Remote is here to stay!

This was a phrase that rang through the most recent LSC ITC Conference in early January. For programs exploring ways to refine or grow your remote services to reach more communities in need, below are a few resources that may be helpful and models to consider. 

Pro Bono Net’s Remote Legal Support Guide: A Best Practices Manual for Nonprofit and Pro Bono Innovation, was created in collaboration with 10 organizations with longstanding remote legal services programs. The Guide contains case studies that outline in concrete terms the service models, workflow, tools used, and checklists for managing the programs, and challenges overcome in implementation. 

Remote Legal Connect is a platform that allows legal aid providers, pro bono initiatives, courts and community partners to rapidly build and manage remote legal support programs.  By enabling organizations to enroll, manage and link volunteers with remotely located clients for advice, counsel and document preparation, the platform bridges barriers that prevent people from getting help and can dramatically expand the help available.

Below are examples of how Remote Legal Connect is being used in urban and rural regions alike, and how it is enabling legal nonprofits to sustain and expand support for their clients amidst COVID-19 office closures. 

New York

 Ohio

  • Bridging the Divide (https://www.bridgingthedivideohio.org) helps pro se custody litigants, specifically grandparents and relative caregivers, with family issues related to the opioid crisis 

Georgia

Nebraska

Online forms, such as those powered by, LawHelp Interactive, have played a key role in maintaining — and in some cases expanding – access to justice in many states amidst widespread court and legal aid office closures. LHI has also been the building block of advocate-assisted, trauma-informed services in several regions. Many of these models can be expanded or adapted for pro bono support. Online forms can also be integrated with Remote Legal Connect to facilitate unbundled services, for example one-on-one consultations or virtual clinics. 

Interested in learning more about these models, or have another idea you’d like a sounding board on? Don’t hesitate to contact Claudia Johnson (cjohnson@probono.net) for more information about LawHelp Interactive, or Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz (jortiz@probono.net) to learn more about Remote Legal Connect.



This summary is written by Pro Bono Net’s Community Support Associate, Casey Mears. 

Panelists: Ilenia Sanchez-Bryson, Chief Information Officer, Legal Services of Greater Miami; Amanda Warner, Director of Pro Bono Programs, Center for Elder Law & Justice; Melissa Woods, Senior Financial Safety Tool Project Coordinator, Center for Elder Law & Justice; Tim Baran, Technology Innovation Manager, Pro Bono Net; Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz, Pro Bono Net

This post is a summary of a session held last fall as part of the 6th Annual New York State Civil Legal Aid Technology Conference, convened by the Permanent Commission on Access to Justice in partnership with NYSTech and Cornell Tech. To access the recording, you may visit https://ww2.nycourts.gov/accesstojusticecommission/tc/2020conf.shtml.

Apps for Virtual Legal Services

The following apps are helpful for administering virtual legal services in the time of COVID-19 and beyond. These are tools that are useful for client engagement, providing information to clients, and transitioning your brick and mortar practice to one that is safe for providers and clients while the pandemic persists.

1. Gruveo

Gruveo is a voice, video and screen sharing service. What makes it ideal for virtual legal services is the ability to set up a permanent link to share with clients. This is helpful to use as a hotline and makes it easy for clients to know where to go when they need to meet. There are no plugins, app instillations, downloads, or logins required. There is also the option to set up a group meeting at a specific time for up to 12 people. The National Network to End Domestic Violence cites Gruveo as a privacy centric solution. Gruveo offers a 20% discount for nonprofit organizations.

2. Telephone

One cost effective solution to remote work is a normal telephone. They are accessible and affordable for both organizations and clients. There are limitations, however, such as the inability to share documents, and any cell plan limitations clients may have.

3. Cam Scanner

Cam Scanner is a mobile app where users can scan documents using their phone camera, and share with others. The app also allows users to add their signature to documents,eliminating the need for a printer or scanner. Within this app, users can also compose an email with the documents attached.

4. Internet speed test

Testing your internet speed is a useful way to troubleshoot any internet issues you may be having with clients, or to check their network connection in advance of a video call or virtual meeting.

5. Agency Websites

Nonprofit and legal services agency websites can be a very helpful tool for clients. On your agency’s website, you can provide self help tools, such as forms, how to’s, and explainer videos. You can also share information and resources like webinars, FAQ’s, and glossaries with helpful legal terms.

