Hello! My name is Katie Lam and I am Pro Bono Net’s Legal Empowerment and Technology Fellow. With support from the Open Society Foundation, Pro Bono Net is partnering with civil justice communities across the nation to advance the strategy and practice of technology-enabled legal empowerment efforts in the US. Over the next year, I’ll be sharing our about our work here on Pro Bono Net’s blog.

In March 2019, members of the Immigration Advocates Network (IAN), a program of Pro Bono Net, and organizers from Make the Road New York’s (MRNY) Workplace Justice program held a co-design sprint to explore what role technology could play in improving the wage recovery process. This sprint resulted in ¡Reclamo!, a digital legal tool designed to make it easier to identify if someone has been a victim of wage theft.

Wage theft runs rampant in New York, with nearly 2 million workers experiencing wage theft in NYC alone. Researchers estimate that low-income and hourly employees working in places like restaurants, construction, and nail salons are cheated out of a cumulative $3.2 billion in wages and benefits. Of these workers, undocumented immigrants are especially at-risk of exploitation, retaliation by employers, and severely lack access to justice.

Wage theft victims who try to recover their wages often struggle to, especially without a lawyer. In addition, lawyers who do help them often find themselves caught up in necessary paperwork that doesn’t require legal expertise.

“Carlos approached an attorney at Make the Road NY to help. Only after Carlos was represented by an attorney, and they resubmitted the claim, did the DOL start investigating his case…” -from an interview with Carlos, a MRNY community member.

A growing movement of legal empowerment advocates and researchers have found that for community members like Carlos, relying entirely on public interest lawyers is an inefficient way of resolving workplace injustices. ¡Reclamo! strives to increase efficiency and recover stolen wages by empowering workers and non-lawyers to independently file wage theft claims. For lawyers, such a tool could reduce severe bottlenecks in the wage recovery process and allow attorneys to focus their legal expertise on critical tasks instead.

I spoke to Rodrigo Camarena, Director of the Immigration Advocates Network, about his experience leveraging co-design to enable access to justice.

¡Reclamo! was recently selected as a 2019 Worker’s Lab Innovation Fund Finalist. 



What inspired IAN to collaborate with MRNY on this project?

Last fall, I read an article in El Diario where one of MRNY’s Workplace Justice advocates was quoted saying that worker intimidation and retaliation had risen in the Trump era. Anecdotally and in terms of clients coming in, there was a sense that employers felt emboldened by this president to intimidate and threaten workers who asked for their wages or who asked to be paid a fair wage. That angered me, so I reached out to Cristobal Gutierrez, who was quoted in that article and said, “Hey, we’re IAN, we use technology to help immigrants and their advocates advance immigrant justice. Can we chat?”

Were you familiar with wage theft before reading this article?

I was familiar with wage theft as a recurring problem among immigrant communities, but I found it worrying that employers are using this opportunity in this era to further exploit people. I also thought that wage theft is an issue we can tackle locally without requiring changes in federal laws, so I felt like this was an opportunity to take action.

When you first started this conversation with Cristobal, did the topic of human-centered design come up pretty quickly?

Initially, we wanted to learn as much as we could, so we did a lot of observational engagements. We went over to Make the Road and tried to learn about their process. We wanted to put ourselves in their shoes and see what they dealt with on a day to day basis. Through that period of watching and observing them, and getting to know Cristobal and their ideas around how to work in a smarter way, co-design emerged as a sensible strategy.

Why use co-design?

Even though we are immigration subject matter experts, we are not labor and wage-hour experts. So I think in this case, and like in other cases, we really needed to leverage the expertise of people who are doing the work on the ground. It felt natural to include Make the Road’s attorneys, paralegals, and worker organizers in the design process so they could educate us on the issue and we could help them identify opportunities for technology to play a role.

Was there a key lesson that you took away from the process?

One lesson we learned was even though we were working to think of a new intervention or a new way of approaching a problem, we kept getting fixed in how the process currently works and what rules we need to follow to file wage theft claims. It took us a while to think outside the box. For us, that meant not really addressing the wage theft form itself and instead, being more strategic about what ultimately needs to happen for workers to have access to justice. In this case, that means the ability to file wage theft claims in a secure and efficient manner. So while we were thinking about recovering wages, it took us a minute to really think about other strategies and how technology may play a role.

What advice do you have for fellow civic technologists around building trust?

We spent a lot of time listening and building the relationship. We went out to MRNY’s offices a couple of times and sat with their members and listened to their challenges. We didn’t come in there saying, “Hey, we have all of the technology to solve every problem.” We just wanted to learn more about the issue. We approached the challenge together. We didn’t come in there with a set of ideas that we wanted to impose. It was a much more generative process.

¡Reclamo! tackles a problem associated with access to workplace justice, immigrant justice, and economic justice. Why did IAN and MRNY prioritize legal empowerment as a remedy during the sprint?

