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The Equal Justice Conference (EJC) is an annual convening hosted by the American Bar Association and the National Legal Aid & Defender Association. The event brings together lawyers and advocates from across the United States to discuss strategies for breaking down barriers to equal justice and promoting greater equity in the legal system. Attendees also share new developments and innovations in providing legal services to people with low incomes. 

This year marked the conference’s 25th anniversary with over 1,000 attendees and more than 80 sessions on delivery innovations, diversity, management, information technology, pro bono service delivery, resource development, and substantive law issues. 

Pro Bono Net’s Mark O’Brien, Claudia Johnson, Jessica Stuart, Alison Corn, Megan Vizzini, and I had the opportunity to attend EJC this year. It’s a great opportunity to listen to experts who share Pro Bono Net’s goals to increase access to justice, learn about innovations in legal service delivery beyond Pro Bono Net’s own network, and connect in person with Pro Bono Net partners and friends. Below are five of my highlights from EJC.  

President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Legacy and the Restoration of the U.S. Department of Justice Office for Access to Justice

During the opening plenary session, attendees enjoyed coffee and breakfast during an interview by Mark K. Updegrove, Presidential Historian and Author, with Luci Baines Johnson, daughter of President Lyndon B. Johnson and co-founder of LBJ Family Wealth Advisors. Luci’s reflections shed light on her father’s presidential terms and role in passing several historic federal laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the Revenue Act of 1964, and the Economic Opportunity Act. 

Luci revealed that the only handwritten note she had from her father was from July 2, 1964, at 12:10 pm. Her father celebrated her birthday and the end of legal apartheid (the Civil Rights Act was signed into law that day).

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During the hour-long interview, Luci emphasized the significance of political consensus, shared values, diversity, and justice. She urged EJC attendees to continue the work of constructing a better America— one that advocates for the principles of liberty and equality. She said, “When there is justice for all, there is good for everybody,” and ended with a quote from her father, “Hate and destruction are easy. Hope and construction are hard.” 

Attendees then heard from Rachel Rossi, Director of the U.S. Department of Justice Office for Access to Justice. After being closed in 2018, the Office for Access to Justice was re-established as a standalone agency in 2021 under the Biden administration. During her speech, Rossi highlighted the need to ensure access to justice for all and said that to achieve equal justice, we need bold ideas, creativity, and a spirit of innovation. She talked about a few initiatives led by her office, including the Department’s first-ever Language Access Coordinator. Rossi’s full remarks are here. Her call for ambitious solutions resonated with Pro Bono Net’s work, and a Fast Company op-ed Pro Bono Net authored this year outlining three strategies that government and civil society can undertake to help ensure, as Director Rossi so powerfully put it, “our justice system belongs to everyone.”

Building a More Inclusive and Impactful Pro Bono Community

Of the ten sessions and activities I attended this year, my favorite was “The Changing Landscape of Pro Bono Volunteering.” Led by Martin J. Cowling, a change management expert, this session stood out to me for its energy and ideas by attendees. Martin guided us through the evolution of pro bono and the need to adapt to the interests and preferences of today’s volunteer lawyers, as well as the generational and technological changes that have taken place since the C19 pandemic: 

Attendees shared the challenges they were seeing in pro bono

  • Volunteer lawyers don’t want to take on full-representation cases 
  • Seeking alignment between what an organization needs with what a law firm or volunteers want to do 
  • The aging out of legal aid attorneys that do public benefit work 
  • Attorneys are incredibly niched and not wanting to “branch out” 

And a few trends in pro bono

  • Lawyers interested in pro bono are seeking a balance between volunteering, work, and personal time 
  • There’s a sense of feeling overwhelmed by global and social issues 
  • Lawyers are interested in remote and local opportunities 

Martin then walked attendees through seven factors to consider when thinking about a new pro bono volunteering model, including: 

  • Impact
    • When sharing your pro bono program or recruiting volunteers, it’s important to think about how you want to communicate impact. For example, instead of saying, “We recruited 4,000 volunteers and donated 1,000 hours,” consider rephrasing the effect to clients’ outcomes, such as “100 people were not evicted and stayed in their homes.”
    • Ask volunteers to share the impact of their work (e.g., what does pro bono mean to you?) 
    • Challenge people, from funders to volunteers, to think about their values and what they stand for. Think about your messaging on impact and frame it around shared values. 
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
    • It’s paramount to incorporate DEI principles into access to justice work. 
    • Volunteers need to be equipped with cultural competencies to work with diverse populations. 
    • Lawyers come from diverse backgrounds, and they are increasingly open about their diversity.

Exploring Data-Driven Approaches to Access to Justice

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Data is becoming increasingly crucial in access to justice and equal justice efforts. Several sessions covered this topic, although I sensed that we had more questions than answers when it came to data:

  • One panelist pointed out that most of our data collection is driven by grant reporting. We should ask ourselves, “why are we collecting data?” This begins to open up our minds to collect data differently.
  • Could generative AI help in turning narrative data into automated data? 
  • How can we collect better client stories? 
  • How can data collection help us better understand the scope of the legal problems our communities are facing? 
  • Where can we find good data (e.g., 211, census data) to track trends and patterns in legal issues and to measure the effectiveness of legal aid and pro bono interventions? 

Pro Bono Net is already exploring and addressing many of these questions, such as examining usage of our LawHelp Interactive program in rural communities,  or among low-income communities during the pandemic. We look forward to continuing these discussions in the months ahead. 

ABA & NLADA Presidents Highlight the Importance of Diversity, Civics, and Racial Equity

Deborah Enix-Ross, the second Black woman to lead the American Bar Association, and April Frazier Camara, President & CEO of the National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA), joined attendees for lunch during the second day of the conference. 

Deborah highlighted the ongoing need for increased diversity within the legal profession and emphasized the importance of civics, collaboration, and civility as the “cornerstone of democracy.” On the other hand, April underlined the importance of understanding systems of oppression and talked about NLADA’s Racial Equity Initiative, which aims to translate ideas into values. She finalized her remarks by inviting the over 1,000 attendees to chant with her, “When we fight, we win.” 