6. PostalMethods

PostalMethods is a secure, HIPAA compliant mailing service that sends letters from any uploaded or emailed document. They will print, collate, and stamp your letter with a quick turnaround. This is an efficient and safe way to mail documents to clients.

7. Loom

Loom records your screen, voice and video simultaneously. This tool is useful to explain technologies, as well as for providing instructions for completing online forms and documents. The videos created with loom can be password protected, and embedded onto websites.

8. Audio-Video Technology as a Tool for Remote Document Execution (*until such time as Executive Orders expire!)

There are a few executive orders put into place that allow for remote document execution during the pandemic. Executive Order 202.7 authorizes any notarial act that is required under New York state law to be performed utilizing audio-video technology provided that certain conditions are met. Executive Order 202.14 allows audio-video witnessing for execution of Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney, and Health Care Proxies. Best practices for these remote services include, having the client show their ID on a video call and taking a screenshot, as well as having the client walk you through each place they are signing the document and holding the document up to the video call as well.

9. Waitwhile

Waitwhile is a virtual waiting list for virtual as well as in person events, such as socially distanced clinics. When an event reaches capacity, clients can join a virtual line. It can also help to manage incoming phone calls and place clients on a waitlist to receive a text update instead of waiting on hold. Clients can get on a waitlist, and get SMS text updates without downloading an app. This app is free, but has additional paid plans.

10. VOIP Phone Systems

VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) phone systems, such as RingCentral8×8nextiva, and  ooma are helpful for virtual legal services and remote work, because they allow you to text and call using your personal phone, while using a work number and keeping your information private. Some services allow you to use fax as email, and these systems make it easy to access your work phone from anywhere.

11. Texting

Texting is another simple but effective way of communicating with clients. It can be helpful to answer quick questions, or if confidentiality and safety issues might make it difficult to have a private phone call. There are also anecdotal reports that texting produces increased engagement.

12. Online Intake/ triage system

Online intake and triage systems provide relief to legal aid hotlines, and a safe way to request assistance during Covid-19. Online triage sorts users by issue, eligibility, and urgency, and users can be referred to self help or a legal service provider. Online triage and intake can be a seamless process.

13. Remote legal help models

This guide is a collaborative text highlighting nine successful remote legal support programs in several states, including New York. You will find clinic models in areas of family, immigration, expungement of criminal records, and medical-legal partnerships. These remote legal services programs provide simplicity and flexibility, and the guide provides tools, logistics, checklists, and best practices for successful programs.

14. Hello DoorHello Lisa

These services serve as a sort of digital receptionist in your physical office space. They offer a video chat feature (which works with Teams and Skype) that provides an opportunity for safe face-to-face interaction with clients when the come into the space. A legal services organization in Miami is using this product to greet people when the come into the office. It is a way to say hello, and offer direction to anyone who enters, while maintaining social distancing.

15. Ring Central

Ring central is a cloud based video and phone conferencing service that provides customers with the ability to host video conferences, phone calls, and text messaging as well as fax, and document/email service integration. The American Bar Association uses this service to host their disaster legal hotline. All public sector and nonprofit organizations who are new customers and impacted by COVID-19 get free access to RingCentral Office. This includes 200 participants per video meeting.

16. Senior financial safety tool

This web based screening tool is used by financial institutions and community organizations to detect financial exploitation of senior citizens and provides them with a legal referral. There is also a self assessment tool, and the program generates know your rights materials and agency resources. This too is especially helpful as banks are often the first line of defense for older people who are experiencing financial fraud.

17. Legal risk detector

The Legal Risk Detector tool allows advocates to walk through a virtual interview with clients in order to determine their risk factors for issues such as financial exploitation, medical care, consumer debt, housing, elder abuse, crime victims, etc. At the end of the interview, a risk is automatically assessed and sent directly to a legal service provider for follow up.

Apps for Working Remotely

The following apps are those that are useful in transitioning to a remote workforce. These resources are helpful for those working from home during COVID-19, but can also be applied to make your practice more efficient and technology forward in the future.

18. Power Automate (Office 365)

Power automate is a program included in Office 365. This service simplifies processes that could be tedious and time consuming, such as registrations for events (once a person registers, Power Automate will organize their information and send them an automated email with all the information they need). The program can also be used internally for check requests and approvals, training logs, and other administrative forms. The program requires very minimal coding skills, and has many existing templates that can be modified to fit your needs.

