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.

Pro Bono Net would like to recognize the thousands of volunteer lawyers who make a huge difference for those in need and the incredibly important work of pro bono volunteers in building our capacity to meet the vast unmet need for civil legal services. 

This year, National Pro Bono Week’s theme is “Moving Forward in a Post-Pandemic World” The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the delivery of legal services and pro bono across the country. It is important to celebrate the hard work and progress volunteer attorneys and organizations have made during the pandemic and will continue to make as we start to move towards a “post-pandemic” world. 

Below are some of the ways Pro Bono Net has been responding to COVID-19. These initiatives have been helping advocates as well as those affected legally by the pandemic since COVID-19 first became a threat. Legal issues caused by the pandemic, such as housing issues, unemployment, child support and family law issues, domestic violence, and more, will linger well into a “post-pandemic” world and Pro Bono Net programs will continue to support those affected. 

National Pro Bono Opportunities Guide

Pro Bono Net’s National Pro Bono Opportunities Guide is a joint project of Pro Bono Net, the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service, and its project the ABA Center for Pro Bono, in collaboration with probono.net network partners across the country. This year, we have continued to update the guide to reflect COVID-19 or remote pro bono opportunities. By visiting the opportunities guide, attorneys can learn more about an organization, opportunities available, and reach out to the organization’s contact about their interest in volunteering.

This Guide, which features detailed profiles of more than 1,000  organizations offering pro bono opportunities across the United States, has been viewed over 23,000 times since COVID-19 became a pandemic in March 2020. Pro bono does not have to slow down due to the pandemic. To visit the guide and volunteer, visit  www.probono.net/network/volunteer/.

Remote Legal Connect Platform

Pro Bono Net’s Remote Legal Connect Platform allows legal services providers, pro bono initiatives, courts and community partners to rapidly build and manage a remote legal support program to increase access to legal assistance for communities in need, regardless of location. The Remote Legal Connect technology was originally created to provide remote legal services in New York, and since the pandemic, has been adapted in three additional regions. The program has helped address a surge in legal needs related to COVID-19 pandemic, and continues to enable self-represented litigants to virtually connect with pro bono attorneys for legal advice and document preparation. To learn more, visit www.remotelegalconnect.org

LawHelp Interactive

LawHelp Interactive (LHI) is Pro Bono Net’s national document assembly program. If you cannot afford an attorney and have to represent yourself in court, filling out legal paperwork correctly can be a confusing and difficult process. LHI empowers people to create free and accurate court forms simply and easily, an essential step towards resolving a legal problem. LHI forms are created by expert legal aid and partner courts, and LHI serves the forms and provides the infrastructure that creates on average 2000 free documents per day. 

As the global COVID-19 pandemic and financial crisis exacerbated inequality and disproportionately affected people of color and low-income communities, it also increased the civil legal needs of millions.  By using LawHelp Interactive’s easy-to-use online forms, courts and nonprofits were immediately able to expand access to critical legal documents and empower those who the American legal system leaves to fend for themselves.  In 2020, LHI served one million interviews resulting in 710,378 legal documents to help put the power of the law into the hands of the people. Toward the end of September 2021, LHI has already served almost the same amount of forms with three months left to go. LHI usage continues to grow because it is a lifeline for those without access to legal resources in their regions.

Pro Bono Manager

For over 10 years, Pro Bono Manager™ has helped law firms run their pro bono programs more efficiently. Pro Bono Manager is a cloud-hosted SaaS application that securely integrates data from your firm’s personnel, billing, timekeeping, and docketing systems, and conforms to your firm’s brand and identity. Features can be configured to meet your unique pro bono management needs. Our web-based, mobile-responsive tools increase your firm’s capacity to manage pro bono work. 

Immigration Advocates Network

Immigration Advocates Network (IAN), a program of Pro Bono Net, welcomes pro bono lawyers to our Nonprofit Resource Center. It features a training calendar, alerts, libraries organized by topics, and more. Membership is free for pro bono lawyers and nonprofit staff. Helpful materials include:

To view IAN’s library, recorded webinars, and podcasts, join the Nonprofit Resource Center.  

To sign up for updates and receive our newsletter, scroll to the bottom of www.immigrationadvocates.org and enter your email address. Check back weekly for new library content, updated links, and more access to resources, to support your pro bono work.

