November 2016

The National Legal Aid & Defender Association‘s 2016 Annual Conference starts today and Pro Bono Net is participating! The NLADA’s annual training conference provides the opportunity for those in the civil legal aid, indigent defense, and public interest law communities to exchange ideas and further develop their professional skills. Mark O’Brien, Sam Halpert and Mike Grunenwald will be representing Pro Bono Net at this year’s conference. Keep reading to learn more about Pro Bono Net’s participation.

Statewide Justice Portal Initiative Update and Technology’s Role in 100% Access Efforts

Thursday, 4:15 – 5:45 pm
Speakers: Glen Rawdon, Legal Services Corporation; Lucy Bassli, Microsoft; and Mark O’Brien, Pro Bono Net

In April, the Legal Services Corporation, Microsoft, and Pro Bono Net announced a new partnership to develop up to two statewide “justice portal” pilots to designed to help ensure that all people with civil legal needs can navigate their options at each step of the process and more easily access solutions and services available from legal aid, the courts, the private bar and community partners. The technical approach will use open standards and be open sourced to facilitate replication and contributions by other technology partners in the future. This workshop will provide an update on the project thus far, the conceptual vision for the portal and the selection process for pilot jurisdictions. We will also discuss how both existing and new technology initiatives can support the 100 percent access vision and strengthen the work of state justice communities working toward it.


Turning Data into Intelligence: Using the Data Our Programs Produce to Improve Services and Generate More Dollars

Friday, 2:30 – 4 pm
Speakers: Ken Smith, The Resource for Great Programs; Alex Gulotta, Bay Area Legal Aid; and Sam Halpert, Pro Bono Net

Every day, our programs generate a wealth of data such as intake statistics, case outcomes data, client demographics, and on-line form user statistics. Ken Smith, President of The Resource for Great Programs, will be conducting the workshop session on this topic, joined by co-presenters Alex Gulotta, Executive Director of Bay Area Legal Aid (and chairperson of NLADA’s board) and Sam Halpert, LawHelp Program Coordinator at Pro Bono Net. This session will show three examples to demonstrate to participants how their programs can turn raw data into strategic intelligence for use in program improvement and fundraising.


Smart Advocates Use Smart Forms: Better Advocacy through Document Automation

Saturday, 10:30 am – noon
Speakers: Josh Goodwin, Southeastern Ohio Legal Services; Mark Lauritsen, Capstone Practice Systems; Gelnn Rawdon, Legal Services Corporation

More than 40 states have forms on Pro Bono Net’s Law Help Interactive (LHI), the national automated document server. But most of those forms are targeted for client self-help, not for advocates. Document automation has been around for more than 30 years, and yet most legal services advocates are still drafting pleadings by using search and replace or cut and paste. Evaluations of LSC TIG projects have shown that advocates can reduce the time it takes to prepare forms for their cases by more than 30 percent by using automated forms for the most common practice areas. Not only that, having automated forms ensures that changes in the law are immediately reflected in the forms of every advocate. These same forms can be provided to pro bono attorneys so that they can be more comfortable representing clients outside their usual areas of practice. This session will help you develop a strategy for introducing or expanding automated forms to support the work of the advocates and pro bono attorneys for your program.

There are several other workshops of interest to legal aid and pro bono technology initiatives listed in the full agenda:


NLADANLADA is America’s oldest and largest nonprofit association devoted to excellence in the delivery of legal services to those who cannot afford counsel. Their Annual Conference is the leading national training event of the year for the civil legal aid, indigent defense, and public interest law communities. The conference offers advocates the substantive information and professional skills they need to respond to the legal needs of low-income people, provides unparalleled opportunities to meet and exchange ideas with colleagues from across the country, and helps fulfill continuing legal education requirements.

18th Annual Supreme Court ReviewThis summer, the Practising Law Institute (PLI) held its 18th Annual Supreme Court Review. PLI faculty and guest panelists came together to discuss the most recent session of the Supreme Court’s greatest takeaways, surprises and insights. These experts discussed the most recent session’s cases, merits, and how the justices came to their conclusions. They also addressed the future of the court and what they expected for the new session. One of the biggest topics on the table was, of course, the loss of Justice Antonin Scalia, and how his passing has affected the rulings of the court and its future.