The Power Behind Storytelling

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While I left the conference with valuable insights, the highlight of my attendance was the “Story Slam” during the Host Committee’s Reception on Thursday evening. Attendees were invited to share their stories of justice within five minutes, although all the stories deserved more time. Stories of injustice transformed into stories of hope, success, and resilience, which moved some storytellers and attendees to tears. The stories, mostly about immigration and family law, were a powerful reminder of the ongoing struggle for equality and why the work of many lawyers, legal professionals, and advocates nationwide is still necessary. 

Examples of Initiatives & Resources of Interest

Below are a few resources and projects that I learned about at EJC: 

  • In California, the Legal Services Funders Network matches recent law graduates who are awaiting bar exam results with legal service organizations. 
  • In Illinois, the Chicago Bar Foundation is supporting “The Above Line Network,” a new group of incubators, nonprofit law firms, sliding-scale legal aid programs, and other entities working to better serve people considered over-income for purposes of legal aid assistance. 
  • In South Carolina, Charleston Legal Access is leading the way by providing direct legal assistance at reduced fees ($50 – $100 per hour) to South Carolinians with low and moderate incomes. 
  • At a session about access to civil justice research, panelists highlighted this working paper series about the “formality effect,” showing that formal government communications are more effective at influencing people’s behavior than informal government communications. This article about deregulation was another one panelists shared, which singles out state court judges and their role in facilitating nonlawyer participation and legal document preparation in domestic violence cases. 

Interested in Learning More About Pro Bono Net and What We Do?

Pro Bono Net will be hosting a webinar in the coming weeks to give an overview of our organization, including Pro Bono Net’s different products and programs. From LawHelp Interactive, our legal forms and document assembly solution, to Advocates for Disaster Justice and Justicia Lab, our immigration justice technology lab, you will learn how we reach more than 8 million people annually and explore ways we can partner together. If you’re interested in getting on our mailing list for this webinar, please email Megan Vizzini, Director of Business Development, at

Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz is a Senior Program Manager at Pro Bono Net. She coordinates, develops, and grows state and national digital initiatives that strengthen the work of legal advocates and pro bono attorneys helping individuals with their legal problems. 

She’s an honoree of the “On the Rise 40 Top Young Lawyers” award for her work in disaster relief and leadership in the American Bar Association. You can find her on LinkedIn or email her at

Image 1: A four-picture collage of the conference in Dallas, Texas. The first picture is of several Pro Bono Net staff members. From left to right standing in front of Pro Bono Net’s banner: Jessica Stuart, Senior Product Manager of Pro Bono Manager; Claudia Johnson, Program Manager of LawHelp Interactive; Megan Vizzini, Director of Business Development, and Betty Balli Torres, Pro Bono Net’s Board Chair.

Image 2: Credit: National Archives (NARA). President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965 with Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and other civil rights leaders in attendance.

Image 3: Credit: Lukas Photography via Pexels. Document with data graphics on top of stationery.

Image 4: Credit: Gezer Amorim Photography via Pexels. Black and white photo of microphone.

A New Name and a Stronger Mission

Pro Bono Net, in partnership with Lone Star Legal Aid, the American Bar Association Center for Pro Bono, and the National Legal Aid & Defender Association, is pleased to announce the rebrand of its National Disaster Legal Aid Resource Center initiative ( to Advocates for Disaster Justice (ADJ).

Advocates for Disaster Justice is the new era of, a groundbreaking national collaboration and legal relief effort that took root in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  It has grown into the largest national network of justice advocates and allies working to advance equity, rights and resilience in communities impacted by climate-driven and other disasters. Learn more about the history and national impact of ADJ. 

In the past several years, communities across the U.S. have increasingly felt the effects of climate change. These have included stronger and more frequent events like wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, and heat waves. We’ve also seen the impact of rising sea levels and erosion across different regions, making coastal floods and storms more dangerous and leading to community displacement. 

Recent responses to major disasters have shown that individuals with low incomes, communities of color, people with disabilities, seniors, immigrants, and rural communities often bear the brunt of these effects. Disasters exacerbate existing inequalities and present long-term legal issues that, if left unaddressed, can become more difficult to resolve.

Advocates for Disaster Justice is founded on the belief that everyone, particularly those most exposed to risk, has the right to legal information and support during the recovery phase. Our network advocates for the development and implementation of laws that protect individuals during times of disaster, promotes meaningful participation in community preparation and recovery decision-making processes, and works to ensure equitable access to state and federal recovery resources.

ADJ welcomes those working on both individual and systemic aspects of these evolving challenges. It is rooted in cooperation, trust, and mutual aid, many of the same principles shared by first responder networks and climate justice coalitions.

“ADJ has many valuable resources for advocates to utilize prior to and following a disaster. Also, the Advocate Network is a great way for advocates to connect with each other,” said Amanda Bosley, Managing Attorney of the Disaster Relief Unit at Lone Star Legal Aid. “As someone who has worked over seven years on disaster response and recovery in Texas, I can attest to the importance of having comprehensive resources, trainings, and a supportive network of other colleagues and advocates doing the same work. I hope that advocates find ADJ serves as a bridge to link them to the support they need to reach the goal of advancing equity, rights, and resilience.”  

“Since its launch,’s resources have been accessed more than 400,000 times. This underscores the urgency for information about disaster recovery and legal help options, and this need has only increased with the severity of climate-related emergencies over the past few years,” said Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz, Senior Program Manager at Pro Bono Net. “In partnership with Lone Star Legal Aid, we have built a network of hundreds of dedicated advocates across the country committed to promoting disaster resilience in their communities. ADJ is the new era of these efforts, and I encourage others doing this work or who would like to learn more to join us.” 

Redesigned Website for a Better User Experience 

In addition to the name change, ADJ has also launched a redesigned website using Pro Bono Net’s JusticeHub design. 

The new site offers visitors a more user-friendly experience and provides easy access to resources and trainings. The website also features information on ADJ’s programs, events, and partnerships.

