with other programs such as Google calendar and can be used by multiple people to coordinate their timekeeping.

10. Songza

Songza is a free, online music website that allows you to listen to playlists made up by music experts that are recommended based on the time or day or your activity. With playlists such as “Boosting Your Energy” and “Working to Background Beats”, Songza is well suited to use at work and can help keep interest and enthusiasm up while working on time consuming projects.

Stay tuned for the next webinar in this series produced by Pro Bono Net, “Developing a Mobile Strategy to Reach Our Clients, which takes place on Wednesday, June 19th from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. (Pacific Time). Registration for that webinar will open soon, so be sure to sign up at the LSNTAP website.

 

After the success of our post, Why Pro Bono? You Mean, Why Not?, we thought it would be interesting to pose the question “Why Pro Bono?” to members of the legal community to discuss the benefits of pro bono work.   We are very thankful to Harlene Katzman, Pro Bono Counsel at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, for being the first to answer our question: “Why Pro Bono?”

For Harlene Katzman, the Pro Bono Counsel at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, pro bono work and her job at the firm are about finding balance.

Harlene Katzman, the Pro Bono Counsel at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, says pro bono work helps achieve balance.

The firm takes on a wide variety of pro bono matters, from those that meet the urgent needs of people living in poverty to those that focus on building the skills of the Firm’s attorneys.  At Simpson Thacher we work to balance different types of cases, says Harlene.

When asked about why attorneys take pro bono cases, Harlene says, “Different people have different reasons for doing pro bono work, and recognizing those different needs is what enables me to do my job.  Attorneys are drawn to specific client communities and specific issues – some are deeply affected by the escalating rate of poverty, the prevalence of gender based violence, or the complexity of laws that need to be navigated to receive entitled benefits or immigration status.  Others simply want to work with disadvantaged clients whose lives are directly affected by their representation.  Whatever the motivation, our attorneys understand that being a lawyer gives them special privilege to access the legal system, and that this privilege should be shared with those who have no access to that system to ensure a just society.”

The growing number of individuals who need legal help amid ongoing cuts to legal services means that fewer and fewer of the legal needs of poor Americans are being met.  “There are a lot of legal services organizations that handle basic legal needs, especially in urban cities where the poverty rates are highest, but budget cuts have slashed their staff and resources substantially.  In New York, legal aid organizations have to turn away eight of every nine people they see,” says Harlene.   She adds that legal aid organizations leverage their expertise by training and mentoring law firm lawyers.

In addition to matters addressing the urgent needs of low -income individuals, attorneys at Simpson Thacher handle environmental matters, civil rights cases, corporate matters to assist entrepreneurs, international human rights projects, and provide counsel to nonprofit organizations.

Pro bono matters come to the firm in a variety of different ways.  “As the Firm’s Pro Bono Counsel, my job is to not only bring in a wide variety of matters, but also to ensure that they are a good fit for our attorneys, and are impactful,” says Harlene.  “We encourage our attorneys to bring matters they care about to the Firm. For example, a new associate brought in a case from her law school clinic to the Firm.”

At Simpson Thacher, attorneys strive to find a balance in representing institutional commercial clients with pro bono clients, who are often low-income individuals.  Representing clients with such different needs often enhances the satisfaction and meaning our attorneys find in their work.  Harlene feels that a strong pro bono culture is important for a law firm of Simpson Thacher’s size and reputation. “It’s hard to find someone at our Firm who hasn’t worked on a pro bono matter,” she adds. “As a result, most of our attorneys expect to participate in our pro bono program.”

Despite the variety of matters, some still are hesitant to take on a pro bono case. Harlene says that it can be daunting to take on a matter in an unfamiliar area of the law. “We work hard to train associates in the relevant area of law and create internal networks that associates can look to for advice,” says Harlene.  With the support network at Simpson Thacher, attorneys are more confident handling new types of cases.

Harlene also encourages attorneys to learn time management skills to balance their billable work with their pro bono work.   “Being a good associate involves good time management. Because we have a good balance in the types of pro bono matters we offer – from short term legal advice clinics to multi-year impact litigations – most attorneys can find a way to fit pro bono matters into their schedules.”