Tomorrow, the Presidential Election is here, but more than just four years’ worth of policies will be decided alongside it. With the next president comes the next appointed Supreme Court Justice, the replacement for the late Justice Scalia. The next sitting president will be responsible for appointing a Supreme Court Justice who will hold the office for a good number of years. However, since several of our current sitting Supreme Court members are reaching the age in which it is common to retire from the court, the new president may have the opportunity to appoint more than one justice in the next four to eight years.

A Court of Eight Justices

18th annual supreme court erwinPractising Law Institute’s Dean Erwin Chimerinsky started the discussion of the consequences of Justice Scalia’s passing, mainly that the court is less effective without its final judge. The most important cases since Scalia’s passing, according to Dean Chimerinsky, fit a pattern that highlighted the crutch faced by the current court one justice shy of a full deck – deadlock.

We have seen several cases in which a justice crossed sides in order to sway a decision, but the lack of a ninth vote has deadlocked the court in some of the most controversial cases, forcing rulings to stand at the state level. On topics like abortion and immigration passions and partisanship are high, which can lead to a deadlocked court. Sometimes this provided a liberal outcome, and sometimes a conservative one, but either way leaves the standing ruling without commentary from the Supreme Court. Likely, these cases and issues will resurface in future sessions once the court is whole again.

An interesting result of this deadlock is a willingness in the justices to broker a compromise. The first panel of the day addressed the outcome of Zubik v. Burwell, a case on contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act. When the court looked to be deadlocked once again, the justices decided on an attempt to reach a compromise, asking the two parties to work together to find an alternative solution. Once the parties agreed to continue to look for a solution, the decision was once again provided to the lower courts for specific deliberations. The attempt at brokering a solution for both parties was unprecedented, and one must wonder whether there will be more compromises suggested in future cases.

The Future of the Court

With the election comes quite a challenging atmosphere for the Supreme Court. The newest elected president might have the opportunity to appoint more than one justice who will sit on the court for more than a decade, affecting a great deal of cases. In addition, a potential continued block from Senate Republicans in a Democratic victory this election leaves the ninth seat in a state of uncertainty. Without a ruling on crucial cases that affect a great number of people in the country, and the continuing potential for a deadlocked court, it begs the question as to whether the court can continue to be as effective in future sessions without the addition of a ninth justice.

Whatever the outcome of this election and future appointees, the Practising Law Institute’s expert faculty and panelists will undoubtedly address it at next year’s review!


Faculty & Panelists

  • Erwin Chemerinsky
    Dean of the School of Law
    Distinguished Professor of Law Raymond Pryke Professor of First Amendment Law
  • Martin A. Schwartz
    Professor Emeritus of Law
  • Joan Biskupic
    Visiting professor at the University of California, Irvine, law school
  • Sherry F. Colb
    Professor of Law & Charles Evans Hughes Scholar
    Cornell Law School
  • Michael C. Dorf
    Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law
    Cornell Law School
  • Leon Friedman
    Joseph Kushner Special Professor of Civil Liberties Law
    Hofstra Law School
  • Marci A. Hamilton
    Senior Fellow, Program for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society
    University of Pennsylvania
  • Burt Neuborne
    Norman Dorsen Professor of Civil Liberties, Founding Legal Director, Brennan Center of Justice
    New York University School of Law
  • Cristina Rodríguez
    Leighton Homer Surbeck Professor of Law
    Yale Law School
  • Theodore M. Shaw
    Julius L. Chambers Distinguished Professor of Law  & Director of the Center for Civil Rights
    University of North Carolina School of Law, Chapel Hill
  • Honorable Jeffrey S. Sutton
    Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
  • Jeffrey B. Wall
    Special Counsel, Co-Head Appellate Litigation Practice
    Sullivan & Cromwell LLP

Practising Law InstituteThis seminar/webcast was hosted by the Practising Law Institute. To register for any webcasts or seminars go to 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 Follow PLI’s Pro Bono Group on LinkedIn, and on Twitter @ProBonoPLI.