Emergency Response & Recovery 

Pro Bono Net continues to support capacity-building efforts for emergency response and recovery related to climate-driven disasters and the pandemic. This year, we partnered with Equal Justice Works, the American Bar Association Disaster Legal Services Program, and Lone Star Legal Aid to co-host a program on strategies attorneys have used in responding to climate-related emergencies during the COVID-19 pandemic. The program, which was part of the first-ever Disaster Resilience Awareness Month, increased visibility about the role of legal aid and pro bono in disaster recovery and resilience efforts. 


For more more information about Pro Bono Net’s programs and initiatives, visit our website at: www.probono.net/programs

In March 2021, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) released a statement committing financial assistance for COVID-19 funeral expenses incurred after January 20, 2020. Last month, Amanda Bosley from Lone Star Legal Aid, Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz from Pro Bono Net, and Brittany Perrigue Gomez from Texas RioGrande Legal Aid presented policy updates regarding the COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Program and FEMA’s Individual Assistance Program and Policy Guide. These updates were part of an online One-Hour Briefing sponsored by the Practising Law Institute, a nonprofit organization that organizes continuing legal education programs for attorneys and other professionals. Amy Taub from the Practising Law Institute acted as the Program Attorney for the briefing. The online event also highlighted ideal practices for representing individuals under the COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Program as well as resources available to those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

From the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020 through August 11, 2021, there were a reported 615,459 COVID-19 deaths in the United States. By August 9, 2021, FEMA had received approximately 250,600 applications through its COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Program. Considering the recent weather hazards across the country, like Hurricane Ida, FEMA is also processing disaster-related assistance applications. FEMA  has revised and streamlined its policies affecting disaster survivors through its response to crises over the years. The main differences below distinguish applications received in natural disaster situations in comparison to COVID-19 expenses:

FEMA COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Program

Those eligible for the FEMA COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Program include U.S. citizens, non-citizen nationals, or qualified immigrants who have paid for pandemic-related funeral expenses after January 20, 2020. These expenses include transportation, burial, ceremony costs, and any other additional expenses qualified by local government mandates. Applications can be submitted using the FEMA hotline at 844-684-6333. To this date, there is no deadline to apply. Panelists provided additional information related to the program, such as:

  • The award maximum for the program is $9,000 per funeral with a $35,500 maximum cap.
  • 100% of funds for the program are administered federally.

FEMA’s Ongoing Response to Climate-Driven Disasters

Natural disaster applications must be submitted within 60 days from when the disaster is declared and can be extended up to 30 days for “good cause.” Funding for natural disaster compensation is 75% federal and 25% state cost share.

Besides the COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Program, there has also been recent legislation to protect victims of natural disasters. The Disaster Recovery Reform Act (DRRA) was signed into law on October 5, 2018, with the goal of creating a culture of preparedness and to ready the nation for catastrophic disasters as well as to reduce the complexity of FEMA. Under the DRRA, maximum award amounts were separated for Housing Assistance and Other Needs Assistance. The maximum benefit for both categories is $36,000, although this amount changes each year based on inflation. The DRRA also increased the Group Flood Insurance Policy coverage and premium, which is equivalent to the FEMA Individuals and Households Program maximum combined grant amounts for Other Needs Assistance and Housing Assistance.

Changes in FEMA’s Individual Assistance Program and Policy Guide allow for greater financial coverage for victims of the pandemic as well as other natural disasters that have taken great financial tolls on families across the country. Shortly after the program, FEMA announced a change in its policy to ensure access equitable access all survivors. There are many ways in which attorneys can provide legal help assistance to individuals navigating FEMA. Attorneys can learn more on the required documentation, eligibility, and application process using the resources below.


Maxwell Lawson is a third year student at the George Washington University studying International Affairs with a concentration in Comparative Political, Economic, and Social Systems. He has studied Spanish, Korean, and Mandarin and aims to use these languages in the field of international law after graduating college. At Pro Bono Net, he serves as a Communications and Development Intern contributing to outreach and content production for the organization.

October was first declared as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month in 1989. A staggering number of Americans experience violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. According to the CDC, “ [a]bout 1 in 4 women and nearly 1 in 10 men have experienced contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime and reported some form of IPV-related impact.” Domestic Violence Awareness Month shines light on this issue and provides information to victims as well as the public about tools and resources available.

In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we spotlight two important tools that help victims of intimate partner violence. 