Filing the wage claim form is just one part of the puzzle. Ultimately, the work is about educating workers on their rights. It’s about informing workers so that they know that they have power and agency and that collectively, we can change laws and the status quo. Scaling or accelerating the filing of wage theft claims is a component of workplace justice, but the ultimate goal is achieving structural change. In this case, that process starts with legal empowerment.

What do next steps look like for ¡Reclamo!?

We are actively fundraising so that we can build and test a beta version of ¡Reclamo!. We’re focused on supporting workers in the construction industry. We’ll start with construction, release a beta version of the project, test it a lot, try to break it, and see what happens from there.

What excites you most about ¡Reclamo!?

I’m excited for ¡Reclamo! to become a household name. I want workers to share it. I want worker advocates to feel like it’s their own. I want to hear stories about ¡Reclamo! saving people time, that the process of reclaiming wages wasn’t as scary since you can approach it from your cell phone or from a computer lab at a library. I want to help demystify the wage theft claim process and really give people a sense of power and being able to come forward. As an immigrant or undocumented worker, it’s extremely difficult to come forward and communicate that you are a victim of wage theft, especially in this climate, and so once people have that confidence and trust, I want workers to be able to use it and reclaim what is theirs.

Pro Bono Net is celebrating twenty years of transforming access to justice. In honor of this milestone, our current Board Chair, Dave Heiner wrote an amazing blog about Pro Bono Net’s relationship with Microsoft. This blog was originally posted on Dave Heiner’s LinkedIn page.

Ten years ago, Mark O’Brien, the Executive Director of Pro Bono Net, came to Microsoft to meet with Brad Smith. (Brad was the general counsel of Microsoft at the time and now is its president.) Mark had a straightforward message: Microsoft ought to get involved in Pro Bono Net’s mission. Mark had co-founded Pro Bono Net a decade earlier because he saw the potential of using the internet to help close the access to justice gap in the United States. Brad could see right away that if that was a good idea in 1999, it was an even better idea in 2009, as the internet had become more powerful and broadly accessible.

Brad asked if I’d be interested in getting involved with Pro Bono Net. I was immediately intrigued. I’d recently read Peter Singer’s book, The Most Good You Can Do, which develops Singer’s ideas for “effective altruism.” For me effective altruism meant putting my legal skills to use to help people who have a legal problem but cannot afford a lawyer. I was focused on undocumented immigrants, people who typically face great hardship to come to the United States, often fleeing a dangerous situation at home. They find themselves caught up in a foreign and complex legal system, often alone, and without a lawyer.  And chances are they don’t speak English.  My first immigrant client was a political refugee from Eritrea, who followed a circuitous and dangerous path through Ethiopia and South Africa to South America and eventually to the States. He had been imprisoned and physically tortured by the Eritrean government. He was granted political asylum, and today he lives with his wife and children in Seattle, where he is a small business owner.

That was gratifying work, but I’d been wondering if there was a way to effect more systemic change—to help thousands of lawyers to provide pro bono representation, or to help millions of people who can’t afford a lawyer to help themselves. I was the chief antitrust lawyer for Microsoft at the time, and that work was focused on the value that Windows delivers by serving as a “platform” that connected computer users and applications developers.  I wondered: if a platform like Windows provides so much value in the commercial space, could platforms be built to help close the access to justice gap?

So when Brad told me about Pro Bono Net’s mission—leveraging the power of technology and collaboration to promote access to justice—I was eager to get involved. In partnership with the Legal Services Corporation, Pro Bono Net already offered platform software called LawHelp that legal aid organizations in at least 30 states and territories are using today to efficiently build statewide web sites that  provide helpful information to people who can’t afford a lawyer. And it offered a service called LawHelp Interactive that helped people to fill out legal forms (to contest an eviction, or to apply for an order of protection against an abuser, etc.) so that they could represent themselves more effectively. There seemed to be a great opportunity to build on emerging technologies and to really scale up platforms that could help millions of people.

Today LawHelp, LawHelp Interactive and other Pro Bono Net offerings are available in more than 40 states and territories. These and other Pro Bono Net programs facilitate collaboration—collaboration between legal aid organizations and people in need, collaboration among legal aid organizations and collaboration with the courts. And that is essential because technology alone cannot ensure that access to the justice system is accessible to all. That requires people working together. That is also why Pro Bono Net created the Immigration Advocates Network, the largest network of immigrant rights organizations. Today the Immigration Advocates Network is leveraging the power of cloud technology to offer services like Immi, an online service that helps undocumented immigrants to figure out if they have a path to obtain legal immigration status, and Citizenshipworks, an online service that helps people who qualify to apply for citizenship. Both are available nationally and support the work of hundreds of local nonprofit organizations that can leverage these platforms to drive innovation in service delivery.