“Every day I think about balance, and I think the Firm does a good job of achieving it.”

by Xander Karsten and Jillian Theil

As part of our work with Pro Bono Net, we frequently attend conferences, which offer us the opportunity to connect with colleagues as well as learn and share trending topics, information and new tools.  This year’s Nonprofit Technology Conference

From L-R: Michael Smolens, Matthew Burnett, Xander Karsten, and Teri Ross at NTC 2013

(NTC) in Minneapolis, Minnesota was no different. But what sets NTC apart is that it draws non-profit professionals from a number of fields – not just the legal sector. Meeting and learning from medical service providers, parent advocate associations, and more, provides us with invaluable insights as to how other nonprofits approach common problems, such as how to increase access to much needed services.

One of the trending topics at NTC was the digital divide, and how we close the inequality gap that exists between those who have access to technology and those who do not. Today, nonprofits are relying more and more on technology to efficiently and effectively achieve their goals and deliver services.

The digital divide was the main focus of a presentation by Elizabeth Pope, senior researcher at Idealware in her session called, From Digital Divide to Digital Inclusion: Technology as an Equalizing Force. In this session, strategies for closing the divide were discussed, such as identifying barriers to technology access (mobility barriers, language barriers, economic barriers, etc). Two organizations that have made progress on increasing technology access – the Pacer Center and the Skokie Public Library– were discussed as exemplary organizations working on how to create effective resources for clients who have a limited understanding of technology. At Pro Bono Net, this is a particularly important issue for us as we develop technology tools to increase access to justice, such as our LawHelp  and LawHelp Interactive platforms. Additionally, it is helpful in thinking through our partnerships with public libraries, important partners in closing justice and technology gaps.

Consequently, access to content via mobile was also a focus of discussions around the digital divide. With a growing number of low income and young users accessing websites and direct services organizations on mobile devices, this is yet another key topic for nonprofits. At Pro Bono Net, developing mobile optimized versions of our LawHelp site is a key priority in enabling access to legal services to a broader demographic, and CitizenshipWorks.org offers a mobile app that helps immigrants understand the naturalization process. SMS and Derek Olson, Vice President of Foraker Labs and Michele Zwiebel, Director of Programs and Content at Breastcancer.org provided exceptional insights into the process of translating a full site into a mobile accessible site in their presentation Designing a Mobile User Experience for Breast Cancer Survivors. Even though the mobile site is health oriented, there were many takeaways for non-health organizations, such as how to mobile optimize a content-heavy site and the importance of observing your audience’s needs when designing for mobile. The panel also reflected the growing sentiment that designing for mobile users should be a primary consideration in all platform development, allowing for maximum accessibility across all devices.

Echoing the mantra of accessibility, mobile platforms and multilingual content were also examined in a panel moderated by Pro Bono Net’s Xander Karsten, Breaking through Language Barriers with Technology with panelists Teri Ross, Program Director of Ayuda Legal Illinois; Michael Smolens, Founder of DotSub and Board Member of Translators without Borders; and Matthew Burnett, Director of Immigration Advocates Network. This breakout session highlighted the work and strategies of each organization in making their online presence meaningful to those with limited English proficiency, such as addressing how to translate a site that offers a large amount of content, how to approach translation projects in communities where multiple languages are spoken, translation of multimedia resources and much more. Interestingly, the session was particularly unique in that it was the only conference panel to directly focus on language access rights, something that we work towards at Pro Bono Net by offering the ability to translate our LawHelp sites into multiple languages.

In much of our day–to-day work we are often confronted with figuring out how to  provide meaningful access to those who face incredible barriers when trying to access resources and information. Within our own communities we talk about language access, mobile access, literacy access, economic access, physical access and more. Utilizing the principle of accessibility when designing sites and services can change the life of a disadvantaged individual facing legal challenges.  NTC is a great opportunity to look at these issues from outside the legal services perspective, see these common access issues in a different light, and bring back new and innovative solutions to the legal technology community.