Legal Aid Connect was launched in late 2020 as a collaborative initiative between Legal Aid of Nebraska and Pro Bono Net. The tool has enabled access to legal services for low-income and rural communities through virtual consultation and case management. We spoke with Muirne Heaney, the Director of Access for Legal Aid of Nebraska, to hear more about how the platform has facilitated connections between attorneys and clients with limited access to resources.
We would love to hear more about your personal role and the mission of Legal Aid of Nebraska.
I am the Director of Access for Legal Aid of Nebraska. My job is to oversee all the functions that lead people to our doors.
Our mission is to promote justice, dignity, hope and self-sufficiency through quality civil legal aid for those who have nowhere else to turn.
How did Legal Aid of Nebraska learn about and establish a connection with Pro Bono Net to use Remote Legal Connect?
We learned about Remote Legal Connect at a Technology Initiative Grant (TIG) Conference.
How are you using Remote Legal Connect to enhance your pro bono work?
Remote Legal Connect allows us to partner urban attorneys with rural clients to meet their presenting legal problems. This greatly enhances our Private Attorney Initiative work. We are able to draw from a large pool of attorneys to serve people in rural counties where attorneys are few and far between.
What has been the experience of pro bono attorneys and law students providing legal help via Remote Legal Connect?
In general, our volunteers like the experience. They are able to communicate directly with a client from their homes or offices, and provide a service – which makes them feel great.
Is there a specific feature from Remote Legal Connect that has been particularly useful?
What distinguishes Remote Legal Connect from other video conferencing platforms is the ability to share documents with the client as the attorney drafts the documents.
Could you share an example from someone who was positively impacted because they connected to an attorney via Remote Legal Connect?
We use Remote Legal Connect for a regularly recurring assisted pro se divorce clinic. Without the program, it is likely we would not have been able to serve the client at all. Remote Legal Connect has helped us expand our service model to encompass people from all across the state – and beyond – who would not otherwise have been served. In particular, judges report that it is easy to distinguish Remote Legal Connect clients from other pro se litigants because of how well they are prepared for the final hearings. This would not have been possible without Remote Legal Connect.
How has this tool been particularly useful during the COVID-19 pandemic?
This tool has allowed us to develop new clinics, and offer those clinics all across the state. Without Remote Legal Connect, we would not have had any clinics during this terrible time.
Has Legal Aid of Nebraska been able to contact clients with less or no access to the internet?
We have been able to connect with clients without computers, but who do own smartphones. The fact that Remote Legal Connect does not require a download is of great assistance to our clients, who often have limited data capacity on their phones.
Legal Aid of Nebraska relies on attorneys from within the organization, but also includes the private bar to assist in their work ranging from divorce and custody cases to public education issues. To learn more about the work of Legal Aid of Nebraska, click here.
Remote Legal Connect was initially developed with the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York, before being adapted to fit the needs of various communities across the country. Presently, Pro Bono Net is proud to partner with legal aid organizations and pro bono initiatives in New York, Ohio, Georgia, Nebraska, and Alabama to support remote legal services even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Because of the platform’s simplicity, users with computers or mobile devices require no additional software to use Legal Aid Connect. Legal Aid of Nebraska provides complimentary training on local law, preparing volunteers to advise clients and complete court forms. We look forward to continuing to expand the outreach of the Remote Legal Connect tool to self-represented individuals. To learn more about Remote Legal Connect and its uses, visit www.remotelegalconnect.org.