December 2015

Dear Friends,

As we enter 2016, the mission of Pro Bono Net, a national nonprofit dedicated to increasing access to justice, is more important than ever before. We are a nation of laws, yet we do not provide legal support in any comprehensive way for the millions of people who cannot afford a lawyer when they really need one—victims of natural disasters, battered women, children fleeing persecution in their home countries, and many others. Through innovative technology solutions and expertise in building and mobilizing justice networks, Pro Bono Net is helping address the access to justice gap.

In 2009 Mark O’Brien, Pro Bono Net’s Executive Director, came to Seattle to urge Microsoft to get involved in promoting access to justice through technology.  His pitch was simple: technology can act as a “force multiplier,” enabling volunteer lawyers to reach people in need far more efficiently and enabling people to help themselves.

That message certainly resonated with Microsoft, and with me. Six years later, I’m proud to serve as the Chair of the Board of Pro Bono Net. I have seen the impact of Pro Bono Net’s technology solutions firsthand, and am more convinced than ever in the efficacy of these solutions. At the same time, technology alone can’t really achieve anything—we need people to contribute their time, talent and resources. (Technology is just a tool.) The networks and partnerships Pro Bono Net has cultivated over the years with other legal services organizations have been crucial in getting vital resources and legal information to volunteer lawyers and people who represent themselves.

Today Pro Bono Net is running multiple programs, including probono.net, LawHelp.org, LawHelp Interactive, and the Immigration Advocates Network. These programs help people to help themselves and help volunteer lawyers to be far more effective. This year alone more than 8 million people used Pro Bono Net’s resources to help address their legal needs. We look forward to another productive year in 2016!

Sincerely,

Dave signature_crop

 

 

 

David A. Heiner, Pro Bono Net Board Chair

 

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Dave is Vice President of Regulatory Affairs at Microsoft. Dave’s team focuses on privacy, telecommunications, accessibility, Internet safety and human rights. In addition to serving as Pro Bono Net’s Board Chair, Dave encourages Microsoft lawyers to take on immigration cases through Microsoft’s partnership with Kids In Need of Defense, and works with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project to assist “Dreamers” in qualifying for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status. Pictured above with Dave (far right) at Pro Bono Net’s Annual Event at Latham & Watkins are (L-R): Mark O’Brien, Pro Bono Net’s Executive Director; LeeAnn Black, Latham & Watkins & Pro Bono Net Board; Wendy Atrokhov, Latham & Watkins; and Niki DeMel, Pro Bono Net Staff.

 

 

Yesterday, LawHelpNY (www.LawHelpNY.org), a family of online legal information and referral Internet portals for low and moderate income New Yorkers, announced the launch of its LiveHelp chatting service for visitors to the New York State Unified Court Systems website, CourtHelp (www.nycourthelp.gov).  The LiveHelp service will allow site visitors  to chat with operators who can guide them to legal resources and organizations that may be able to assist them in their case. The initiative is a collaborative effort of multiple organizations working to create a more seamless and integrated help system for vulnerable New Yorkers seeking assistance with legal problems.

Since 2010, LiveHelp operators, primarily trained law student volunteers, have assisted individuals visiting the LawHelpNY website who are often facing serious legal problems, but can’t afford a lawyer. LiveHelp will now be available to visitors on the foreclosure pages of the CourtHelp website, primarily homeowners facing foreclosure, as well as tenants of buildings in foreclosure.

Overwhelmingly, homeowners in foreclosure cases in New York State appear in court without counsel, while 100% of the plaintiffs are represented. It is this disparity, as well as the potential devastating impact on families of losing their home in foreclosure, that led to the selection of this particular topic for which to offer LiveHelp assistance on the CourtHelp website. Visitors to the website can click the button (shown below) to access the service. The button is available on 10 foreclosure-related webpages on CourtHelp. An example can be found at the following link: http://nycourts.gov/courthelp//Homes/foreclosures.shtml.