Family Offense Petition Program / Training 

The Family Offense Petition (FOP) Program is a collaboration between Pro Bono Net and the New York State Unified Court System. The FOP program allows trained advocates and legal aid providers to create  an order of protection petition on behalf of domestic violence survivors. The petition information is then electronically transferred directly into the court’s case -management system. The program is powered by Pro Bono Net’s award-winning LawHelp Interactive document assembly technology. As a result of extensive outreach and training, the court has approved advocate organizations  in all 62 New York State counties, which include legal aid offices, probation agencies, YMCAs, and a team of social workers at a hospital. 

Last month, in partnership with the New York Courts, Pro Bono Net organized a webinar on the program to train over 150 advocates and provide guidance on how organizations can obtain approval from the court to use the program. 

Victim Compensation Online Claim Application Guide & the Victim Compensation Claim Navigator

The Victim Compensation Online Claim Application Guide and the Victim Compensation Claim Navigator is a recently launched tool that ensures that eligible crime victims are successful in submitting their applications for crime victim compensation through the New York State Office of Victim Services (OVS) Online Portal. The Victim Compensation Guide offers page-by-page tips and reminders to help victims with the application process. The Navigator was created to help crime victims determine if they are eligible for victim compensation and the type of claim they can apply for.

You can find the Victim Compensation Guide and Navigator on NY Crime Victims Legal Help (crimevictimshelpny.org). The New York Crime Victims Legal Network (CVLN)’s Guide & Navigator was developed by Pro Bono Net, Empire Justice Center, and SUNY Albany Center for Human Services Research. 

LawHelp Interactive offers free online legal forms to provide essential assistance to those with unmet civil legal needs. LawHelp Interactive (LHI) provides an easy-to-follow process that empowers individuals without legal counsel to create legal documents on their own. 

LHI is an especially essential and powerful tool for rural residents of the US, more than 14 million people, who face unique barriers to accessing justice. The Georgetown Journal on Law and Poverty reported that only about 2% of small legal firms are located in rural areas. This lack of availability and supply of legal experts and tools for legal support can lead to the creation of legal deserts – areas where residents, even those who can afford to pay, have extremely limited access to legal support. Government assistance in its current form widens this access-to-justice gap: rural states receive less federal and state funding for legal aid because this funding is issued on a per capita basis rather than being directly tied to need. 

On the LHI platform, rural residents can easily create legal documents through high quality online forms created by expert attorneys from courts and nonprofit legal aid organizations. Residents of rural areas can use LHI forms for free – without incurring high legal expenses or traveling long distances to get to an urban area for help. In rural areas where there is often limited investment in legal services, including legal self-help and access to justice initiatives, forms powered by LHI are truly a legal lifeline. In some regions, the LHI powered forms are one of the only available resources to prepare needed legal documents that can be completed in a timely manner. That’s why LHI and its partners are committed to providing legal forms for free, especially because our resources are often the only help available in critical areas of law such as family law, housing, and guardianships. 

While LHI forms are used all across the country to assist in a wide variety of civil legal needs, a review of LHI form use in 2020 shows that people in rural communities use LHI’s forms at a disproportionately high rate. Nationally, around 14% of Americans live in rural areas, yet 32% of LHI survey respondents reported living in a rural area. To further understand the increased use of LHI forms in rural communities, Pro Bono Net conducted a review of LHI’s 2020 evaluation, focusing on usage in states with a high percentage of rural residents.

First, to understand the magnitude of free online form use in rural areas, it is important to know that most of the form use through the LHI platform comes from states with large urban areas, including NY, CA, MI, and IL. 

So in order to best assess the needs of LHI users in rural areas, we looked at data from Maine, Kansas, Iowa, and Arkansas, states having a significant percentage of residents living in rural areas. According to the National Center for Access to Justice, these states all have fewer than 35 civil legal aid attorneys per 10,000 low income residents. Not surprisingly, as the pandemic resulted in heightened civil legal needs for many, usage of LHI in rural states has been increasing. In 2020, these states saw an increase of 16.8%. 

All data cited above leads to the conclusion that national infrastructures like LHI are key to preserving access to justice for a significant portion of our rural population, and that rural areas need an infusion of funding to improve the legal services available for residents. Lack of a legal market or inability to pay due to high poverty and high unemployment trends in vast regions of the country means that foundations and funders at the local, state, and federal level, prioritize supporting tools with long track records of trust and use by residents in those areas. 

Residents of rural legal deserts should not be doomed to a systemic and perpetual lack of access to justice. Looking towards the future, LHI will continue to provide forms for free to end users while seeking additional revenues to ensure the costs of use can be covered to continue meeting the needs of rural residents. 