As Pro Bono Net celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, the promise of technology to help secure access to justice is greater than ever. I bet Mark and his co-founder Michael Hertz weren’t thinking about artificial intelligence when they founded Pro Bono Net in the late 1990s. Yet today AI is transforming large parts of the economy and society more broadly. AI is helping businesses to seize new opportunities, doctors to diagnose illnesses, and drivers to get to their destination (and sometimes AI is even doing the driving!). Can AI help people who have to navigate the justice system on their own? That is precisely the mission of a prototype solution, aptly called Legal Navigator, that is a joint project of the Legal Services Corporation, Pro Bono Net, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Microsoft and Accenture. Legal Navigator aims to leverage AI to connect people with the right resources—legal aid lawyers, court rules, online forms, or other self-help resources—far more effectively than a simple web search.

Next month Brad Smith will deliver the keynote address at Pro Bono Net’s 20th anniversary celebration. There will be a lot to talk about. Every day seems to bring a new story about the societal challenges that technological advances can bring—for privacy, for the environment, even for democracy. Brad will share his thoughts on how we can benefit from technological innovation while preserving timeless values. I know one piece of the puzzle: we need to ensure that technology is put to work to benefit everybody. That’s why I’m excited to see what Pro Bono Net—with support from the technology community—can build in the next ten years to promote access to justice for all.

According to the National Council on Aging, approximately 1 in 10 Americans age 60 or over has experienced some form of elder abuse, but studies estimate that only 1 in 14 cases are reported to authorities.

With support from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), Pro Bono Net and the Center for Elder Law & Justice have partnered on an initiative to create and expand two online tools to enable innovative partnership and outreach models to identify, respond to and remedy elder abuse and financial exploitation: 1.) the Legal Risk Detector, a web-based screening and referral app designed for use by social workers, nurses and other professionals in aging; and 2.) online forms, powered by LawHelp Interactive, to help victims of abuse and exploitation access legal remedies available to them.

For nonprofit legal aid organizations and professionals serving the aging, this three-part webinar series will highlight the goals of this project, how these tools are being used by senior-serving organizations, and how other programs can take advantage of resources and learning developed under this project. Nonprofit legal services staff, victim advocates, social workers, librarians, educators and health care professionals working with aging populations are welcome.

We hope you are able to join us for this free webinar series!

Questions about this series? Please contact jtheil@probono.net

This series is supported by grant number 2017-VF-GX-K135, U.S. Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), for the FY 2017 Field-Generated Innovations in Addressing Elder Abuse and Financial Exploitation Project. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this program are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Disaster1Pro Bono Net and the Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN) are pleased to announce the launch of a new two-part media campaign that will help connect volunteer attorneys with disaster legal aid resources and amplify legal rights information to communities impacted by natural disasters. The first campaign is intended to connect lawyers with disaster relief volunteer opportunities, trainings and resources, and a growing national network centered on disaster response and resiliency. Click below to watch the full video and http://www.disasterlegalaid.org/get-started to learn more.

The second campaign will aim to help inform underserved communities impacted by natural disasters about their legal rights and connect them with self-help information and legal help resources.

Both campaigns will be advertised via DAN’s people-based marketing platform and consist of videos and creative ad inventory donated by DAN media partners, including Facebook, LiveIntent, NinthDecimal, Viant, Teads and Oath . This work is the result of an IdeaJam Hackathon held last year that marked the beginning of DAN’s new pro bono initiative. The campaign is a collaboration between DAN and Pro Bono Net, and in partnership with Voices for Civil Justice, Lone Star Legal Aid, the ABA Center for Pro Bono, the ABA Young Lawyers Division Disaster Legal Services Program, and the National Legal Aid & Defender Association.


Pro Bono Net would like to extend our special thanks to Miri Miller, Associate General Counsel, Americas, Dentsu Aegis Network and Kathleen Dowse, Director, Program Management and Global Communication, Carat, for spearheading the campaign, along with campaign partners Fetch and iProspect for their invaluable creative and design expertise in developing the campaign.

To learn more about the campaign, please visit DisasterLegalAid.org/Get-Started.

To learn more about other ways Pro Bono Net’s programs mobilize and network the legal community to assist the legal needs of disaster survivors, visit  https://www.probono.net/our-work/initiatives/disaster/.

Pro Bono Net is celebrating twenty years of transforming access to justice. In honor of this milestone, co-founder of Pro Bono Net, Michael Hertz wrote an amazing blog about how we got our start, and how far we’ve come. This blog was originally posted on Michael Hertz’s LinkedIn page.

This year we are celebrating twenty years of Pro Bono Net. As one of the co-founders, I’m proud to see how the organization has developed over the years, establishing a national presence through partnerships and providing access to justice for the poor and other vulnerable populations.

