July 2014

On Friday, August 1st, Practising Law Institute (PLI) will be hosting a free webinar on “Advanced Public Assistance and Food Stamp Eligibility 2014: Special Populations.”

The webinar will cover the intricate eligibility rules for special populations seeking Public Assistance and Food Stamps (SNAP). Certain populations, including immigrants, the homeless, and people with disabilities, are subject to various exceptions and modifications to the usual rules. These populations are also typically the most in need of assistance.  Along with information regarding representing these special populations, the webinar will cover information on representing clients in Fair Hearings and Article 78 special proceedings, two of the primary forums in which advocates assist people with public assistance and food stamp problems. This session will complement PLI’s recent training sessions on basic eligibility, and is ideal for attorneys interested in helping low-income clients with public assistance and food stamp matters.

PLI will also be offering two of the webinar sessions with Spanish translations. The sessions available in translation are “Special Populations: Immigrants” at 9:15 ET and the “Fair Hearings” at 2:15 ET. The translations are available thanks to an exciting pilot initiative by PLI that will help to increase the accessibility of these vital resources.

The full schedule of the webinar is available here, tune in for the whole day or just catch the one session you need!

In June, Pro Bono Net partnered with LSNTAP to produce a webinar on technology tools for Limited English Proficiency communities. Moderated by Mirenda Watkins of Pro Bono Net, the webinar examined some of the challenges of creating and maintaining multilingual tech tools and showcased possible solutions to these challenges through innovative examples in the legal technology community.

With 25 million people in the US classified as LEP, the webinar first explored the challenges of using technology to help the LEP community navigate the legal system. Rochelle Klempner, Chief Counsel of the NYS Courts Access to Justice Program covered the difficult task of updating multilingual forms, including document assembly programs, written self-help materials, training materials, videos, webpages, posters, flyers, signs, and more when something changes. She provided some great tips on how to keep these resources current.

Additionally, Kathy Daniels of Statewide Legal Services of Connecticut discussed the fotonovela video project, an alternative solution to the challenge described above. A fotonovela uses photos with conversation bubbles and is similar to a comic book. She has developed PDF and video (with audio) resources in the fotonovela format. Daniels noted that the videos can be easily modified for additional languages and adapted to almost any legal topic or jurisdiction.

Sandra Sandoval of the Immigration Advocates Network also presented on CitizenshipWorks, a collection of multilingual online tools and resources that assist the public and advocates involved in the naturalization process. Resources are accessible via a mobile application, SMS text, and LiveHelp. Multilingual resources include document assembly tools and an e-learning module.

Lastly, Mike Monahan of the State Bar of Georgia Pro Bono Project / Georgia Legal Services Program covered resources his program developed for attorneys assisting LEP clients. He demoed their online MCLE videos, as well as an SMS tool that allows attorneys to text for interpretation and other resources.

The webinar was well attended, with lots of great questions. Materials from this informative webinar are available on the SWEB Support Site, and be sure to join us for the next LSNTAP/PBN webinar!

LawHelp Interactive (LHI) is a Pro Bono Net program that helps poverty law and court access-to-justice programs implement online document assembly projects. Blue Ridge Legal Services and Pro Bono Net are rebuilding the technical infrastructure of LHI to make sure that it remains a sustainable, scalable national solution for the extensive development and use of interactive legal forms and to better support integration with case management and e-filing systems in courts nationwide. LHI has grown at a rapid pace – from 76,000 documents completed in 2007 to more than 815,000 forms in 2013. In 2006, LHI supported interactive forms projects in 11 states in 2006; we now support over 40 states that are all using LHI in vital and innovative ways on a daily basis. The service is being used in ever more creative and compelling ways to empower self-represented litigants and increase the capacity of legal services and pro bono attorneys. The LHI rebuild will support these growing and diverse uses and user base needs and volume. Rebuilding a large system such as LHI that is used in so many different ways by so many different people is an intense project.

Speaking of intense, three Pro Bono Net staff members (Alice, Karin, and I) are wedding planning at the same time. While the LHI rebuild and weddings are different in many ways, there are some lessons that can be learned from the rebuild process useful for wedding planning. Here are a few:

  • Establishing a Budget and a Project Plan: Pro Bono Net is working with Marlabs Corporation, a leading IT service provider, to implement the LHI rebuild. Earlier this year, Marlabs, Pro Bono Net, and Blue Ridge Legal Services developed a high-level project plan for the rebuild outlining the timeline for building, testing, updating, and transitioning to the new LHI platform. Having a plan early on in wedding planning, along with setting a budget, is crucial in making sure that everything is in place in time for the big day and things are sustainable afterwards.
  • Utilizing Experts: Pro Bono Net Staff and expert consultants like long-time LHI collaborators Kaivo, Capstone Practice Systems, and Todd Pedwell play a significant role in providing expertise of the LHI system which is important in making sure the new system meets the needs of LHI users and partners. When folks are looking to plan a wedding, know when to call on experts. You’ll be happier with the finished product (whether it be a template upload process or a wedding cake).
  • Feedback and Partnerships: A major strength of LHI is its partners and the sharing of best practices. We will be opening up the rebuild environment around August 2014 to our partners to test and provide feedback. This is going to be a critical step in the success of the rebuild; it will be like the dress rehearsal where we get to make sure everything works before the real walk down the aisle. Similarly with wedding planning, use your friends and family to get feedback on ideas. They’ll add great insight.
  • Flexibility: There are a lot of moving pieces to LHI and it’s a complex system. Upgrading HotDocs, the software used to assemble documents on LHI, took longer than expected and changes like this can affect the rebuild process. Staying flexible is key to keeping a project like the rebuild moving forward. Same thing with weddings, be flexible enough to react to inclement weather, friends you really want to come relocating to the Philippines (true story!), unexpected costs, etc.

As with a wedding, there is a lot of excitement about what the new LHI system will look like. For more information and updates on the LHI rebuild, please visit: http://www.probono.net/dasupport/lhi_rebuild/ (for wedding inspiration, I recommend: http://offbeatbride.com/).

Pro Bono Net recently partnered on a new site – www.olmsteadrights.org – that will inform a wide audience about the Olmstead decision and provide resources and information for self-advocates, family and friends of people with disabilities, and legal advocates alike. The project was spearheaded by Atlanta Legal Aid Society, in partnership with the Legal Services Corporation, National Disability Rights Network, and Pro Bono Net.

“Olmstead” refers to the 1999 U.S. Supreme Court case Olmstead v. L.C. The decision held that people with disabilities have a qualified right to receive state-funded support and services in the community when appropriate, rather than in institutions. It was a landmark disability rights decision that has impacted the lives of millions of people – both with and without disabilities. The new OlmsteadRights site launched just in time for the 15th anniversary of the Olmstead Supreme Court decision. The attention and events surrounding the anniversary served as a perfect launching pad for the site – driving over 400 visits on the first day.

Joseph Smiling
Read Joseph’s powerful story in the “I Am Olmstead” section (Courtesy of OlmsteadRights.org)

“Olmstead is the most important Supreme Court case for people with disabilities” explained Talley Wells, Director of the Disability Integration Project at the Atlanta Legal Aid Society. “It’s a very transformative decision and not enough people know about it. We wanted everybody to hear the stories of people living in the community and we wanted people to be able to take advantage of Olmstead.”

The implementation of Olmstead has been slow since the 1999 ruling, but increased significantly since the U.S. Justice Department prioritized and began enforcing the mandate in 2009. While there are bits and pieces of information regarding Olmstead on the Internet, OlmsteadRights will centralize this information in a cohesive site featuring case work, stories, and information on how to advocate for and enforce Olmstead.

The site is broken into three main sections: “I Am Olmstead” for educating the general public, “Self-Help Tools” for those with disabilities, and “Legal Advocacy Tools” for those wishing to use the law to advocate on behalf of their clients. According to Wells, the “I Am Olmstead” section has received the most enthusiastic response so far due to the powerful stories it features about the positive impacts living in the community has had for a wide variety of people with disabilities.

Cheri, another individual who shared her moving story (Courtesy of OlmsteadRights.org)

However, the team at Atlanta Legal Aid Society is most excited for the legal advocates section. “Helping lawyers provide Olmstead advocacy will have powerful implications” said Wells, “we’re excited to give legal services attorneys tools they can use to do Olmstead advocacy.”  There is a wide variety of areas in which Olmstead will be useful, ranging from special education cases to areas of elder law, as attorneys often lack requisite information on how to apply Olmstead to these situations. The legal advocates section will transform attorneys into more powerful advocates for their clients.

One of the most promising features of the site is the Olmstead Legal Outline. The Outline allows lawyers to see which cases are most similar to theirs, read about the developed law around the country, and access sample pleadings. There will also be a series of podcasts on the site to provide further background information. These resources will give attorneys a strong base to build their case, allowing for more efficient and successful advocacy. The website is also fully accessible and inviting for people with all different kinds of disabilities. “It’s important for all websites to be accessible,” explained Wells, “but even more important for a website for people with disabilities.”

While the legal outline will undoubtedly be very practical, the hundreds of photographs on the site are what make it truly stand out. “We had such energy and excitement in the self-advocacy community – people are really excited about the website and sharing their stories and pictures,” said Wells. These photographs and stories will help fuel the dissemination of information about Olmstead, and hopefully lead to even more stories of individuals thriving in their communities.

Diverse Group of People with Disabilities Holding I am Olmstead Signs