Join Our Mission to Advance Justice and Equity in Times of Crisis

If you’re interested in becoming a member of Advocates for Disaster Justice, you can sign up for free by clicking here. Signing up to Advocates for Disaster Justice is easy. You will be prompted to create a membership profile and someone from our team will review your request. 

By signing up, you’ll have access to:

  • Access to Resources: We provide a range of training resources and support materials to help you get started, whether you’re a legal aid attorney, volunteer attorney, law student, or working directly with a disaster survivor to help them recover. Some of the resources are password-protected, such as examples of FEMA appeals provided by legal aid organizations. 
  • CLE Opportunities: Members are the first to learn about upcoming or new CLE program opportunities organized by Pro Bono Net and Lone Star Legal Aid.  Stay up to date on the latest legal issues and strategies to help disaster survivors.
  • Membership Updates: You’ll receive membership updates and can join different listservs to receive information related to current disaster response and recovery efforts. 
  • Become Part of a Community: You’ll be part of a community that is working to make a difference in helping disaster survivors and communities recover. By joining, you’ll also access a member roster to reach out to others in your area or in other communities.

For more information about Advocates for Disaster Justice, visit the new website at For questions about this initiative, please contact Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz, Senior Program Manager, at

Pat Malone is the Legal Director of New York Justice Initiatives at Pro Bono Net. She leads legal and content strategy for LawHelpNY and across initiatives and programs. Pat has extensive experience working with partners, managing projects, and creating legal content for advocates and impacted communities. Her expertise includes writing “smart” interviews, plain language articles, legal updates, practice guides, and newsletters. She brings together experts to create webinars, podcasts, and other legal training materials for the field. Pat has a deep background in immigration law practice, training, and project management.

As promised, Pro Bono Net was well-represented at last week’s New York Statewide Civil Legal Aid Technology Conference. 

On Day One, Pro Bono Net’s Legal Solutions Designer Alison Corn joined our partners from JustFix and The Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI) to cover the basics on website accessibility. Sateesh Nori from JustFix introduced and moderated the panel. Jessica Frank from CALI covered a number of key accessibility tips, with an emphasis on plain language writing.  Alison brought first-hand knowledge and experience working with partners on accessible websites and content . One particularly interesting tip: use a dyslexia-friendly font to welcome a broader audience. Learn more about fonts and other tips from the panelists on their slide deck.

On Day Two, our Senior Program Manager Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz joined two panels to share her expertise. The first, Beyond Zoom: Building Long-Term Remote Legal Help Programs to Expand Legal Services to Patients, also featured our friends and partners Kerlann L. Flowers and Emily Manning from the Hofstra Law-Northwell Medical Legal Partnership (MLP). Erin Riker, from the Center for Elder Law and Justice moderated. 

To kick-off the conversation, the panelists surveyed attendees on remote legal services vs. traditional in-person legal services.  Most preferred a mix: 

The panelists discussed tools and strategies for the medical legal partnership, including Remote Legal Connect (RLC). RLC is a Pro Bono Net program with secure online meetings, lite case management, and document sharing capabilities.  

Click here for the panel’s slide deck and here for an article by Jeanne, with more notes on the conference session.

Finally, Jeanne joined everyone’s favorite panel: 25 Apps in 50 Minutes.  The panel included PBN alumni Quisquella Addison, Assistant Teaching Professor at Northeastern University School of Law; Robert Ambrogi, Publisher, LawSites blog and LawNext podcast; Shellie S. Reid of Legal Services National Technology Assistance Project (LSNTAP); and, Quinten Steenhuis, Practitioner in Residence at Suffolk University Law School.  Emeritus Panelist Tim Baran (PBN) moderated.

As the panel zipped through their favorite tools, we could imagine an online meeting attended only by the app we each send to record and take notes on our behalf.  Click here for the slide deck and 24 other cool ideas. 

Pro Bono Net’s New York Justice Initiatives

Our New York Justice Initiatives bring the power of the law to all by expanding access to legal help for the underserved, mobilizing pro bono volunteers and helping our justice community partners throughout the state maximize their impact. Learn more about PBN’s New York Justice Initiatives, visit: Or to learn more about other Pro Bono Net programs, visit:

The 8th Annual New York Statewide Civil Legal Aid Technology Conference, convened by the Permanent Commission on Access to Justice in partnership with Cornell Tech will be held virtually beginning at 1:00pm ET on Tuesday, April 18 and Wednesday, April 19, 2023. Tracks include data and privacy, court technology, law practice management, and online legal services delivery, and is open to attorneys and other interested staff from New York legal services programs as well as access to justice stakeholders from New York and out-of-state. Register here!

Pro Bono Net is proud to serve on the conference planning committee. Our New York Justice Initiatives bring the power of the law to all by expanding access to legal help for the underserved, mobilizing pro bono volunteers and helping our justice community partners throughout the state maximize their impact. We will be well represented at the conference with participation in several panels and we’d love for you to join us. See details below.

Tuesday, April 18th

3:30 PM – 4:20 PM ET: The Accessibility ABC’s

Diversity, Inclusion and Elimination of Bias CLE

Learn the basics of accessibility for online legal content. This session will focus on the ways in which you can improve the work product of your websites, automated forms, chatbots, and other online content. Attendees will walk away with a basic knowledge of accessibility features to better serve users with disabilities, appropriate terminology, best practices for online legal content, and tools that can help them accomplish their accessibility goals. Presenters will demonstrate how online content can be user-friendly without compromising accessibility.

  • Sateesh Nori, JustFix
  • Alison Corn, Pro Bono Net
  • Jessica Frank, the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI)

Wednesday, April 19th

2:00 PM – 2:50 PM ET: 3D Beyond Zoom: Building Long-Term Remote Legal Help Programs to Expand Legal Services to Patients 

Practice Management CLE

This session will highlight a new remote legal help program to provide legal care to patients across Long Island and New York City. Speakers will 1) explain how the Hofstra/Northwell Medical-Legal Partnership Program provides legal assistance for patients who screen positive for health harming legal needs; 2) describe the transition process to adopt a new technology platform, Remote Legal Connect, to continue and expand remote legal services to patients/clients; 3) discuss how a remote legal platform can increase client participation in case management; and 4) demonstrate the use of the technology through an attorney-client consultation scenario.