As with a lot of technology-based solutions, the idea for Pro Bono Net came out of the need for a solution to a basic problem. I was working as a young partner at Latham & Watkins, and heavily involved in developing its pro bono program, while my co-founder Mark O’Brien was managing the pro bono program at Davis Polk. We knew each other well from meeting in pro bono circles and both became involved in a series of cases stemming from the 1993 Golden Venture incident, where a cargo ship carrying a large number of Chinese immigrants ran aground in New York. All survivors from the ship claimed asylum but were detained. Many firms across the city took cases on a pro bono basis, including Latham & Watkins and Davis Polk.

It was a massive undertaking for every lawyer involved in the Golden Venture cases to ensure that they were able to collaborate with each other. This was in the early stages of the internet, so in order to be as efficient as possible we were faxing documents, having conference calls and meeting together in person wherever we could.

The Golden Venture cases went on for a number of years and by the time we were done it was obvious to Mark and I that there had to be a better way of coordinating pro bono work. The internet had come a long way by 1998 and we could see how the new web technology could be used to make a difference.

Pro Bono Net came from a pretty simple idea of building a technology platform that would link all pro bono lawyers together. What Mark and I wanted was to set up a place on the web where the legal services and public interest lawyers, volunteers and private attorneys could collaborate on issues more effectively than they were able to do at the time.

With this idea in mind, I applied for support from the Soros Foundation’s justice program and was approved for a fellowship. I took what I thought would be a short leave of absence from Latham & Watkins and shortly afterwards Mark came over from Davis Polk. It was wonderful to have the support of our firms at the time and also the support of Michael Mills, the then Chief Knowledge Officer at Davis Polk, who is still a member of our board today. We were incubated at the Soros Foundation for a couple of years until we moved out to our current office and grew our investor base.

Pretty soon after we set up Pro Bono Net we saw how it worked in doing exactly what we intended. When 9/11 happened, the legal community in New York was able to use the platform to respond very quickly to people who had lost friends and family members in the attack. Legal groups were able to collaborate and assist people in navigating the legal system and accessing help. This was amazing to see and to be able to help people in this way really meant something and it encouraged us to keep developing our services.

Something that really helped Pro Bono Net to grow and become what it is today was the interest that the Legal Services Corporation took in working with us. By partnering with them we were able to secure more funding and create connections with legal aid services around the country. This resulted in the creation of LawHelp.org, which has expanded public access to legal rights information and to pro bono lawyers. It’s been really exciting to watch how Pro Bono Net has evolved over the years with the development of diverse legal services and technologies, all with the aim of assisting those in need.

Another of these important developments has been the creation of the Immigration Advocates Network, where we worked to bring together immigration services and groups from around the country. Again, Pro Bono Net has found different ways of using technology in order to provide immigration services where possible and this means that we can help people in areas of the US where there may be very few immigration experts to assist those in need.

The use and development of technology has been so important in getting Pro Bono Net to where it is today. Looking back on everything that we’ve achieved in the twenty years since we created the platform, and seeing how technology has developed at such a rapid pace in recent years makes me really excited for the things we can continue to do to expand the platform and provide broader and smarter services for the pro bono community.

If you would like to learn more about Pro Bono Net and the ways you can help us to continue in these developments please feel free to drop me a line. I look forward to sharing more of our stories in the future.

The Pro Bono Net team in the New York offices today are pictured above. The earlier image showed the team from the early start-up years.

PLI, a leading provider of legal training and CLE, grants complimentary access to its robust catalog of training programs to more than 500 nonprofit and legal services organizations across the country.

This tremendous value is available to both individuals and organizations that directly provide pro bono legal services. With a wealth of programs, ranging from Ethics to Immigration to Professional Skills, lawyers and organizations working on behalf of pro bono clients can stay up-to-date on the latest legal developments, improve their legal skills, and fulfill their CLE requirements.

“It is truly amazing that you offer your programs free of charge to the myriad organizations that engage in full-time advocacy for marginalized people,” said one user. “You do this in the best possible way: without rhetoric or partisanship, with your eye on simply preparing the legal community to do a good job.”

PLI’s pro bono privileged membership has proved popular and garnered a diverse userbase. More than 100,000 legal professionals have utilized PLI’s renowned training and instruction to improve their guidance to pro bono clients.

“What excellent presentations, these speakers were all dynamos,” said another. “Please continue these excellent programs which are critical to meeting the huge need for volunteer lawyers. Keep it up. You are needed!”

PLI is a membership-based nonprofit institution that has mentored the legal community for more than eighty years.  Find out more at www.PLI.edu and apply today. Or contact PLIProBonoMembership@pli.edu with any questions.

Frequently asked questions

What does PLI Pro Bono Privileged Membership include?