As an organization committed to justice, Pro Bono Net continues to work to bring the power of the law to all and to make the law work for the many and not the few. 

Pro Bono Net honors and celebrates the countless achievements, contributions, and rich history of Latinx American communities during this year’s National Latinx Heritage Month. 

Latinx Heritage Month commenced on September 15th, which marks the independence days of many countries in Central and South America, and ends tomorrow on October 15th. This month is all about “celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America,” says the National Hispanic Heritage Month website

As part of the celebration at Pro Bono Net, Latinx staff hosted a virtual gathering where all staff had the opportunity to learn more about what this month means to staff who identify as Latinx and ask each other questions about the culture, history, and traditions of the Latinx community. This is the first time that Pro Bono Net as an organization has hosted such a gathering, and as the year progresses we hope we can do the same for other groups.

Pro Bono Net is grateful for all Latinx staff and Board members, partners, advocates, and supporters’ contributions of work. We are also grateful that as a technical solutions leader in the area of access to justice, we strive to serve the Latinx community in parity with national demographics, and we remain committed to creating and building tools and partnerships that serve all, regardless of language and national origin, race, ethnicity and religion. 

The College of Law Practice Management recently announced its 2021 InnovAction Awards. This is the 18th year the College of Law Practice Management has presented InnovAction Awards. The InnovAction Awards recognize lawyers, law firms, and other deliverers of legal services currently engaged in extraordinary innovative efforts worldwide. 

We are delighted to share that Pro Bono Net’s Program Director, Liz Keith, was awarded with the 2021 InnovActor Award. Liz has played a key role in Pro Bono Net’s program strategy for more than a decade. She joined Pro Bono Net as a LawHelp Circuit Rider, working with legal aid programs in 25 states to build online resources to increase access to legal help for low income communities. As Program Director, Liz now manages strategic initiatives and programs at Pro Bono Net that equip individuals and communities with new tools to tackle civil justice problems.

Liz Keith is, and has been for almost two decades, a national leader working to bring the power of the law to all by building cutting-edge digital tools and strengthening collaboration in the civil justice sector to implement those tools broadly and effectively.”

Congratulations to Liz and the other two InnovAction Award recipients, Digitory Legal, together with its client, Kaiser Permanente, and Julia Farr, Senior Manager, Osler Dash at Osler Hoskin & Harcourt LLP. To learn more about the recipients and the awards, click here. For more information on Pro Bono Net initiatives, visit: https://www.probono.net/programs/   

Each October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month shines light on domestic violence issues and provides information to victims as well as the public about tools and resources available. A staggering number of Americans experience violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. These victims and other victims of crime have a new resource available, keep reading to learn more.


The New York Crime Victims Legal Network (CVLN), developed by Empire Justice Center, Pro Bono Net, and SUNY Albany Center for Human Services Research, recently launched the Victim Compensation Online Claim Application Guide and the Victim Compensation Claim Navigator on NY Crime Victims Legal Help (crimevictimshelpny.org). The Guide and Navigator were created to ensure that eligible crime victims are successful in submitting their applications for crime victim compensation through the New York State Office of Victim Services (OVS) Online portal.

The Victim Compensation Guide offers tips and reminders to help victims with the application process. The Navigator was created to help crime victims determine if they are eligible for victim compensation and the type of claim they can apply for. “We learned from OVS that a common mistake people were making when applying for victim compensation was filing the wrong type of claim. So, we wanted to make an easy-to-use tool that would help. By answering a few questions, users of the Navigator will receive personalized information about their eligibility, the type of claim they can apply for, and resources for help with their claim application,” said Laura Dwyer, CVLN Regional Attorney Coordinator at Empire Justice Center.

“Working with Neota Logic, a software platform Pro Bono Net uses to build tools to increase access to justice, we developed a user-friendly tool that helps victims quickly determine if they are eligible for compensation and what type of claim they can make,” said Tim Baran, Technology Innovation Manager at Pro Bono Net.

The website, along with the Victim Compensation Guide was developed with insight from crime victims and service providers. “This guide was developed with direct input from providers who serve victims of crime,” said Dr. Susan Dietzel, Senior Research Scientist at SUNY Albany Center for Human Services Research. “The content and design reflect their feedback about how to facilitate the application process. I am excited to see a product that incorporates research into practice in such a tangible and meaningful way.”