  • Erin Riker, Center for Elder Law and Justice
  • Kerlann L. Flowers, Hofstra/Northwell Medical Legal Partnership
  • Emily Manning, Hofstra Law-Northwell MLP
  • Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz, Pro Bono Net

4:00 PM – 4:50 PM ET: 25 Apps in 50 Minutes

Practice Management CLE

25 Apps in 50 minutes is a dynamic presentation of apps and tools to help attorneys manage their practice and clients. The presentation features five panelists, with each recommending five apps. The recommendations reflect innovative and practical tools to enhance attorneys’ productivity, communications, well-being, efficiency and effectiveness in their day-to-day practice and client service.

  • Tim Baran, Pro Bono Net
  • Quisquella Addison, Northeastern University School of Law
  • Robert Ambrogi, LawSites blog and LawNext podcast
  • Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz, Pro Bono Net
  • Shellie S. Reid, Legal Services National Technology Assistance Project (LSNTAP)
  • Quinten Steenhuis, Suffolk University Law School

The Commission to Reimagine the Future of New York’s Courts recently issued “New York Courts’ Response to the Pandemic: Observations, Perspectives, and Recommendations,” a report summarizing the challenges and opportunities associated with remote court operations. This Commission was created in June 2020 as the court system navigated the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and its implications for the future. 

The Commission’s Pandemic Practices Working Group wrote and published the new report. According to the court’s website, the working group was established to “study and make recommendations that improve the delivery and quality of justice services, facilitate access to justice, and better equip the New York Courts to keep pace with society’s rapidly evolving changes and challenges.” 

The report provides details on both criminal and civil proceedings during the pandemic when the courts 1) suspended matters considered “non-essential” and 2) made proceedings virtual through the use of the video conferencing tool Skype and then Teams. 

Below are highlights for those working in civil legal aid and with unrepresented litigants. 

How did the working group seek input from court system users?

The working group collected information and insights from over 300 stakeholders, including court staff, judges, union leaders, legal aid organization staff, bar associations, private practitioners, and government staff, to present the fourteen (14) recommendations outlined in the report. Those interested in providing feedback to the working group had three ways of doing so: 

  1. At one of the three (3) full-day public hearings held between June and November 2022 in Albany, Buffalo, and New York City; 
  2. At one of the thirty (30) remote listening sessions held by the working group; or 
  3. By written testimony. 

During one of these hearings, Wantee Ramkaran, Pro Bono Net’s New York Justice Initiatives Program Manager, talked about how New Yorkers accessed legal help information during the pandemic through several of our tools. For example, our team saw increased usage of LiveHelp, an online real-time chat assistance program for visitors seeking legal information. Chats increased between 40% to 75% weekly when the Governor of New York State ordered people to stay home in late March 2020. In February 2020 alone, there were about 200 chats per week, and by May 2020, there were about 400 chats per week. 

What were some of the challenges of virtual civil proceedings?

  • Litigants were often left to figure out virtual proceedings on their own due to insufficient remote guidance from the court. There was no centralized “help desk” accessible to court users, meaning litigants had to rely on individual court clerks and other staff, who had varying degrees of technical knowledge. This differed from in-person interactions when a litigant could ask questions about their proceeding to court staff. 
  • In some cases, elderly litigants were averse to virtual proceedings and preferred to conduct court business in person despite having access to technology.
  • For domestic violence survivors, having to appear virtually from home could be unsafe because of the presence of an abuser in the room. In addition, it could prevent them from speaking candidly if they were being intimidated or coached. 
  • Court users who spoke a language other than English and individuals involved in their cases experienced longer virtual proceedings. 
  • This was because interpreters could not interpret simultaneously (interpretation happens as the speaker talks), only consecutively (interpretation happens after the speaker finishes talking). Consecutive interpretation doubled the time of a proceeding in one language. 
  • People who communicated using sign language or who needed to read lips needed to see everyone involved in the proceeding. This was not possible if some participants didn’t have a camera to join via video. In addition, litigants and lawyers with disabilities indicated a perceived stigma and prejudice when requesting or accessing accommodations from the court. 
  • Many lawyers said that virtual proceedings did not offer the opportunity to develop rapport and camaraderie with their colleagues in the profession as they could in in-person proceedings. 
  • Many court users could not access or afford the technology needed to participate in a virtual proceeding. To highlight this point, the report included information from the New York Legal Assistance Group’s report on COVID-19 and virtual proceedings. A study published in 2020 by the New York City Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer found that 40% of New York City households lack the combination of home and mobile broadband, including 18% of residents – more than 1.5 million people – who lack both. 

Despite these challenges, civil virtual proceedings were beneficial to court users.

  • According to the report, litigants with work responsibilities were less likely to take extensive time off from work to attend a proceeding. It was convenient, for example, to log in to a proceeding during a lunch break. Similarly, litigants living in rural areas did not have to worry about travel time to a court. Litigants with childcare responsibilities also did not have to make arrangements to attend a court proceeding, which meant they did not need to incur costs for childcare. 
  • Court users with limited mobility or disabilities did not have to experience structural impediments when attending proceedings in person. 
  • Having “time-certain” virtual proceedings proved to be more efficient and productive for all parties (as opposed to the in-person “cattle calls” or “calendar calls” when a large number of cases would be scheduled at the same time). This was especially beneficial to legal aid attorneys who could log in to appear in one county and then log in to appear in a separate county. Because traveling from one courthouse to another was not an issue, this meant that attorneys could represent more clients. 
  • In the early stages of the pandemic, when cases were high and the virus was spreading, virtual proceedings helped protect elderly litigants.
  • For domestic violence survivors, remote appearances were beneficial because they eliminated the possibility of seeing their abuser in person.

What does the working group recommend for the New York Court system moving forward?