Pro bono privileged members have unlimited access to PLI’s robust catalog of training programs at no charge. This includes entrance to more than 400 programs that feature 4,000 distinguished volunteer faculty from private practice, in-house counsel, government agencies, and legal services/nonprofit organizations across a range of mediums:

How does my organization apply and become a Pro Bono Privileged Member at PLI?

Complete and submit our short application if your organization meets the following criteria:

  • Registered as an IRC Section 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization
  • Have at least 3 attorneys on staff
  • Provide direct pro bono legal services to low-income communities

What if my organization does not qualify? Can I apply individually?

If your organization does not qualify for our membership program, we grant complimentary access to individuals seeking to take any one of our programs on a case-by-case basis. Discounts and fee waivers are available to:

  • Lawyers and staff working for nonprofit or legal services organizations
  • Pro bono lawyers providing no-fee legal assistance to clients
  • Government lawyers
  • Judges and judicial law clerks
  • Law professors and law students
  • Senior attorneys (age 65 and over)
  • Unemployed lawyers or individuals with financial hardships

All qualified individuals are encouraged to apply.

Tim Baran is the LawHelpNY program manager at Pro Bono Net. His two-decade journey in the legal space has taken him from the Federal Courts to Law Firm Library Director to Legal Tech Ambassador to Legal Marketing. He works closely with legal services and community-based organizations and manages initiatives that leverage technology and LawHelpNY’s online resources to expand access to legal assistance for low-income and vulnerable communities and strengthen collaboration within the civil justice sector in New York. These are his thoughts on his first ever Equal Justice Conference.

Summer camp, winter camp…band camp. People who attend conferences year after year refer to their experience as fondly as they recall their adolescent and teen camping experience.

Summer camp is how I refer to my dozen or so years at the ABA Techshow, although it’s in February, in frigid Chicago. Why? Because it’s a fond recollection of spending the summer in the Poconos during some of my teen years, meeting new people and building meaningful friendships, learning new things, and just having a grand ole time

My first Equal Justice Conference (2019) in Louisville felt like the beginning of such a tradition, another summer camp experience, because, well, I never went to winter camp. A “justice” summer camp. My Twitter connections – people I deeply admire – became IRL friends. Hanging out with my Pro Bono Net teammates drew us even closer, if that’s even possible.

But it wasn’t just about all the feels, it was also about all the learning. Absorbing the rich experience and knowledge of those around me who’ve been walking the talk for many many years was almost overwhelming. I imagined one of the days being devoted to “speed dating” where we schedule chats in 15-minutes increments with people we want to learn from, give to, and build relationships with. One can wish.

The learning continued at dynamic sessions with thoughtful speakers although the multitude of concurrent sessions made it difficult to choose. A highlight was attending Rebecca Sandefur’s session because when Rebecca Sandefur speaks, we listen. Another was the session on community lawyering. The exuberance and passion on display was electric and inspiring, and their inclusion of the community they serve on the panel drove the message home. A model for future panels.

They say teaching is the best way to learn, and the opportunity to participate in a couple of panels was indeed instructive and a privilege. I witnessed with pride, my teammates, Quisquella, Mike, Jess, Claudia, and Mirenda prepare for and give presentations. Liz, weathering all sorts of travel issues, may have pulled a Hermione to participate in four panels! She modeled calm and cool under pressure.

Finally, the community. We’re nothing without community, and oh, what a community!  Lawyers, techies, project managers, pro bono and civil justice advocates…all working to address the legal needs of the marginalized and underserved. One of the highlights for me was the POC luncheon with fellow sisters and brothers of color in the access to justice space supporting each other, sharing our stories, and bringing our perspectives.

Can’t wait for next year’s justice summer camp!

On this day in 2007, Pro Bono Net launched our first ever National Pro Bono Opportunities guide. We teamed up with the American Bar Association to create a single online location to make it easier for advocates to find opportunities to volunteer that match what they are looking for. While directories of organizations seeking volunteers have been available prior to this, our online, searchable version was the first of its kind.

Designed to help volunteer advocates find opportunities, the guide provides a listing of over 1500 programs from across the US that need volunteer lawyers. Opportunities can range from legal clinics and lawyer-for-a-day programs to full representation, so advocates can find the best fit for the time and effort they have available for volunteering.

The nationwide guide also includes detailed information on nonprofit organizations that provide legal services. Because the list is interactive, state and local bar associations as well as community-based nonprofits can add or update information to ensure the list is current and accurate.

Volunteers can pinpoint projects that require their skills and experience with features highlighting opportunities for transactional lawyers, litigators, law students and others. They can search for a service project in a specific substantive area of law or for one that serves a specific population, such as children, seniors, or immigrants. Volunteers can also e-mail an opportunity to a friend and suggest updates to the guide.

