Sam Halpert is Pro Bono Net’s LawHelp Program Coordinator. He came to Pro Bono Net in September 2015 from the National Association for Law Placement, where he developed and maintained PSJD.org. He received his JD cum laude from Georgetown Law and his BA cum laude in History & Literature from Harvard University. He is currently based in Pro Bono Net’s San Francisco office.
Since I began working with Pro Bono Net in September, I’ve spent a lot of time in conference calls. My job places me at the hub of an amazing network of dedicated legal aid professionals across the United States, which I love. But working with this sprawling network has also meant that a lot of my most important relationships have been with voices on the phone and streams of emails. It can make relationships challenging. Back in October, I tried to mitigate this problem by tracking down the LinkedIn profile pictures for all of my various contacts and adding images to my virtual rolodex.
The Technology Innovation Grant (TIG) Conference was better. The first night, I felt as though I was crashing someone else’s high school reunion—it’s a tight-knit group. But as the conference got into full swing, I found plenty of people to talk with, and we had plenty to talk about. (It certainly helped that Pro Bono Net was willing to let me speak on a few panels.) Being able to put faces with voices was invaluable. More than anything else, I appreciated the chance to get to know the partners I coordinate with on a regular basis in person. My ongoing correspondence with the folks I met at TIG has deepened as a result, and both of the upcoming TIG proposals with which I’ve been involved have turned on relationships that grew over conversations at the conference.
I was also engrossed by the substance TIG covered this year. The sessions covered a broad array of topics, but for me two major themes emerged:
- Analytics & Benchmark Reporting. I’d already been spending a substantial amount of time on analytics before TIG, but the sessions and my conversations in the hallway gave me a chance to hear from both LawHelp partners and managers of other statewide websites about the kind of metrics they’d like to begin tracking as a community. As a result, I’ve been able to return to my tinkering with renewed focus and ask more probing questions in subsequent conversations I’ve had with state partners about their reporting needs. My work in this area is still experimental, so I won’t get into too much detail here.
- User-Driven Design. The speakers at TIG introduced me to a lot of new concepts, exercises, and techniques I’ve begun applying in my work at every available opportunity. For example, I’m working on an A/B test for Legal Aid OK’s home page, I’ve been discussing card sorting & tree sorting with LawHelp New York as they develop a new content structure, and I’m working with Alaska LawHelp on a strategy for engaging users as we design a new online classroom module for LawHelp (funded by a TIG grant).
In short, TIG has already had a tremendous impact on my work. It has improved my working relationships with distant partners and informed my approach to substantive areas to which I devote much of my time. I can’t wait for next year, when I hope to return and share the ways I will have put this year’s lessons to work with all my new colleagues.
Legal Services Corporation (LSC) Technology Initiative Grants (TIG) seek to improve legal services delivery to the low-income population and to increase access by low-income persons to high quality legal services, to the judicial system, and to legal information. Over the past 16 years LSC has awarded $53.2 million in grants for more than 640 projects that leverage technology to help meet the civil legal needs of low-income people.