The working group produced a total of fourteen (14) recommendations, which can be found here. Recommendations included:

  • Securing additional resources to develop and implement a comprehensive emergency plan for responding to future emergencies, including the creation of a standing task force available to advise on emergency preparedness; 
  • Expanding and supporting the use of virtual proceedings where appropriate by adopting guidelines that help identify whether a proceeding should be virtual or in-person and giving judges flexibility to decide on this; 
  • Fine-tuning virtual proceedings (e.g., allowing participants to test the platform before their appearance in court) to ensure a positive experience for the court user; 
  • Diversifying the way court users can access virtual proceedings. For example, to address the need of assisting court users with technology, the New York Courts created “kiosks” inside its courthouses to support litigants attending virtual proceedings. The courts also began partnering with government buildings, libraries, community centers, and churches to establish similar “kiosks” providing access to equipment and assistance to litigants. These community partnerships are part of the “Virtual Court Access Network,” or VCANs); 
  • Improving access to virtual proceedings and ensuring that court staff and judges receive comprehensive training on the accommodations available to court users with disabilities and court participants who speak another language; 
  • Redesigning the court’s website,, and making it accessible in other languages other than English (New York City’s 311 was cited as a model website on accessibility and searchability); and 
  • Creating a Permanent Commission to work with the court system on implementing and operationalizing the recommendations outlined in the report. 

The Future is Unfolding Before Us: Innovation To Expand & Ensure Access to Justice

The findings from this report confirmed what many of us have already seen during the pandemic: innovation and technology are key drivers to improving accessibility to the civil justice system. I look forward to seeing how the working group’s recommendations materialize over the next few months and years. 

I’m particularly interested in seeing the implementation of recommendations related to better virtual proceeding experiences for court users. Given many court users cited greater accessibility to the court when participating virtually, I see potential in more user-friendly and streamlined processes we can all learn from. Initiatives that were years in the making before the pandemic, such as the Family Offense Petition Program, Closing the Gap, and Family Legal Care Pro Bono (see page 16 here), are proof that technology can help ensure access to justice even during the most disruptive times. 

Some improvements in virtual proceedings will inevitably be tied to more significant community investment, such as New York’s initiative to expand broadband infrastructure and provide high-quality internet to 100,000 families and homes. But, hopefully, the fact that we’ve embraced technology in one way or another during the pandemic is a positive indication of future and better innovation in access to justice. Liz Keith, Pro Bono Net’s State and National Programs Director, and Rodrigo Camarena, Director of Justicia Lab, recently wrote about innovations to expand access to justice here

Finally, from what I’ve seen through our work in disaster response, the practice of preparing and anticipating challenges before an emergency happens can make all the difference in the outcome of an event. So, I’m glad the working group recommended developing and testing an emergency preparedness plan for future incidents. In the disaster response field, this proactive approach is often called “preparing during blue sky times” to ensure timely and organized responses to an emergency. 

Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz is Pro Bono Net’s Senior Program Manager. She coordinates, develops, and grows state and national digital projects that strengthen the work of legal advocates and pro bono attorneys helping individuals with their legal problems. In 2021, Jeanne received the On the Rise 40 Top Young Lawyers award for her work in disaster relief and leadership in the American Bar Association. You can find her on LinkedIn or email her at

February is Black History Month, a welcome time to celebrate the achievements and recognize the central role of Black Americans in U.S. history. The national Black History Month 2023 theme, Black resistance, explores how “African Americans have resisted historic and ongoing oppression, in all forms, especially the racial terrorism of lynching, racial pogroms and police killings,” since the nation’s earliest days.¹ 

As an organization committed to justice, all of us at Pro Bono Net celebrate and reflect on Black History Month and also see this as an opportunity to learn and share resources. Throughout February, our staff were invited to share recommendations on resources to explore Black history and culture. As we close out the month, we wanted to share some of those recommendations with others. At a time when the study of Black history and racial injustice is under threat on multiple fronts, yet essential to a just and equitable future, the voices of historians, activists and educators like those below are more important than ever. 

America on Fire: The Untold History of Police Violence and Black Rebellion Since the 1960s

Written by Elizabeth Hinton, America on Fire: The Untold History of Police Violence and Black Rebellion Since the 1960s takes us on a troubling journey from Detroit in 1967 and Miami in 1980 to Los Angeles in 1992 and beyond to chart the persistence of structural racism and one of its primary consequences, the so-called “urban riot,” which Hinton reexamines as episodes of resistance and rebellion.³

  • Recommended by Mark O’Brien, Pro Bono Net’s Executive Director 

The 1619 Project

The 1619 docuseries is an expansion of “The 1619 Project” created by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and the New York Times Magazine. The series seeks to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.²

  • Recommended by Claudia Johnson, LawHelp Interactive Program Manager and Tim Baran, New York Justice Initiatives Program Director

The Lost Cause (Part 1 & 2)

Are we still living with the racial divide left over from the Civil War? The Lost Cause is an audio documentary that explores the history of a conflict that nearly tore America apart. You’ll hear historians and a former US senator from Alabama explain the ideology that came to be known as the Lost Cause.⁴

  • Recommended by Pat Malone, Legal Director, New York Justice Initiatives

Assata: An Autobiography

Assata Shakur recounts the experiences that led her to a life of activism and portrays the strengths, weaknesses, and eventual demise of Black and White revolutionary groups at the hand of government officials. This personal and political autobiography is an important contribution to the literature about growing up Black in America.⁵

  • Recommended by Paul Bennett, Finance Director

After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging

After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging, written by Willie James Jennings, is an inaugural volume of the Theological Education between the Times series. Jennings shares the insights gained from his extensive experience in theological education, most notably as the dean of a major’s divinity school–where he remains one of the only African Americans to have ever served in that role. “It is part memoir, part decolonial analysis, and part poetry—a multimodal discourse that deliberately transgresses boundaries, as Jennings hopes theological education will do, too.”⁶

  • Recommended by Tim Baran, New York Justice Initiatives Program Director 

Master Slave Husband Wife

In 1848, a young enslaved couple plan and execute a daring escape from slavery and travel hundreds of miles north for freedom and safety. They meet up with anti-slavery activists and join the abolitionist lecture circuit, all while their lives are in peril. By author and historian Ilyon Woo.⁷

  • Recommended by Pat Malone, New York Justice Initiatives Legal Director



³ ⁷

Pro Bono Net, Equal Justice Works, and Lone Star Legal Aid are pleased to share a Practising Law Institute (PLI) CLE program for pro bono managers, volunteers, and nonprofit legal aid professionals responding to the impact of climate disasters around the country. The program, “New Developments in Climate Disaster Response & Resilience,” was co-chaired by Pro Bono Net and explores trending topics in climate disaster response. It also offers attendees an update on legal service and pro bono efforts after recent hurricanes and floodings impacting Florida and Puerto Rico. 