The National Opportunities Guide is still going strong, more than 10 years later and is one of the most popular features on our probono.net platform. To visit the guide go to www.probono.net/oppsguide and get started volunteering!

Grace Gilligan is an attorney in the Government Investigations and Regulatory Enforcement group (GIRE) in the Legal Department of JPMorgan Chase & Co, and a member of the Department’s Pro Bono Steering Committee.  Prior to joining JPMorgan, Grace was a litigation associate at the law firm of Milbank, LLP.  During her time at Milbank, Grace worked on two pro bono externships with the Juvenile Rights Division of the Legal Aid Society, where she represented clients in juvenile delinquency proceedings.  Grace is a graduate of Fordham Law School.

I believe that lawyers can use technology to make the world a better place.

I am an in-house attorney at JPMorgan Chase & Co., and the recipient of the 2019 JPMorgan Chase Pro Bono Fellowship.  JPMorgan awards the Fellowship to one of its in-house attorneys each year, to work full-time for up to six months on a project that advances its Legal Pro Bono Mission: strengthening communities, empowering families, and advocating for vulnerable individuals.  It’s a unique opportunity that reflects the Department’s commitment to pro bono, and faith in its attorneys to do good in the world.  I chose to partner with Pro Bono Net on my fellowship project, because the organization shares my deep commitment to using the power of technology for social good.

The big picture goal of my fellowship project is finding new ways for in-house attorneys (like me) to participate more effectively in pro bono work.  For structural reasons, in-house attorneys generally don’t have the same tools as law firm attorneys to facilitate long-term pro bono projects – tools like full time pro bono coordinators and 24-hour legal support staff.

As a result, I think there is a vast and underutilized pool of in-house legal talent that could be harnessed in the profession’s efforts to close the access to justice gap.  I’m working on several projects with Pro Bono Net to achieve this goal.  We’re re-designing the PBN Corporate Counsel site as a place for in-house attorneys to communicate with one another about pro bono opportunities, resources, and challenges.

At the end of April, my Pro Bono Net colleagues and also I kicked off a tech project with the JPMorgan Chase Force for Good team in Corporate Technology.  Together, we’ll be building a new platform for attorneys in different sectors of the profession to connect and collaborate on pro bono projects.

The access to justice gap is wide, but I’m confident it can be closed.

We’ve also organized a panel discussion to explore the connections between the two greatest challenges facing the legal profession: the access to justice gap and lack of diversity in the top ranks of the profession.  These two issues are generally considered separately, but we’ll discuss how they are related and whether there are common solutions.  The panel discussion will take place on June 4th from 12-2pm at Latham & Watkins’ office in New York, and will feature speakers from the in-house, law firm, and legal services sectors.  Invitation coming soon!

To summarize, I believe that lawyers can use technology to make the world a better place.  Reading a bold statement like that, you might say I’m an idealist.  People have always been cynical about lawyers, and we live in a time of intense cynicism about technology too – its effects on privacy, democracy, and the social fabric itself. But I won’t join the cynics, on either front.

Ambrose Bierce, in his Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary, defines a cynic as someone “whose faulty vision sees things as they are – not as they ought to be.”  I can’t help but see things the other way around: as they ought to be – not as they are.  The access to justice gap is wide, but I’m confident it can be closed.  The public defender crisis is dire, but I’m convinced it can be solved.  The legal profession doesn’t reflect the diversity of society by a long shot, but I’m certain it can be changed.  And technology has been used in malevolent ways, but I know it can still be a force for good.  That’s because technology is simply an amplifier of all human capabilities.  We confront the malevolence not by abandoning technology altogether, but by using it to amplify the better angels of our nature.

It was through my pro bono work that I first realized the astonishing creative power I have – as just one person with a law degree – to change the entire trajectory of other people’s lives for the better.  As I sat with my pro bono clients in courtrooms and conference rooms over the years, I saw in their eyes an unshakable belief that I could fix the injustices they’d suffered.  I’m deeply grateful to both JPMorgan Chase and Pro Bono Net for giving me the opportunity to amplify my own capabilities through the Pro Bono Fellowship.

Pro Bono Net staff members will be presenting on a variety of equal justice issues at the 2019 Equal Justice Conference (EJC) this week in Kentucky. The Conference takes place May 9th – 11th in Louisville and is hosted by the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service and the National Legal Aid & Defender Association.

Pro Bono Net is a national nonprofit leader in increasing access to justice through innovative uses of technology and collaboration. Our staff is made up of a cross-disciplinary team from legal, technology, and community engagement backgrounds who are committed to creating innovative, sustainable solutions for expanding access to justice. The Equal Justice Conference brings together all sectors of the legal community to discuss equal justice issues as they relate to the delivery of legal services to low income and vulnerable communities. PBN’s teams will present on a wide range of topics, including cutting-edge collaboration models in  justice communities, technology to expand pro bono participation, and designing and delivering better tools to assist self-represented litigants.