According to the 2019-2020 OVS Annual Report, the total number of claims accepted by OVS was 9,682. “Many people who experience crime victimization and are eligible never apply for compensation,” said Remla Parthasarathy, Senior Attorney and CVLN Project Leader at Empire Justice Center. “We are excited that these tools are available and hope they will encourage more people to apply for and successfully complete the compensation process.”

The Guide and Navigator were developed with the assistance and support from the New York State Office of Victim Services. “The Office of Victim Services is dedicated to ensuring that all eligible crime victims receive the assistance that they need, including financial compensation for out-of-pocket expenses. This new guide and navigator will help more New Yorkers complete applications for assistance while avoiding common errors in the application process. We thank the Crime Victims Legal Network, Empire Justice Center, and partners, for developing these tools to ensure that more help gets to those who need it,” said Elizabeth Cronin, Director of the Office of Victim Services.

Go to crimevictimshelpny.org/compensation/ for more information on the Victim Compensation Online Claim Application Guide and Navigator.

For LiveHelp volunteer Jordan Kaufman, the motivation to use his legal skillset to help those in need comes from a place of profound empathy for his fellow New Yorkers. Jordan’s love for New York and its residents has been present his whole life, hailing from Nassau County, Long Island and completing his undergraduate studies with a history major at Yeshiva University in New York City. In his own words: “What really struck me about live help is that I’m a native New Yorker. I plan one being a lifelong New Yorker, and I just think the fact that this was a New York focused pro bono opportunity is something that really intrigued me with livehelp. I was excited to help my fellow New Yorkers.” Although Jordan left New York for law school at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, he has since returned to New York City to begin working in the corporate department of a law firm.

A legal career had always interested Jordan as he was exposed to the field at a young age from his father, but the idea didn’t fully crystalize until his junior year at Yeshiva University when he began studying for the LSAT. During his time at law school, Jordan began to learn more about the legal landscape of America and its inherent flaws. Seeing firsthand how “the legal system in general is a little bit opaque and very difficult for people to navigate,” Jordan decided to leverage his newly developed legal skillset to help his fellow New Yorkers with LiveHelp.

Working with LiveHelp from November 2020 through May of 2021, Jordan graciously helped guide New York’s residents through the complexities and intricacies of day to day legal problems ranging from rental agreements to family law. When asked for a key takeaway from his time with LiveHelp, Jordan said “As lawyers, we are lucky enough and privileged enough to acquire this skill set in law school that many people are unable to acquire or don’t have access to, and we can really use these skills to help and improve people’s lives on a daily basis.” 

Just as the COVID-19 pandemic shifted the nature of communication and collaboration for everyone, Jordan too felt the strain of working remotely with LiveHelp. “Not having that face to face interaction was something that was a little bit difficult and a little bit strange… but I quickly adjusted to the situation and was able to assist people who were coming to the platform.” Although the adjustment to an entirely online landscape was challenging for Jordan, the positivity and gratitude from LiveHelp users motivated him to adjust and provide the best possible assistance. On his interactions with users, Jordan said that “The vast majority of people were incredibly grateful and always saying thank you for the assistance,” and “whenever I provided assistance, people would say ‘This is amazing. This is great info that you’re providing.’” 

When asked if he would recommend volunteering with LiveHelp to other law school students and lawyers, Jordan responded by saying “Yeah, definitely. I think [working with LiveHelp] is very powerful for someone, also particularly someone who is either a native New Yorker or will be going to New York. I think that a lot of firms encourage pro bono opportunities, and I would definitely encourage people to check out LiveHelp New York as a pro bono opportunity.” For Jordan, being able to help people navigate the legal landscape is the whole point of becoming a lawyer. “I’m privileged to have this skill set and I hope to continue assisting people through pro bono work throughout my legal career.”

We at LawHelpNY and Pro Bono Net are incredibly grateful to Jordan for volunteering his time and effort to support his fellow New Yorkers. We admire your selflessness and willingness to help others with your skills, and we wish you the best for the future of your legal career. Thank you, Jordan!


LiveHelp is the bilingual chat component of  LawHelpNY.org. LiveHelp chat is available in English and Spanish and provides legal assistance, information and referrals to those who have urgent and complex legal needs. Trained volunteers staff LiveHelp from 9 AM-9 PM on weekdays, making this service readily accessible to low-income working clients, individuals in rural areas, or people who may be homebound, elderly or living with disabilities. LiveHelp is also available on other websites powered by Pro Bono Net, including New York Crime Victims Legal Help.