19. Basecamp

Basecamp is a collaborative project management tool. There are several tools that you can add to your project space, but the most important ones are the message board and docs & files. This tool is helpful for assigning tasks, keeping in touch with project collaborators and stakeholders, and sends automatic emails to all those involved.

20. Microsoft teams

Microsoft teams is a powerful collaboration tool, especially for a distributed workforce. The chat feature is perfect for internal communications and you can share documents for team projects. One instance of a use for Teams during COVID-19, is you can set up a schedule and manage who is going into the office at various times to limit staff capacity and adhere to social distancing guidelines.

21. Google Workspace

The Google suite has many tools that most people are familiar with, but an underused tool is Google Sites. Sites allows you to easily create a microsite that captures all of the information that you want to share with a team. This could be a portal for a project, or even a mini site with  the details for an event. This tool uses the same sharing and permission structure as all other google tools.

22. Outlook

Outlook is commonly known as an email server, but there are also some additional features that are helpful for remote work. My Analytics sends you an email update based on your focus and wellbeing time. You are able to set a block of 2 hours where you are focused on tasks, and it will provide you analysis of how well you did. The wellbeing feature will alert you if you are spending more time than you planned at your computer, which is helpful for maintaining work life balance while working from home. The To-Do app feature integrates and helps you plan out your day, and the Find Time feature can help you find available times for meetings with people within your organization.

23. Krisp

Krisp is a noise cancelling app for remote work. It allows you to “speak without noise” or “listen without noise,” so if you or a coworker has pets, children, or a neighbor mowing the lawn, it will allow you eliminate that background noise and only hear the speakers on the call. This app supports all communication apps, and offers 120 minutes of free meeting time.

24. Slack

Slack is a communication tool that replicates the social environment of in person work. You can set up a slack channel for “water cooler” or about specific topics or projects within your team. It also allows you to change your status, so if you have to step away from your desk, or are in a meeting you can easily let your coworkers know. There is also a feature that allows you to move quickly from a messaging conversation to a voice, video, or screen share call.

25. 1 Password

1 Password is a useful tool for managing any work or personal passwords you may have. Online security is more important than ever as we move to a more and more online world. This tool operates with a browser extension, so you can click on it when trying to log into any site and you only have to remember one password. You can also create vaults within your team so team members can share passwords to shared tools.

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. 

At this unique moment in the American story, a time that interweaves mourning the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on communities of color with hope for long-awaited progress and change for racial justice, all of us at Pro Bono Net are honored to celebrate and reflect on Black History Month. 

More than ever, this month is a welcome time to acknowledge and celebrate the historical impact of Black attorneys, legal professionals and social justice advocates who have led the fight, in courtrooms and communities, against systemic racism and for equal justice in the US. It’s also a time to lift up the work of those working to imagine and build a more just, inclusive and equitable future for all. As Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. stated when recently recognized with the ABA’s 2021 Spirit of Excellence Award, “The words ‘Equal Justice Under Law’ etched on the frontage of the United States Supreme Court is one of the most awesome sites for any lawyer approaching the court. But those words are not a statement of fact – they are a command, an admonition, an aspiration, and a challenge.” (We encourage you to read Ms. Iffil’s statement in full, which challenges all in the legal profession to speak out for the structural changes necessary to ensure the safety, justice and well-being of Black Americans.) 

We are pleased to share two sessions from the recent Decolonizing Justice convening that elevate the voices and share the perspectives of advocates and activists on the front lines of this essential work.

Antionette D. Carroll’s lived experiences navigating and striving to survive the justice system have made her an expert on issues of inequity and oppression. In the Decolonizing Justice session Living Justice, Antionette shared her reflections on various meanings of the word “justice.” She challenged us all to examine who holds power at decision-making tables, identified what it might look like to amplify the power of lived experience, and outlined her vision for redesigning the world to center justice for communities of color. Learn more about Creative Reaction Lab, the nonprofit Antionette founded, here.

Envisioning a Just Future for All: Nurturing and Sustaining Justice Movements, featured leading activists and movement lawyers Meena Jagannath, Director of Global Programs at Movement Law Lab, Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan, Human Rights Lawyer, and Marbre Stahly-Butts, Executive Director of Law for Black Lives. In this session, they reflected on the critical work of nurturing and sustaining justice movements and shared their visions for a just future for all.

Together, we can continue to envision and build the more just future we know is possible.

