July 2016

Development Communications Intern, Summer 2016

Nicole is a senior at the Sy Syms School of Business in Manhattan studying business management and psychology. She is currently a Summer Development & Communications intern at the Pro Bono Net New York Headquarters.  

On July 12, 2016, the Practicing Law Institute, a nonprofit continuing legal education and professional training organization, hosted a webcast entitled “Serving on a Nonprofit Board – Practical Considerations for Attorneys.” In the webinar, experts Nancy Eberhardt and Courtney A. Darts, Director of the New Jersey Program and Director of Education at the Pro Bono Partnership, discussed practical tips and ethical considerations for attorneys serving or thinking of serving on the board of a nonprofit.

For many lawyers, joining the board of a nonprofit can be an incredibly rewarding experience, both personally and professionally. It provides an opportunity to get involved in a cause important to you, as well as to make valuable connections with other lawyers and professionals. The key, as they discussed, is finding a non-profit whose cause interests you and is one you feel you could be of value to.

They began the seminar by discussing the role of a nonprofit board and the roles one can take on as a board member. Ensuring compliance with laws and regulations as well as supervising top level staff are key responsibilities. As a lawyer, you are in a pivotal position to use your legal expertise for issue-spotting and legal strategy within the organization. The discussion also touched on the overall structure of a nonprofit, where the board should delegate important tasks to the organizations’ employees and help define the overall direction and strategy. Another crucial role for board members is acting as a representative of the organization to the community at large and promoting the organization in whatever way possible.

From there the discussion turned to why one would serve on the board of a nonprofit. First and foremost, you should have commitment to the cause, this is the driving factor that allows you to be properly dedicated and what usually attracts someone to getting involved in a nonprofit. “Because you were asked”, Darts and Eberhardt mentioned, can’t be the only reason. Lawyers, as they said, are heavily sought after for board positions within nonprofits, and it is important to choose a cause that you feel strongly about and feel you are in a position to help.

Darts and Eberhardt went on to talk about different considerations one should take into account before joining a nonprofit board, such as interest level, availability, and experience with the organization. They stressed again the importance of joining a cause you are interested in, but also finding out what the organization requires of its board members in terms of duties, time, and money. They encouraged asking to see the minutes from previous meetings to get a sense of what role the board members play, as well as finding out how often they meet, for how long, etc. and what sort of obligations you would have outside of attending meetings.

Organizations vary greatly in what they expect of their board members in terms of advising, personal donations, and fundraising help. It is also important to do your research on the organizations reputation within their community, which Darts and Eberhardt stated as “a nonprofit’s most valuable asset.” They advised looking into where the organization gets its funding and how stable of a source it is, as well as any legal issues it may be currently having, and to be clear from the beginning on your financial abilities and what sort of contributions they can reasonably expect from you.

As a lawyer, your role within the board is unique in that you have the option to give legal advice to the organization. However, there are a number of concerns associated with this; the organizations Directors and Officers Liability insurance (D&O) coverage, attorney client privilege issues, and potential conflicts of interest to name a few. They advised making sure the organization has D&O coverage before acting as their legal council, and thinking about not serving on their board and simply offering your legal services should you wish to avoid any potential conflict of interest. Similarly, they advised speaking to someone within the organization to clarify what types of services they expect you to offer. They did point out however, that whether you decide to offer legal council or not, as a lawyer you are in a unique position to still use your legal expertise for issue spotting and other strategic uses as a board member.

Overall, this hour-long webinar helped shed a lot of light on important considerations any attorney should think about before joining a nonprofit board and getting more involved in the access to justice community. It can be a highly rewarding experience for both lawyers and nonprofits.

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.

Professional Pic

On June 23rd 2016, the New York State Permanent Commission on Access to Justice, in partnership with NYSTech, held the New York Statewide Civil Legal Aid Technology Conference. Pro Bono Net’s summer legal intern was in attendance and offers her perspective on the conference below. Darlene Mottley is a 2L student at Brooklyn Law School in New York. 


As a first time attendee of the 2016 New York Statewide Civil Legal Aid Technology Conference, I was inspired by the heartfelt commitment displayed by members of the civil legal aid community towards the goal of making justice available to all.

My day began by attending a panel composed of various key players in the tech and legal world currently developing innovative technology that would soon be available to the civil legal services community to help serve their clients. I assumed the panel would specifically discuss how to use the technologies and where to gain access to them. Instead, surprisingly, the panel discussion centered on the developmental strategies employed by the different design teams to ensure the final web programs and mobile applications would be user friendly and accessible by the target audience.