Press Release Image LHNY

 

 

 

The project is funded by an LSC (Legal Services Corporation) Technology Initiative Grant awarded to Legal Assistance of Western New York. The initiative serves as a pilot to explore the effectiveness of providing real-time assistance to unrepresented litigants visiting the CourtHelp website to further close the justice gap in New York State Courts.

This project is a groundbreaking collaboration in the provision of assistance to unrepresented litigants, bringing together LawHelpNY, the New York State Courts Access to Justice Program, and Pro Bono Net. These organizations collaborated closely to launch the initiative – installing coding, developing operator scripts, and training LiveHelp operators.

“We believe that for individuals going to court on their own who face the very real prospect of losing their home, having the ability to make a connection with an individual who can help, even if it’s in some small way, pointing them to resources or information, can have a significant impact,” said Rochelle Klempner, Chief Counsel, New York State Courts Access to Justice Program.

In making LiveHelp available to visitors on the foreclosure pages of the CourtHelp website, LawHelpNY hopes to expand its reach to serve even more low and moderate-income New Yorkers, in particular those who are facing the dreaded prospect of losing their home.

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An article appeared today in the New York Law Journal about the project. You can view that article here on probono.net courtesy of New York Law Journal.

 

Halimah Elmariah Development & Communications Intern Fall 2015
Halimah Elmariah Development & Communications Intern

 

Halimah is a sophomore at Seton Hall studying International Relations with a minor in Middle Eastern Studies and French. Passionate about social justice and empowering Muslim women, she regularly blogs for MuslimGirl.net. Halimah is a Development & Communications intern for the Fall of 2015 at Pro Bono Net’s New York Headquarters.

The Practicising Law Institute, PLI, recently held a seminar aimed to train volunteers who are interested in helping people affected by disasters entitled “Providing Legal Assistance in the Aftermath of Disaster 2015.” Tiela Chalmers, the Chief Executive Officer of the Alameda County Bar Association, and member of Pro Bono Net’s Board of Directors, hosted the highly informative training. It took months to create and featured various segments that covered a wide range of topics concerning disaster relief.

In the process of establishing this seminar, Chalmers and other collaborating agencies spoke to several legal service individuals, who worked in various disaster-struck locations, to consult them on the most pressing issues that needed to be addressed in the aftermath of disasters. They concluded that there are numerous issues to address, however, the most urgent needs were: landlord and tenant problems, foreclosure and mortgage concerns, insurance, Federal Disaster Assistance, and consumer issues.

Julia Price Rosner, the Unemployment Insurance Coordinator at Manhattan Legal Services, explained the long and tedious process of applying for FEMA to compensate for personal loses after disasters.

She articulated two preconditions that need to happen to mobilize FEMA. First, the governor must request a presidential disaster declaration. Following this declaration, the president declares a disaster, which would consequently authorize a series of programs aimed to alleviate disaster-struck regions. Although Rosner’s explanation seemed simple and straightforward, she stressed the difficulty of actually acquiring aid from FEMA.

Rosner instructed the trainees to ensure that their clients have necessary documents required to complete the FEMA application form, including total household income, social security number, previous address and post-disaster address, bank routing number, insurance information, and a description of losses.

Perhaps the most difficult thing to do from the list is to compile a record of lost items. Recovering from a disaster that claimed much of one’s personal possessions is a harrowing experience that most don’t anticipate or prepare for; thus, recalling all the small and large items that stored some of the most valuable memories is not an easy task.

In order to be eligible for FEMA, Rosner notes that the homeowner or whoever is living in the affected house must be a US citizen, a non-citizen national, or a qualified alien. For the undocumented immigrant population affected by disasters, they can apply for FEMA if they have kids who are US citizens or if anyone living in the home with them is a US citizen.

The Federal Disaster Assistance segment closed with a discussion about Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA), a federal program only eligible for people who lost work or income directly due to a disaster. Rosner highlighted that DUA is a program of last resort, meaning that it’s difficult to obtain and only granted under certain conditions.

An individual who’s unemployed as a result of a disaster must first apply for state unemployment insurance. If the individual is denied, then he or she can apply for DUA provided that they prove denial of state unemployment insurance.