The Immigration Advocates Network, Pro Bono Net, and partners invite you to participate in our national survey before February 28th, 2021. We are collecting and updating data, during the pandemic, from staff at nonprofit and pro bono projects. Our survey asks:

  • How organizations are using technology to connect people to legal services;
  • What barriers and challenges exist when providing offsite legal information or services;
  • What programs and tools have been the most effective;
  • How national networks and organizations can help the field develop and deliver remote legal support; and more. 

Two years ago we conducted a similar survey to the field and published the results in the first edition of the Remote Legal Support Guide. The guide was downloaded more than 3,500 times. It provided program profiles and tips for leveraging technology, including strategies to improve access to justice and helped providers reach rural and underserved areas.  The Immigration Advocates Network and our partners in the field used the results to   offer training webinars, answer questions, and provide additional support to the field.

Due to COVID-19, the field has changed and evolved: remote legal support is now the norm. This makes updates to the data and the guide more important than ever. By filling out this survey, you can help us reach more people in a time when remote legal support is needed most.

Throughout the past year, Pro Bono Net has worked with courts and legal aid programs facing closures and service disruptions to ensure vital protection for at risk domestic violence survivors.  Our LawHelp Interactive program, which helps people create free and accurate legal forms, is a key strategy in this work.  

In New York State, the Family Offense Petition Program — a collaboration between LawHelp Interactive, the New York Courts and DV agencies — successfully filed more than 9,300 domestic violence petitions across the state in 2020, the highest in the program’s history. More than 3,100 petitions were filed through the program in Q3 2020, more than any previous quarter since the program was established in 2014. These landmark metrics reflect both the importance of this program that increases access to the courts, and the troubling increase in domestic violence during the pandemic that has been reported across the country

The Family Offense Petition Program (FOP) allows advocates, legal aid and government agencies to e-file petitions on behalf of survivors of abuse. With the FOP Program, trained domestic violence advocates across New York State use an online document assembly interview to help survivors of domestic abuse file petitions using Pro Bono Net’s award-winning LawHelp Interactive document assembly technology. The petition information is then electronically transferred directly into the court’s case-management system. As a result of extensive outreach and training, the program has approved advocates in all 62 New York State counties from a wide range of organizations, which include legal aid offices, probation agencies, YMCAs, and a team of social workers at a hospital. 

After a successful pilot in Bronx Family Court in 2014, the program was expanded statewide. The initiative is the product of a Grant from the Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women STOP Program and a collaboration between Pro Bono Net, New York state courts, and a wide range of stakeholders.

The Family Offense Petition Program makes the process of completing essential documents easier for litigants, advocates, and courts. It helps advocates seamlessly complete court papers with a LawHelp Interactive questionnaire, allowing them to add more details that strengthen litigants’ petitions, gets the petitions processed faster, and strengthens their relationship with courts. For litigants already detailing with stressful circumstances, this means less time spent travelling to court (when courts are open), more detailed legal papers, and less waiting time overall. It can also help victims feel more in control of their case. For courts, the tool produces legible court forms from trained advocates, saves hours in data entry, allows them to adjudicate faster, and streamlines the process so that they can handle more cases each day. 

Well before the pandemic, the FOP program played a key role in helping DV survivors complete and file forms to ensure their safety and protection, and access remote Skype hearings in many counties. The FOP program’s technology and collaboration strategy has proved even more essential in the last year, and will continue to help ensure thousands of survivors can access critical services and support under the most difficult circumstances. 

You can read more about how LawHelp Interactive helps those at risk of domestic violence, here. To learn more about the Family Offense Petition project, visit  our blog posts: Commemorating Domestic Violence Awareness Month with tools by LawHelp Interactive or NY Courts Honored with LTN Innovation Award for the Most Innovative Use of Technology in a Pro Bono Project.

In the Pandemic Year of 2020, as Pro Bono Net worked to provide remote legal help and information in a changing landscape, Weil, Gotshal & Manges associates’ Summer of Service partnership provided key assistance to bolster PBN’s online services and expand the organization’s reach to get clear answers and remote legal help to people across the country. 

Weil associate Elizabeth Barras worked with Pro Bono Net’s Program Director, Liz Keith, to develop legal rights resources for a new online initiative: the Georgia Victim Legal Network. Barras provided vital legal research and content development support for the project, which was developed with leading civil legal aid and immigration legal services providers in Georgia to expand access to legal help for people who have been a victim of crime such as family violence, sexual assault and dating violence.