“This new program is the result of Pro Bono Net’s ongoing work, partnerships, and commitment to supporting individuals impacted by climate disasters,” said Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz, Senior Program Manager. “Climate change and its effects will continue to impact our communities significantly, but most of us are not prepared or ready to navigate the complexities of emergency management and recovery. When we share, compare, and learn from others who have already been through this, we are better positioned to respond and act faster. We don’t have to wait for a disaster to learn about what we can do as lawyers to help our communities. I encourage other attorneys and those working directly with disaster survivors to join our National Disaster Legal Aid Advocacy Center at to stay updated on additional new developments, resources, and volunteer opportunities.” 

The CLE program is broken down into three segments in which they can be accessed:

  • Climate Solutions for a Better Tomorrow: Environmental, Social, & Governance (ESG) Practices and Climate change in the United States
  • Extreme Heat and Building Resiliency: Supporting Vulnerable Communities Amid Devastating Climate Change
  • Lessons Learned: How Advocates are Addressing Issues with FEMA’s Recent IAPPG Updates in Florida and Puerto Rico

This new program is an extension of the program: “Current and Emerging Issues in Disaster Response: Legal Strategies and Practices for Helping Survivors” that offers a comprehensive overview of the legal landscape after a disaster.

You can find the new program materials and segment recordings on the Practising Law Institute’s website here. This program is available at no cost and will be available on-demand for one year. Attorneys seeking CLE credit for their jurisdictions can see CLE details on the page. 

This program is offered as part of PLI’s pro bono curriculum, which provides the legal community with the training necessary to assist individuals in need of legal representation. For more information about PLI’s pro bono trainings, scholarships, and Pro Bono Membership, please visit

Google’s philanthropy is funding the next generation of technology supporting immigrant rights and legal support in the United States

Last week, Pro Bono Net’s nonprofit innovation incubator for technology solutions supporting the immigrant rights movement, Justicia Lab, announced substantial new funding and support from, Google’s philanthropy. The $500,000 grant will focus on improving access to justice in a fast-changing immigration legal system by expanding and integrating Justicia Lab’s award-winning digital tools. This project will increase safety and relief for thousands of immigrants nationwide including recent arrivals, refugees and asylum seekers, existing residents including those with DACA status, and those who have been in the United States for many years and are seeking citizenship.

The immigration landscape in the United States is complex, fragmented, and constantly changing. Approximately 1.5 million undocumented immigrants in the United States could be eligible for immigration benefits but don’t know it. Over 600,000 DACA recipients are in need of document renewal support and information while thousands others are unaware of their DACA eligibility, and hundreds of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers to America risk being kept in the dark by opaque and inadequate resources to keep up with a rapidly changing legal landscape. As new immigration challenges continue to unfold and immigration reforms and policy continue to shapeshift, immigrant advocates are in need of flexible tools to screen clients, complete forms, triage cases, and provide remote legal assistance. 

This funding will help to create the first comprehensive digital solution for immigrants and their non-profit advocates to apply for affirmative relief and connect with trusted non-profit legal service providers.’s support will enable Justicia Lab to nationally scale a free and accessible universal intake and case referral tool. This new integrated platform will allow immigrants to understand the legal system and their rights within it, complete immigration forms, and help connect them to in-person and virtual support.

Following the successful development and deployment of this platform in border states, Justicia Lab intends to scale this technology and its network of partners to other states and municipalities, legal service agencies, community nonprofits, social justice groups,and government institutions seeking to gain efficiency and save on attorney time. 

“’s bold commitment to our work marks an important moment for public interest technology and the justice movement” says Justicia Lab Director Rodrigo Camarena. “Their support validates the importance of building national public digital infrastructure to give immigrants greater opportunities to understand and exercise their legal rights.” 

For this project, Justicia Lab’s team of designers, strategists, and attorneys will work with leading immigrant advocacy organizations, community and local government partners across America. Justicia Lab will lead on co-design and user engagement, product strategy and tech development, UI and UX design for mobile and web, and coalition and community capacity building and training. Justicia Lab applies additional equity considerations to this work, addressing longstanding trust issues that many immigrants experience with technology by prioritizing data and privacy security and language access.

“As an immigrant from Venezuela, I know first hand the challenges that face families seeking  safety, stability and new opportunities,” said Hector Mujica, Head of Economic Opportunity for in the Americas. “We’re proud to support Justicia Lab as they work to build the digital infrastructure necessary to support the immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers with the legal support they deserve.” 

Having one universal digital tool will address geographic barriers between immigrant need and provider availability by allowing people to remotely access a national network of legal aid organizations and pro bono attorneys. Recent research by the Center for Migration studies points to legal capacity ‘deserts’ across America – what they identity as ‘areas with too few legal immigration professionals’ –  with a national average of 1,413 undocumented persons in the United States for every charitable legal professional and an even more imbalanced ratio in states like Florida, Arizona, New Jersey, Georgia and Virginia.

About Pro Bono Net

Pro Bono Net is a national nonprofit leader in building technology and collaborations that increase access to justice. From connecting attorneys to those most in need to creating legal tools to help individuals advocate for themselves, Pro Bono Net makes the law work for the many and not the few. 