CLA Conf. Graphic 1Another major focus item was the concept of privacy and the importance of ensuring that programs created to help low-income civil litigants protected their personal information. I thought the privacy discussion was a good reminder that not only should the civil aid community be focused on using innovative technology to promote access to justice, but such innovation should not be at the expense of sacrificing the privacy of the individuals such programs are designed to help. As I sat through various panel discussions throughout the day, it was clear that in order for technology to have a successful and prominent role in promoting access to justice, technologies would have to be designed from the perspective of end-users.

Out of all the technologies presented, there were two innovations I found the most fascinating. First, the Statewide Access Portal Project, run by the Legal Service Corporation in partnership with Pro Bono Net and Microsoft, and second, the Human-Centered Design to Build Tools for Access to Justice, run by Blue Ridge Labs at Robin Hood.

The goal of the Statewide Portal Project was to develop a unified online system that all civil legal aid providers could use for intake and triage efforts. The ability to streamline the intake and triage process would help legal aid providers be able to best assess the needs of a client and place clients in contact with the most appropriate legal help. With a unified system, data could easily be transferred and multiple legal aid partners could work simultaneously to help an individual if so required.

Blue Ridge Labs is conceptualizing the possibility of developing an application that would allow users to essentially self-triage and access free legal information from their mobile devices. User testing plays an invaluable role in the development of the company’s programs. The Design Insight Group is a paid user-testing group that tests programs currently in development for several months and record their experiences along the way. The company uses the group’s feedback to alter problematic aspect of the program and rethink their design approach.

Both of the aforementioned technologies addressed important issues the civil legal aid services community faces when looking to develop technologies for individuals in need of legal aid:

  • accessibility of the program;
  • technology that is user friendly in both usability and comprehension; and,
  • technology that can be used across the board by multiple legal aid providers.

Keynote speaker, Seth Andrews, senior adviser in the Office of Technology and Policy at the White House, addressed all of these reoccurring themes in an impassioned presentation. Drawing reference to the challenges the White House faced in updating many federal government websites, he encouraged leaders in the civil legal aid community to work together to reach goals in promoting access to justice, and also to align their projects with more popular technologies. For instance, promoting an application that allows pro se litigants to independently fill out necessary court forms for a court proceeding on a platform like Facebook or Twitter.

There is still much to figure out regarding how technology can best be used to close the justice gap. However, the civil legal aid community has already taken several progressive leaps in accomplishing their goals. I had an enriching experience at the conference and I look forward to seeing what happens in the civil legal aid community with technology in the near future.

Several Pro Bono Net staff members participated in panels in the conference: Mark O’Brien, Executive Director; Niki DeMel, Pro Bono and Special Initiatives Coordinator; Mike Grunenwald; Program Coordinator; Tony Lu, Product Manager, Immigration Advocates Network; and Sandra Sandoval; Citizenshipworks Program Manager, Immigration Advocates Network.


Jillian Theil is the Pro Bono Net Training and Field Support Coordinator and has been with Pro Bono Net since 2011. She manages the LSNTAP/PBN Community Training series. Stay tuned for more LSNTAP blogs this summer!



Pro Bono Net and LSNTAP kicked off their 2016 LSNTAP Community Training series with the recurring favorite, “50 Tech Tips.” The training featured 50 tech tips for project management, collaboration, communication and more, along with a segment on “homegrown” tools and resources developed by and for the legal aid community. We had great engagement from the audience and some wonderful tech tips shared by the crowd, too!

Jenny Singleton of Minnesota Legal Services State Support kicked things off by highlighting some great tech tips for the legal aid community. Some of these included Grammarly, a free tool to help improve written communication by eliminating errors and enhancing clarity and meaning.

Wilneida Negron of the Florida Justice Technology Center covered a number of great security, accessibility and Google Drive tips, including HTTPS Everywhere and SocioViz.

Afterwards, Reece Flexner of the DC Bar presented some general best practice tips for working with technology, including making sure to draw up business requirements and tools for creating minimum viable products for stakeholder feedback.

Samantha Krykostas of Illinois Legal Aid Online also discussed some tools her organization has been using in the revamp of their website. Tips included the New Relic Website Performance tool and GeniusScan, an app to scan written notes.

Rounding out the tech tips was my presentation on great homegrown tech tools the legal aid tech community has created, including WriteClearly.org, a great plain language tool and LSNTAP.org’s Survey Bank. I also spoke about some great RSS tools to help legal techies stay on top of the latest information in our field.