According to Liz Keith, “Elizabeth contributed a tremendous amount to the project in a short period of time, working closely with Pro Bono Net and legal aid experts in Georgia to accelerate the project’s development during a critical period. The legal rights resources she researched and drafted will benefit many survivors of violence seeking help through GeorgiaVictimNetwork.org”

Nicholas Zazzi and Luke Harley worked with LawHelp New York. The recent law graduates and incoming Weil associates analyzed Pro Bono Net’s Live-Help chat transcripts to figure out how chat operators could be more efficient and look out for common errors and areas of training gaps, an extremely helpful project that provided an outside look to improve these remote chat features. Zazzi and Harley also assisted in LawHelpNY’s efforts to keep New York’s vulnerable communities informed of the latest legal developments — editing and developing existing and new plain-language resources for New Yorkers.

As LawHelp New York’s Taylor Goetzinger notes, “Nick and Luke’s contributions were a welcome and timely addition to the LawHelpNY team. They came in when the team was firing on all cylinders to make sure we were providing the most accurate and up to date legal information to users facing legal issues due to the COVID-19 pandemic and were able to offer a much needed fresh perspective on the ways we were delivering that information. They helped the team identify missed opportunities to provide a more welcoming, holistic user experience for people facing housing and family law issues.” 

As Pro Bono Net’s staff reflects on what was a challenging, but important and fruitful year in expanding access to justice through remote services, the staff is grateful for all of the partners, including Weil that helped make this work happen. 

I spoke with Alaska Legal Services Corporation’s Eric Vang, and Pro Bono Net’s Katie Lam, who are collaborating on a project to apply technological solutions to Alaska’s Social Security Disability Application system. Their goal is to ensure that Alaskans applying for SSD have the best shot of being approved for the benefit by making sure their applications have all of the materials that they need. The development of ALSC’s project is supported by an LSC Technology Innovations Grant. With support from the Open Society Foundations, Pro Bono Net is collaborating with ALSC to conduct a community-centered research and design phase to develop, prototype and test the tool with local partners.

Eric has practiced law at Alaska Legal Services for nine years. He now focuses on technology projects, co-leads their health team, and is an experienced Social Security Disability attorney. Alaska Legal Services is a national leader in providing innovative legal support to low-income communities.

Katie joined Pro Bono Net in June 2019 as its Technology and Empowerment Fellow. As a Fellow, Katie leads the Legal Empowerment and Technology Initiative, a nation-wide cohort of civil justice communities using technology to enable legal empowerment. Prior to PBN, Katie worked as a business operations associate at a UX research startup called Validately and as an Open Data Youth Leadership Council coordinator for the Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics. 

In Alaska, applicants face the additional barriers of extreme weather, poor internet and phone connectivity, and Alaska’s sheer size.

Many SSD applications are rejected because of a lack of medical evidence or applicants not listing all of their disabling conditions. This is often caused by the application itself being incomplete. Eric and Katie hope to leverage legal technology to make filling out these applications easier and ensure that they are complete so that more Alaskans, and potentially people in other states, are able to get the disability benefits to which they are entitled.

Could you walk me through the goals of your project and how you hope to make filling out complete applications easier for both case managers and applicants?

Eric: As we currently envision our project, we’re focusing on “community navigators” such as clinical case managers or community health aides who are assisting their patients with the disability application process. Case managers we’ve interviewed have said that they know how important these benefits are to their patients wellbeing, but they don’t have access to clear instructions for what information needs to be gathered, what a complete application should include, or a way to track where their many clients are in the application process.

We’re hoping to systematize the application process by providing a roadmap to the case manager and their patient that will detail what tasks need to happen and why. We also hope to provide support systems that allow them to track task completion and even the complicated and detailed information that is often needed. For example, if I were to ask you, “where have you received medical services in the last 10 years and what are the dates of those services?” For most young folks, that wouldn’t be that hard, but for an applicant with multiple chronic conditions, each requiring regular treatment, that’s a really complicated list.

We’re exploring tools we can use to educate and empower the case manager to identify other supplemental forms or medical documents that could strengthen the application of a particular patient and also to know when they can stop preparing and submit an application with confidence.

Historically, designing legal technology platforms like this tends to center on lawyers. What is most important about centering case managers in this project?