LiveHelp recruits volunteers throughout the year. In order to be considered for our program, please complete our volunteer application and send, along with a copy of your resume to Dennis Brink at dbrink@nylawhelp.org. The application as well as additional information about volunteering with us can be found here: LiveHelp Program information.

Pro Bono Net is pleased to announce an important update to an interactive, guided interview that allows disaster survivors to generate an appeal letter if they have been denied assistance by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or would like to appeal the amount awarded by the agency. The guided interview, powered by Pro Bono Net’s LawHelp Interactive program, is available at FEMAAppeals.org. Since the 2017 major disasters, the interview has been used nearly 9,000 times by individuals affected by major disasters in the United States such as hurricanes, floods and wildfires.

Pro Bono Net, in partnership with the City Bar Justice Center, initially created the tool in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy for use by people impacted by disasters who cannot afford a lawyer. In 2017, Weil, Gotshal & Manges updated the interview for people affected by Hurricanes María, Irma, Harvey, and the California wildfires. This year, Pro Bono Net worked with Disability Rights Texas to incorporate questions that address the needs of survivors with disabilities. Answers to the questions in the interactive interview are input into a form letter that a survivor can save to their computer and print out for submission to FEMA as an appeal. Users can also email the letter to a third party, such as an attorney, for review.

Disability Rights Texas (DRTx) is the Protection and Advocacy (P&A) agency for the state of Texas. DRTx works to ensure that Texans’ with disabilities have equitable opportunities that are free from discriminatory barriers across all societal domains and their individual rights and liberties are upheld.  DRTx’s priorities now include disaster planning and recovery and in response to Hurricane Harvey had dedicated personnel to assist with legal needs. 

In working the response to Hurricane Harvey, DRTx’s immediate caseloads were occupied with FEMA denials and FEMA appeals.  Navigating FEMA’s process is complex and confusing and for disaster survivors with disabilities, meaningful access was denied, as FEMA lacked a public facing reasonable accommodation process to ensure an equitable opportunity to participate in and benefit from FEMA’s programs.  A failure to address and engage with disaster survivors with disabilities to determine specific needs, was the most substantial barrier the disability community faced.  

Sometimes clients were denied effective communication, as accommodations as obvious as an interpretation in a different language either for the application itself or for an inspection were not provided.  Sometimes clients needed continued assistance throughout FEMA’s process to address mental health needs, or maybe they required, as a reasonable accommodation, a modification to a specific policy that was creating a discriminatory barrier, yet FEMA lacked a means to request and sustain a reasonable accommodation for a disaster survivor with a disability.

The FEMA appeals interview will allow, as a pro se tool, for disaster survivors with disabilities to explicitly address their lack of meaningful access to FEMA’s programs based on FEMA’s failure to provide a reasonable accommodation.  A FEMA denial of an accommodation denies an equitable opportunity for disaster survivors to access FEMA’s programs.  Sometimes the legal aid response in disasters can be limited due to the overwhelming need. This tool affords an independent resource for advocacy. Survivors impacted by a major disaster and that have applied to FEMA can use the tool to generate an appeal letter. The tool is also inclusive of the barriers the disability community may face in recovery. 

In September 2021, FEMA updated its disaster assistance application.

Specifically, question number 24 on the application now allows for an individual to request a specific reasonable accommodation.  This option is new and FEMA has not released specific guidance on how the reasonable accommodation process will work.  The FEMA appeal interactive interview can be a critical tool to assist in navigating these new procedures.

We hope this updated tool is helpful to survivors in communities recovering from the impact of Hurricane Ida and other climate-driven disasters such as the wildfires in California. 

Pro Bono Net thanks Stephanie Duke, Attorney and Equal Justice Works Disaster Resilience Fellow at Disability Rights Texas, for her continued advocacy on behalf of disaster survivors with disabilities and her work on these updates. Pro Bono Net also thanks Capstone Practice Systems for its generous support in making updates to the interview. 

To access the interview, you can visit www.FEMAAppeals.org. To learn more about Disability Rights Texas, visit https://www.disabilityrightstx.org/en/home/. To learn more about Pro Bono Net’s disaster recovery efforts, visit https://www.probono.net/our-work/initiatives/disaster/. For any questions or comments about the program, please contact Pro Bono Net’s Pro Bono & Strategic Initiatives Manager, Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz at jortiz@probono.net