To view the other tips mentioned on this webinar, be sure to check out materials available on the SWEB Support Site and join us for the next LSNTAP/PBN webinar, “From Investment to Impact: Recent Outcomes Evaluations of Legal Aid Tech Projects.”


LSNTAP helps nonprofit legal aid programs improve client services through effective and innovative use of technology. To do this, we provide technology training, maintain information, create online tools, and host community forums such as the LStech email list. Read about us, or contact us at info@lsntap.org for more information.

Statue of Liberty

This weekend as we celebrate our Independence Day, we should remember that our country was founded on the principles of freedom and justice. However, for millions of Americans access to justice is still beyond reach. Pro Bono Net seeks to increase access to justice through innovative technology solutions and expertise in building and mobilizing justice networks.

This May, the New York State Permanent Commission on Access to Justice at New York University School of Law held its fifth annual Law School Access to Justice Conference. This year the conference focused on the role of New York’s law schools in helping meet the essential civil legal needs of low-income New Yorkers. Michelle Born, LiveHelp Coordinator for LawHelp NY, attended for the first time this year and discusses her experience below.

Access to Justice Conference, NYU 2016As I sat in the auditorium full of law school administrators and legal service providers at my first Annual Law School Access to Justice Conference, I anticipated a long day of theoretical discussions about diversifying the profession and getting law schools more involved in access to justice initiatives in New York State. Imagine my interest and surprise when the first panel of the morning, comprised exclusively of women in leadership roles in academia, government, legal services, and the judiciary,[1] quickly turned to issues of implicit bias among judges and stereotype threat in classrooms.

Questions of racism, sexism, heterosexism and transphobia undergirded the discussion, even as the panel tackled such academic questions as how to preserve students’ interest in impact litigation amid the lure of the more immediate results of what is oft-termed rebellious lawyering.  (In response, panelist Suzanne Goldberg challenged the dichotomy, believing that these two approaches to social change are not mutually exclusive and that the interplay of the two are, in fact, the hallmark of most social movements.)

As we moved from the morning panel into working groups, we homed in on the more pragmatic questions of how to efficiently deliver legal services to underserved and difficult to reach populations, and how to best engage students in narrowing the justice gap.

Pro Bono Net’s work was prominently featured in several arenas.  In the small working group focusing on New Models for Cost Effective Legal Service Delivery, Leah Margulies of LawHelpNY/PBN highlighted as examples of such models three exciting ProBonoNet initiatives: LiveHelp chat service of LawHelpNY, the DEN (Debt and Eviction Navigator) application, and Closing the Gap.  Participating in the working group on Non-Lawyers Working to Help Narrow the Justice Gap, Niki De Mel, Pro Bono and Special Initiatives Coordinator for Pro Bono Net, and Michelle had occasion to discuss LiveHelp, DEN and other PBN initiatives while emphasizing the appropriate use of technology and non-lawyers in increasing access to justice, not replacing traditional legal services. To wrap up the day, ProBonoNet’s technical design work was on display as attendees were offered a preview of the online Handbook of Best Practices for Supervising Law Student Pro Bono Work.

As a newbee to the conference and the LawHelpNY/PBN team, I was energized by the dedication of the practitioners whose work we strive to support and the academics whose students we have the privilege to engage.

Michelle joined LawHelp as the LiveHelp Coordinator in September 2015.  She worked as an Immigration Attorney at The Bronx Defenders after receiving her J.D. from CUNY School of Law. Before law school Michelle worked in Arica, Chile as a social worker with Jesuit Volunteers International, and in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina as an International Development Fellow with Catholic Relief Services. Michelle also worked in grant-writing for Human Rights Watch and recruitment for Maryknoll Lay Missioners. Michelle holds a Master’s degree in International Development from Fordham University and a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from St. Louis University. 


[1] The panel was composed of the following women:

Deborah N. Archer, Dean of Diversity and Inclusion & Professor of Law; Co-Director, Impact Center for Public Interest Law; Director, Racial Justice Project, New York Law School

Jennifer Ching, Project Director, Queens Legal Services, Legal Services NYC

Hon. Fern Fisher, Director, New York State Courts Access to Justice Programs; Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for New York City Courts

Suzanne B. Goldberg, Executive Vice President for University Life; Herbert and Doris Wechsler Clinical Professor of Law; Director, Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, Columbia Law School

Maya Wiley, Counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio, City of New York