Katie: For this project, we want to center the expertise and the on the ground knowledge of community navigators, and other social service providers who work directly with applicants and may not be legal experts, but because of the nature of the day-to-day work, they do get to know the law and need to know the law in order to support their clients. Leveraging the unique perspective and capabilities of community navigators is a critical piece of our legal empowerment approach. Case managers, community health aides, and other social service providers already help their communities understand and use the law. Our hope is that this project will further empower community navigators and make their jobs a little easier.

Eric: Alaska is both under connected and under lawyered. Alaska’s Second Judicial district contains about 30,000 people living in an area the size of Montana. The Alaska Bar Association reports that there are 24 active lawyers living there. So it is very easy for Alaskans to be isolated from the specific legal and systemic knowledge they need for something like a disability application.

For people who are further isolated by mental health issues, that problem is even more acute. Many disability applicants experience severe mental impairments and their case manager or community health aid is often one of the only people who knows how to effectively access, communicate, and engage with that individual.

Using technology to empower the person who already has that unique access is a far more effective and scalable way of helping disability applicants than trying to find a knowledgeable attorney or disability expert to meet with each applicant.

Could this project scale up to other parts of the country?

Katie:  It’s important that this tool meet the state specific needs of Alaskan disability applicants, first and foremost. Applying a co-design approach in combination with our legal empowerment strategy has allowed us to zero in on the precise concerns and opportunities that the Alaskan community faces and that our tool must address. However, one of the appeals of tackling Social Security Disability is the fact that it’s a federal benefits program. It would be incredible for the tool to scale to other states and support other processes.

Learn more about several of the co-methods Katie and Eric used for this project in Katie’s previous blog post, Key Takeaways from Running a Virtual Design Sprint, and their November 2020 Decolonizing Justice workshop, Tools and Tactics for Participatory Design.

Pro Bono Net, in collaboration with the Center for Elder Law & Justice (CELJ), is pleased to announce the release of a new set of resources, available at AgingSafely.us. These resources will help legal aid programs and their community partners better identify, respond to, and remedy elder abuse and financial exploitation:

  • A new set of online forms, powered by LawHelp Interactive, to help victims of abuse and exploitation access legal remedies available to them.
  • A Toolkit with information on how older adults, or providers or caregivers assisting them, can use the online forms to address and protect against common forms of abuse and financial exploitation
  • A Toolkit for programs interested in adopting the Legal Risk Detector, a web-based screening and referral app designed for use by social workers, nurses, and other professionals in aging who work with vulnerable older adults 

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. Financial exploitation of older Americans is among the most common forms of elder abuse, and the increasing sophistication of scams and fraud targeting older people is exacerbating this issue. Meaningful and timely access to legal interventions can help break the cycle of abuse, restore stability for the affected individual, and protect them from abuse in the future. The resources featured on AgingSafely.us highlight how legal services can be a crucial component of elder care, and how new technology can help identify and respond to these issues. 

The free online forms available on AgingSafely.us were developed with input from legal experts at CELJ and other nonprofit legal aid organizations serving older adults, and they can be used in any state. They cover three areas: 

  • A cover sheet for interstate enforcement of a protection order for seniors who already have a domestic violence protection order and might be travelling out of state
  • A safety planning tool
  • Consumer law forms to help identity and address theft and financial exploitation issues, including
    • Letter to a creditor to request debt forgiveness when a bill is owed
    • Letter to a creditor to dispute a charges from a bank or company
    • Letter to a credit bureau to dispute an item on a credit report

The consumer law forms are available in two formats: a set designed for use by older adults and a set designed for use by advocates or other high-volume users. 

“I am very excited about the availability of these new online forms and hope domestic violence counselors and support groups encourage their clients to take advantage of the safely planning tool, which is specifically crafted to the needs of older adults,” said Claudia Johnson, LawHelp Interactive Program Manager. “And with identity theft and financial exploitation on the rise, the consumer law forms will help many older adults gain peace of mind and control of their credit records.” 

The Legal Risk Detector was initially created through a collaboration of Pro Bono Net, JASA and Georgetown University Law Center in 2016, and expanded in 2017 in collaboration with the Center for Elder Law & Justice.  Developed using Neota Logic software and designed for use on tablets, laptops, and mobile devices, the Risk Detector enables non-legal professionals to conduct legal screening, triage, and referral activities for homebound and other vulnerable seniors in settings that are often difficult to reach through traditional service models. The screening encompasses financial exploitation, consumer debt, housing, abuse, and health care matters – legal issues that disproportionately impact the elderly but often go undetected or unreported. Pro Bono Net has partnered with programs in other states to adopt the Risk Detector or create state-specific versions of it.