About Justicia Lab

Justicia Lab is Pro Bono Net’s immigrant justice technology lab, and a nonprofit legal tech initiative whose mission is to transform immigrant justice through collaboration, creativity, and technology. We work hand in hand with immigrants and their advocates to identify common challenges and incubate scalable digital tools to advance help immigrants navigate our immigration system, find workplace justice, and more. Justicia Lab has developed over a dozen immigrant justice legal tools to scale and support the work of advocates and bridge the justice gap, helping over 500,000 people find critical immigration information and relief.

About, Google’s philanthropy, brings the best of Google to help solve some of humanity’s biggest challenges combining funding, product donations and technical expertise to support underserved communities and provide opportunity for everyone. We engage nonprofits, social enterprises and civic entities who make a significant impact on the communities they serve, and whose work has the potential to produce scalable, meaningful change.

At Pro Bono Net, we’re always working to make our products and websites the best they can be. This means ensuring that websites are easy-to-use, and use the latest in responsive design. Last year we launched a new and improved LawHelp platform design, which is now rolled out to all 20 LawHelp sites across the country. Now we’re doing the same for the platform, our flagship product that supports more than 20 national and statewide justice networks and over 80,000 pro bono volunteers and nonprofit legal advocates working collaboratively to tackle pressing justice issues.

Introducing the JusticeHub design:

This new design, finalized in December, is the result of our efforts to re-think how sites are used by our partners, combined with our work to make all our sites beautiful, easy-to-navigate, and engaging. Built using Bootstrap, the industry standard for mobile-first and responsive design, the JusticeHub design brings a fresh and modern look to sites. 

With the new design, current and new partners will be able to choose from a variety of different layout options and four WCAG-AA accessible color palettes. Visit our demo site to explore these new layout options. The new design is bundled with other new features, including: 

  • Legal Server integration with the New Cases tool to facilitate posting of cases 
  • For states also using the LawHelp platform, seamless integration with your LawHelp directory to make referrals easier to find. See this example on TenantHelpNY
  • Native icon library for use in icon cards, flex pages and elsewhere  
  • Optional widgets, including AddThis social sharing and UserWay accessibility tools
  • Optional integration with G-Translate, a machine-assisted translation module 
  • Support for Google Analytics 4 (GA4), Google’s newest reporting suite, as well as an admin-only analytics dashboard.

As with all sites, our partners will still have the same set of pro bono and advocate support tools, as well as industry standard support and guidance from our team of in-house experts.

Through one one-stop access to pro bono opportunities, trainings, searchable libraries, and networking tools, the platform mobilizes pro bono volunteers, strengthens the work of nonprofit legal advocates, and promotes collaboration within justice communities working to tackle common issues. Recently released features also make it easier for programs to deliver essential legal rights resources and referral information for the public, alongside their advocacy resources. Visit our partner networks in Louisiana, Washington State, Georgia, and New York, along with the national Justice Impact Network, to see several of these new features and design upgrades in action. 

Interested in learning more about using the JusticeHub design in your community? Don’t hesitate to reach out to Sam Harden, Program Manager, at with any questions or if you would like more information.

Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz is Pro Bono Net’s Pro Bono & Strategic Initiatives Manager. She coordinates, develops, and grows state and national digital projects that strengthen the work of legal advocates and pro bono attorneys helping individuals with their legal problems. Jeanne manages Remote Legal Connect, a new technology tool that facilitates remote pro bono projects, virtual consultations, and document sharing between legal aid, volunteer attorneys, and pro bono clients.  In 2021, Jeanne received the On the Rise 40 Top Young Lawyers award for her work in disaster relief and leadership in the American Bar Association.

After two years of virtual programming due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Innovations in Technology Conference was back in person this year with approximately 600 participants. The conference, hosted by the Legal Services Corporation, was held from January 19-21, 2023, in Phoenix, Arizona. The event convenes technologists, legal aid advocates, court personnel, law school professors, pro bono coordinators, and other professionals to learn about technology projects and tools that advance access to justice. The last ITC in person occurred in January 2020 in Portland, Oregon. Many in the community remembered it as the last conference they attended before Covid-19 caused shutdowns across the country. Here are four takeaways from my attendance at the conference this year. I also asked my colleagues to share their thoughts with me, which I’ve incorporated into this post. 

1. Most of this year’s sessions fell under the information technology / internal operations conference track.

Information technology or internal operations may seem an obvious theme given the conference is about technology, but it was interesting to compare that to last year’s themes. Conference sessions fall under multiple tracks, but this year, 37% of the sessions were about or included a component of “Information Technology / Internal Operations.” Other popular topics this year included sessions on self-help projects, websites and online tools, technology for advocates, and data. Contrary to this year, 2022’s most popular conference tracks were “Websites/ Online Tools” and “Self-Represented Litigants/ Self-Help.” In 2021 and 2022, ITC had a conference track for COVID-19 Response and Recovery, which this year did not include.* 

2. A special shout-out to regulatory reform and human-centered design

My colleague, Sam Harden, and Program Manager at Pro Bono Net mentioned he appreciated the positive discussion around regulatory reform, which LSC’s President, Ronald S. Flagg, set the tone for at the opening session. After attendees gathered for hot coffee and breakfast, Flagg welcomed everyone and talked about LSC’s latest Justice Gap Report, published in 2022. The study, consistent with LSC’s past three justice gap reports, found that low-income Americans sought legal help for only 19% of their collective civil legal problems in the past year. The report also showed that low-income Americans will approach LSC-funded legal aid organizations every year for help with an estimated 1.9 million civil legal problems that are eligible for assistance. However, those who approach LSC-funded organizations will only receive enough legal support to resolve their issue about 56% of the time. Flagg said that regulatory reform is one of the areas of the legal profession that is reducing the justice gap. For example, last fall, Stanford Law School’s Deborah L. Rhode Center on the Legal Profession published “Legal Innovation After Reform: Evidence from Regulatory Change” to examine the regulatory reforms and innovations in Utah and Arizona. Two of the report’s co-authors highlight some of their findings here to show the positive impact of regulatory reform (e.g., addressing the unauthorized practice of law ethics rules appears to benefit low-income individuals navigating legal issues) and made an urgent call for innovation as a way to address the country’s access-to-justice crisis. For those who couldn’t attend and are interested in the discussions about regulatory change, the “Leveraging Regulatory Reform to Advance Access to Justice” session was live-streamed on Facebook and can be found here. Liz Keith, our Program Director, and Rodrigo Camarena, Director of Justicia Lab, also recently wrote about this and other innovations taking place to expand access to justice (see 3 tangible ways to ensure low-income Americans get the legal help they need). 