Staff attending the conference includes Liz Keith, Program Director; Quisquella Addison, LawHelpNY Program Director; Claudia Johnson, LawHelp Interactive Program Manager; Mike Grunenwald, Program Manager; Jessica Penkoff, Pro Bono & Strategic Initiatives Coordinator;  Tim Baran, LawHelpNY Program Manager; Jessica Stuart, Product Manager; and JPMorgan Chase Pro Bono Fellow Grace Gilligan.

Liz Keith and Mirenda Meghelli, Partnerships Manager, will also be attending and presenting at the National Meeting of State Access to Justice Commission Chairs held in conjunction with EJC.

Pro Bono Net staff are participating in the conference and Commission Chairs workshops below. For more details on each workshop, please visit the EJC website here.

National Meeting of State Access to Justice Commission Chairs

Friday, 3:00- 3:30 PM

Transforming Services for Self-Represented Litigants through Technology and Justice Community Partnerships

This session will highlight a major initiative underway in Washington, DC to increase access to justice through the creation of user-friendly, plain language interactive court forms. This initiative is designed to enhance services for self-represented litigants within and outside of the courthouse, increase court efficiencies, and strengthen court processes. Presenters will discuss how extensive collaboration with local access to justice stakeholders is strengthening the efficacy and awareness of these initiatives. We will share successes and lessons learned so that participants from other jurisdictions interested in implementing or expanding document assembly projects can gain practical information and guidance.

  • Mirenda Meghelli, Pro Bono Net
  • Peter Edelman, Georgetown University Law Center, D.C. Access to Justice Commission Chair

Friday, 3:45 PM

Creating Inclusive Justice Ecosystems in Alaska and Hawaii: Insights from the Legal Navigator

Legal Navigator is a pilot project that brings together technology, content and community to help people with civil legal needs more easily access legal information and referrals specific to their issues and find a path forward. This workshop will highlight developments in this project’s novel collaborations between court, legal aid and social services partners, its innovative technology strategy using artificial intelligence and natural language processing, and initial testing results. Presenters will discuss next steps in Alaska and Hawaii, work to advance this vision on a national level, and opportunities for replication in other states.

  • Sergio Alcubilla, Director of External Relations, Legal Aid Society of Hawaii
  • Liz Keith, Program Director, Pro Bono Net
  • Glenn Rawdon, Senior Program Counsel, Legal Services Corporation
  • Ericka Rickard, Senior Officer – Civil Legal System Modernization, The Pew Charitable Trusts

Equal Justice Conference workshops

Thursday, 1:30 PM

50 New Tech Tips

Members of the legal aid technology community present 50 new technology tips! This fast-paced session will provide tips about free and low-cost tools, apps and software covering a broad range of topics that everyone can use.

  • David Bonebrake, Program Counsel for Technology, Legal Services Corporation
  • Liz Keith, Program Director, Pro Bono Net
  • Glenn Rawdon, Senior Program Counsel, Legal Services Corporation
  • Jane Ribadeneyra, Program Analyst for Technology, Legal Services Corporation

Core Online Tools Your Program and Courts Need to Know to Increase Access to Justice

  • Vanessa Batters-Thompson, Managing Attorney, D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center
  • Marilyn Harp, Executive Director, Kansas Legal Services, Inc.
  • Claudia Johnson, Program Manager, LawHelp Interactive Pro Bono Net
  • Margaret Hamlett Shinn, Community Education & Pro Se Coordinator, Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, Inc.

This workshop will present core online tools that are well understood and how they are being used in variety of contexts to remove barriers to Justice. They will show how well designed websites and online forms, supported with web chat tools in strong partnerships, can create new ways to serve areas of high demand, and deepen existing services and relationships.

Thursday, 3:30 PM

Getting to Meaningful Access to Justice for All: Lessons Learned from New York’s Justice for All Pilot

The Justice for All project provided funding to New York to create strategic action plan to provide effective assistance to 100% of those in need. This workshop will highlight the work of two pilot regions Suffolk and Monroe Counties to implement a strategy, the challenges faced and the lessons learned.

  • Quisquella Addison, LawHelpNY Program Director, Pro Bono Net
  • Helaine Barnett, Chair, New York State Permanent Commission on Access to Justice
  • Maria Dosso, Director of Communications and Volunteer Services, Nassau Suffolk Law Services Committee
  • Tina Foster, Executive Director, Volunteer Legal Services Project of Monroe County
  • Ken Perri, Executive Director, Legal Assistance of Western New York, Inc.