The key element Rosner repeatedly underscored is that Federal Disaster Assistance programs should be considered only after exhausting all other disaster relief options. She maintained that the federal government will ensure that there are no other disaster relief alternatives before granting it to disaster affected individuals.

To learn more about how to prepare for representing Disaster Victims, or view the “Providing Legal Assistance in the Aftermath of Disaster 2015” webinar, visit the Pracitising Law Institute’s website www.pli.edu.

 



Practising Law InstituteThis seminar/webcast was hosted by the
Practising Law Institute. To register for any webcasts or seminars go to www.pli.edu for more information.

At the core of Practising Law Institute’s mission is its commitment to offer training to members of the legal profession to support their pro bono service. PLI offers pro bono training, scholarships, and access to live programs, Webcasts, and On-Demand archived programs, as well as an extensive Pro Bono Membership program. For more information about PLI’s pro bono programs and activities, please visit www.pli.edu/probono. Follow PLI’s Pro Bono Group on LinkedIn, and on Twitter @ProBonoPLI.]

 

Halimah Elmariah Development & Communications Intern Fall 2015
Halimah Elmariah Development & Communications Intern

 

Halimah is a sophomore at Seton Hall studying International Relations with a minor in Middle Eastern Studies and French. Passionate about social justice and empowering Muslim women, she regularly blogs for MuslimGirl.net. Halimah is a Development & Communications intern for the Fall of 2015 at Pro Bono Net’s New York Headquarters.

In honor of this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities, I would like to highlight OlmsteadRights.org. It has been a little over a year since Pro Bono Net partnered with Atlanta Legal Aid, and the National Disability Rights Network to launch Olmsteadrights.org. The resourceful website features an array of helpful resources, including a self-help segment, a legal advocacy section for lawyers, personal stories of people with disabilities, and a brief history of Olmstead.

The stories featured on Olmsteadrights.org illustrate an intimate portrait of the lives of disabled people, who successfully overcame imposed difficulties that hindered their quality of life. A consistent theme of resilience and perseverance manifests in the various poignant and motivational stories of disabled people meeting their needs with the help of Olmstead, pro bono lawyers, and various legal aid societies.

One story tells of a well-educated banker, who suddenly started to fall more and more frequently, until he eventually fell into a month-long coma due to a nerve damage disease.  After recovering from his coma and regaining some of his physical capability, the banker no longer wanted to stay in the nursing home. He remembers feeling depressed in the first couple of years during his stay in the nursing home. Fortunately, he was able to obtain a Medicaid Waiver, a federal program that provides domestic help for disabled people, and Money Follows the Person, also a federal program that permits people to return to their community.

The story of the Olmstead decision dates back to 1999, when the Supreme Court decided on a landmark case that still impacts millions of Americans with disabilities. Two Georgian women, Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson, both of whom had a mental condition, filed a lawsuit against the state for keeping them in mental institutions, after their doctors cleared them to live in the community.  Lawyers at the Atlanta Legal Aid helped them advance their case that went to the highest court in the United States. Under the American Disabilities Act, the Supreme Court found that the state cannot discriminate against people with disabilities.

Personally, the success of Olmstead hits home. I grew up with an older deaf brother, who luckily was afforded the same opportunities as me, to be able to lead a normal, healthy, and successful life. Fortunately, he received quality education from his pre-school years up until college that helped him improve his speech and work on his interpersonal skills. Additionally, he was offered unparalleled health services to meet his physical needs.

My parents often contemplated what my brother’s life and our family’s fate would have been like if we didn’t live in the United States. When I learned of Olmsteadrights.org, I was grateful that my brother would have access to legal support if he ever required it to meet his legal needs.


 

OlmsteadRightsThe Disability Integration Project of Atlanta Legal Aid Society created OlmsteadRights.org in collaboration with our partners and funders to be a place for everyone to learn about the Olmstead decision. The website also provides resources and information for self-advocates, family and friends of people with disabilities, and legal advocates alike. The website was created by the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Inc. in partnership with the National Disability Rights Network and funded by a Technology Initiative Grant (TIG Grant) from the Legal Services Corporation (LSC).