Flagg then welcomed Everett Harper, CEO and Co-Founder of Truss, a human-centered software development company. Harper walked us through his journey at Truss and reminded us of the superpower behind technology. He shared his experience working on and encouraged attendees to consider a few questions about human-centered design and technology: 

  • How do we create systems to enable more feedback? 
  • What is the feasibility of solving the problem we have identified? 
  • Do we really understand the problem? 

Feedback, sustainability, and scaling were all themes during the keynote. What can we learn from the products we design and the projects we implement over time? What patterns can we identify and learn from? Are there better ways to incorporate those lessons to make a case for regulatory reform?

3. Accessibility, technology + disasters(?), making change fun, and virtual reality

I attended ten sessions and learned something new from all of them. However, a few also stood out to me. The accessibility panel, “Ensuring Accessibility in Legal Technology: How it Enhances and Expands Your Reach,” was great. Panelists explained that without accessibility, there’s truly no access to the tools we build, and also spoke about website accessibility in times of climate disasters, like expanding this online guided interview to include disability accommodation questions from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), an online tool that helps people with disabilities to be emergency ready, and videos like this one to make legal rights information available in sign language. The “Unpacking the Intersectionality of Race, Language, and Poverty in Navigating the Digital Divide” session also touched on accessibility, and speakers made a convincing point about the importance of using data to address the needs of people who speak other languages. One of the speakers pointed out that although LSC’s Justice Gap Report was impactful and has the potential for a wide range of policy implications, it did not provide any analysis based on language usage in the United States. A proposed solution to make data accessible is to make language preference data from LSC grantees searchable by state and nationwide (separate by spoken/signed and written). Joshua Medina, Pro Bono Net’s new Legal User Experience Designer, said he also enjoyed the community’s investment and conversations about the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data and also in developing accessible technology for communities marginalized by the legal system.

I thought there was much to learn from panelists’ experiences on accessibility and climate disaster responses. Unless there is an accessibility plan in place, there is often not a lot of time to think about the consequences and impact on communities that may need to access information and services in other ways. This led me to another thought: how can we better use technology in disaster preparedness or response to the rising impact of disasters across the country? In less than four weeks since we welcomed the new year, the federal government has already made four major disaster declarations. This doesn’t count the many regions still recovering from last year’s disasters. The conference also happened when places such as Georgia, Alabama, California, and Washington were beginning to grapple with the effects of severe weather. Most ITC sessions catered to a broad audience and spanned a wide range of topics, but with the increasing rate of more powerful and frequent disasters impacting our communities, I hope we can advocate for disaster-specific discussions about how technology can improve efficiency and organizational resilience to address the legal needs of disaster survivors.

I also enjoyed the “Making Change Successful and FUN” session by Lakeshore Legal Aid (MI) and TechBridge. Speakers talked about how they navigated the design, training, and implementation of a new case management system while making it fun. The session was full of practical strategies, chart and sheet templates they used to organize the transition to the new system, and even examples of haikus written by staff saying goodbye to the old system. 

Another colleague, Alison Corn, and Legal Solutions Designer at Pro Bono Net shared that one of her favorite sessions was “The Courtroom as a Metaverse Node: Using Cross-Field Collaboration to Innovate Using 360 Video and Virtual Reality (VR).” When I asked her if she could share a takeaway from the session, she said, “VR isn’t just the newest tech experience in the space, but it’s also an incredibly robust tool that we can leverage to create idealized legal spaces that lessen retraumatization for litigants.” She provided an example of how Youtopian, a human-centered AI XR global innovation company, determined through usability testing that using mountains was extremely triggering for the veterans because of their military experiences. As a result, they removed the mountains to create a more idealized space. Alison concluded,  “if we could use this same approach in creating legal spaces, I see such huge potential in lessening the retraumatization so many vulnerable litigants face every single day in the courtroom.”

4. Pro Bono Net’s Representation and Social Gatherings at the Conference 

Pro Bono Net staff also presented on increasing access to legal help online, API-driven integrations in the civil justice sector, emerging usability research, and strategies to improve the discoverability of online legal rights content. In addition, our new Director of Business Development, Megan Vizzini, staffed the exhibit table, and we had an opportunity to share more about our programs, answer questions from visitors, and stamp passports for LSC’s Passport Contest (the winner received free registration for the next conference in Charlotte, North Carolina). I also asked Megan about her experience and she said she appreciated the exhibitor location was in a high-traffic location compared to other conferences she had been to where the exhibitors were on a side hallway. Megan also pointed out that it was great to see existing Pro Bono Net partners and prospective partners.

She said, “We had the opportunity to have many engaging conversations around current projects, future collaborations and discussions around what’s next in the space. The Pro Bono Net social event on Thursday night was especially memorable!” This social event was possible thanks to the conference’s Whova application. It was easy to organize an informal meet-up for partners and anyone who wanted to join and learn about what’s new at Pro Bono Net. 

More pictures from ITC:

Pro Bono Net’s Program Manager, Sam Harden, presenting on strategies to improve the discoverability of online legal rights content. 

Session: “Googling Justice: SEO, Schema Markup, and other Strategies to Connect the Public with Legal Help Online

Liz Keith, Program Director at Pro Bono Net, presenting on usability testing findings and how we can make our products more welcoming and inclusive.

Session: “But Does it Help?: Actionable and Meaningful Insights from Recent Usability Research” 

Pro Bono Net’s exhibit table. Attendees also had access to coffee and snacks throughout the day.

*Based on the conference’s Whova App agenda. Last year’s track analysis was based on the online schedule for ITC 2022.