Legal Navigator: Creating Inclusive Justice Ecosystems in Alaska & Hawaii

  • Glenn Rawdon, Senior Program Counsel, Legal Services Corporation
  • Sergio Alcubilla, Director of External Relations, Legal Aid Society of Hawaii
  • Amber Ivey, Manager – Civil Legal System Modernization Team, Pew Charitable Trusts
  • Liz Keith, Program Director, Pro Bono Net

Legal Navigator is a pilot project that brings together technology, content and community to help all people with civil legal needs more easily find a path forward. This workshop will highlight developments in this project’s novel collaborations with social services and community partners, innovative technology strategy, and initial testing results.

Friday, 8:30 AM

Disaster Legal Tech: How Remote Services Technology and Other Online Resources Can Help Disaster Survivors

Disaster survivors face an urgent need for legal assistance. The majority of federal aid applications are denied, and most applicants cannot access a lawyer to appeal. This session will highlight remote services technology and other online resources to mobilize volunteers and scale pro bono assistance after a disaster.

  • Claudia Johnson, LawHelp Interactive Pro Bono Net
  • Jess Penkoff, Pro Bono & Strategic Initiatives Coordinator, Pro Bono Net
  • Laren Spirer, Director of Pro Bono Programs and Lecturer in Law, Columbia Law School

Expanding Our Reach: The Future of Rural Service Delivery

  • Sarah Carver, Attorney, Project Coordinator, Pro Bono Training Academy, Alaska Legal Services Corporation
  • Liz Keith, Program Director, Pro Bono Net
  • Nikole Nelson, Executive Director, Alaska Legal Services Corporation

Partnering for Native Health is a multi-state collaborative project serving members of over 100 tribal nations in some of the most isolated and rural communities in the country. Panelists will discuss their project and their vision for the  future that integrates post-secondary education, health care, legal aid and technology to build a community-based, culturally-appropriate legal extender network that empowers communities and provides access to justice to people living in places as far flung as Tuba City, Navajo Nation to the native Collage of Selwick, Alaska.

Tapping into Tech: Strategies for Integrating Tech Tools into Pro Bono Recruitment and Retention

In this session, we will discuss strategies for effective use of tech tools for recruiting, organizing, managing, and retaining volunteers. Panelists will share how they are using tech to make it easier—and more enjoyable—for lawyers to take on pro bono work and mobilize volunteer lawyers towards pressing needs. Participants will be able to identify specific strategies they can employ in their own programs.

  • Nancy Anderson, Director of Pro Bono, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
  • Mike Grunenwald, Program Manager, Pro Bono Net
  • Jacek Pruski, Managing Director & General Counsel, We the Action
  • Laurie Rashidi-Yazd, Pro Bono Director and Pro Bono Unit Managing Attorney, Atlanta Legal Aid Society

Friday, 1:45 PM

Resilient & Ready: Collaboration Strategies to Strengthen Disaster Response

  • Norah Rogers, Pro Bono Coordinator, Nelson Mullins
  • Katherine Asaro, Staff Attorney, North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center
  • Ariadna Godreau Aubert, Executive Director, Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico
  • Liz Keith, Program Director, Pro Bono Net

This workshop will explore how hard hit disaster regions, especially rural and underserved areas, can benefit from innovative partnerships that mobilize pro bono volunteers and access resources that often go untapped. Learn how recovery efforts in North Carolina and Puerto Rico have joined forces with other programs within and outside of their jurisdictions to build collaborative response networks. They will also spotlight new and forthcoming resources available through DisasterLegalAid to help communities recover, rebuild and become resilient over the long term.

Saturday, 8:30 AM

The Use of Technology and Innovative Collaborations to Improve Victim Access to Legal Services

  • Tim Baran, Program Manager, LawHelpNY
  • Kazi Houston, Legal Director, Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center
  • Remla Parthasarathy, Project Leader, Empire Justice Center

This session highlights innovative collaborations that use technology to improve crime victims’ access to legal information and resources. Panelists from New York and Colorado will share what they have learned developing and implementing victim legal assistance networks that address the various needs faced by individuals in the aftermath of victimization.

About Pro Bono Net

Pro Bono Net is a national non-profit organization dedicated to increasing access to justice. Through innovative technology solutions and expertise in building and mobilizing justice networks, Pro Bono Net transforms the way legal help reaches the underserved. Comprehensive programs including www.probono.netwww.lawhelp.org,  www.lawhelpinteractive.org and the Immigration Advocates Network, enable legal advocates to make a stronger impact, increase volunteer participation, and empower the public with resources and self-help tools to improve their lives.

About the Equal Justice Conference

The Equal Justice Conference, hosted by the American Bar Association and NLADA, brings together all components of the legal community to discuss equal justice issues as they relate to the delivery of legal services to the poor and low-income individuals in need of legal assistance.

The emphasis of this Conference is on strengthening partnerships among the key players in the civil justice system. Through plenary sessions, workshops, networking opportunities and special programming, the Conference provides a wide range of learning and sharing experiences for all attendees.