Pro Bono Net’s Executive Director, Mark O’Brien, published an update on how Pro Bono Net is responding to increased need during the COVID-19 pandemic. This blog was originally published on Mark O’Brien’s LinkedIn page.
Over the past few weeks, it has been heartening to witness our community coming together to respond to critical needs. As healthcare workers provide urgent medical care, police and fire fighters continue to respond to urgent calls for help, and essential workers of all kinds keep our food supply, transit and other key services operating. We also have seen nonprofit organizations across the country step up in new ways to ensure critical human services to the most vulnerable. We are grateful for this wide array of first responders, on the frontline, keeping us safe and providing enormous hope and inspiration in the face of global uncertainty.
While we have all had to adapt to enormous change and loss, we acknowledge that the possibility of losing access to justice is very real for millions of vulnerable Americans who will face a myriad of social and economic issues with a legal dimension in the coming weeks and months. This is something Pro Bono Net and our partners are working very hard to ensure doesn’t happen.
Like a lot of you, our team now works remotely from home, and for us, this transition has been minimally disruptive. We feel privileged to be able to continue our work, even as we recognize that so many others are not as fortunate and are struggling to hold their lives together.
The most effective antidote to the mounting consequences of this pandemic is to work together to ensure we support those in need and provide a path back to safety and security. We are reminded of the importance of widely accessible and community-centered information and tools to help people solve their legal problems. During a time of physical distancing and profound need, we find that our services and online resources are needed more than ever.
As the COVID-19 pandemic became a reality to everyone in the US, we released our Remote Legal Support Guide: A Best Practices Manual for Nonprofit and Pro Bono Innovation. It was the culmination of over a year’s work exploring ways to leverage technology and share strategies that improve access to justice for rural and underserved communities. The result is the collective effort of more than 10 nonprofit organizations to capture, share and amplify successful strategies for dramatically increasing legal support through remote assistance models.
Working with our partners, we continue to share information to help direct service organizations embrace service delivery models that can scale in response to pressing needs and social distancing measures. We are sharing our experience in national webinars, including the weekly COVID-19: Impact on the Need for and Delivery of Legal Services webinar available here and Strategies for Providing Remote Legal Services to Older Adults webinar which can be accessed here. We’ve also activated our COVID-19/Disaster Legal Aid national efforts, by convening stakeholders to shape legal responses and advocacy strategies across the country.
With the current health crisis, underserved communities have even less access to services and resources. We are assisting partners nationwide to incorporate these and other tools into their service delivery.
- Online services, such as Citizenshipworks and immi, enable vulnerable immigrants to find pathways to stability for their families and flags potential legal issues.
- Our national network of LawHelp sites saw a 30-50% increase in usage last week. Last month, 25% of LawHelpNY’s LiveHelp chats were COVID-19 related, with questions ranging from the pandemic’s impact on eviction; tenants unable to pay rent; alimony and child support modifications as a result of unemployment; public benefits and worker’s rights.
- LawHelpNY has already added a new option to its Find Legal Help feature highlighting organizations providing remote services. We are also adding a new “remote opportunities” filter to the Pro Bono Opportunities Guide making it easier for attorneys to volunteer their skills and expertise.
- We are offering a new remote legal services platform that enables legal services organizations to enroll, manage and link volunteers with remotely located clients for advice, counsel and document preparation. Modeled on the Family Legal Connection service already in use in New York City to assist unrepresented family law litigants, it provides a new option for partners struggling to maintain their during the shutdown.
We are in uncertain times, but we are confident that our work to support collaborative strategies to tackle pressing justice problems will be as relevant as ever as the sector tackles the challenges ahead. We are grateful to our partners for their support in this work.
If you are interested in finding out more, please visit probono.net to view our COVID-19 information page and the ways in which Pro Bono Net’s work continues to respond to the most pressing needs in these uncertain times.