A recent evaluation of the Risk Detector’s use by CELJ found that, in the Western New York region, the Risk Detector helps to identify cases from a variety of vulnerable and marginalized groups, including veterans, clients who live in rural areas, disabled people, and those who live alone, many of whom would not otherwise be identified as victims of abuse and would not engage in legal action. This shows that legal technology tools like the Risk Detector that are designed for use by non-legal organizations can help increase access to and awareness of legal services for hard to reach communities.”

“Elder abuse is such a prevalent crime but, here at CELJ, we realized that many of our community partners did not know how to recognize the signs, “ said Karen Nicolson, CEO for the Center for Elder Law & Justice.  “Although both domestic violence and elder abuse have similarities, the manifestations of elder abuse often are passed off by the abuser as normal signs of aging.  This easy-to-use tool will help our community partners  flag abuse and to also understand when a referral for legal assistance could be helpful.”

The Legal Risk Detector Project Toolkit contains information about the origins of the Legal Risk Detector, what it is, how it works, how the Center for Elder Law & Justice has used it, how it can be customized for new regions, as well as suggested practices and tips for deployment.  AgingSafely.us also features recordings from a three-part webinar series highlighting how programs can take advantage of these resources to create or expand innovative partnership models to serve older adults.

For more information about the Legal Risk Detector, contact Liz Keith, Program Director, at lkeith@probono.net. To learn more about LawHelp Interactive, contact Claudia Johnson, LawHelp Interactive Program Manager, at  cjohnson@probono.net.  


Pro Bono Net (http://probono.net) is a national nonprofit that works to bring the power of the law to all by building cutting edge digital tools and strengthening collaboration in the civil justice sector to tackle justice problems. LawHelpInteractive.org and the Legal Risk Detector have been developed and are maintained by Pro Bono Net. 

The Center for Elder Law & Justice (https://elderjusticeny.org) is a civil legal services agency in Buffalo, New York, serving eight Western New York counties. Since 1978, CELJ has provided comprehensive free legal services to the community’s seniors, people with disabilities, and the low-income population.  

***

AgingSafely.us and the resources featured on it were supported through grant number 2017-VF-GX-K135 to Pro Bono Net from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) for Field-Generated Innovations in Addressing Elder Abuse and Financial Exploitation. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in these resources are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Practising Law Institute (PLI) is a nonprofit learning organization dedicated to keeping attorneys and other professionals at the forefront of knowledge and expertise. PLI offers pro bono training, scholarships and access to live programs, webcasts, and on-demand archived programs, as well as an extensive Pro Bono Membership program. 

Pro Bono Net was lucky enough to interview Leonard McKenzie, PLI’s Scholarship/Pro Bono Privileged Membership Manager; and Janet Siegel, PLI’s Director of Pro Bono. We were able to discuss topics such as PLI’s Pro Bono Membership and its benefits, PLI’s Pro Bono Podcast, what topics are addressed in their plethora of programs, and what scholarships PLI offers and who qualifies.

 Question: How would you describe PLI and the work it does?

Leonard McKenzie

Leonard McKenzie: We are a nonprofit educational organization with pro bono at the core of our mission. Our official description notes that we are “dedicated to keeping attorneys and other professionals at the forefront of knowledge and expertise.” We do this by offering a variety of programs and publications developed and presented by world-class faculty and experts.

Question: Can you share with us a little about your roles at PLI?

Janet Siegel

Janet Siegel: As Director of Pro Bono, I am responsible for the advancement of PLI’s pro bono initiative and am continually looking for opportunities for PLI to help the access-to-justice community. Along with the pro bono team, I carefully monitor new developments to be sure that we are meeting the needs of our pro bono customers. 

Leonard McKenzie: As Scholarship/Pro Bono Privileged Membership Manager, my primary role is to oversee our scholarship program, where we grant individuals access to our content at little or no charge. I also manage our Pro Bono Membership program, which grants access to organizations at no cost.

Question: Can you tell us about what topics you feature in your programming and how you choose them? Which programs are most important in today’s climate?

Janet Siegel: Our pro bono team works to raise awareness of the great need for pro bono representation, which is especially urgent during this pandemic, and offers training to support attorneys so that they can better represent pro bono and legal services clients. We offer programs on a wide array of ongoing substantive topics of interest, including immigration, domestic violence, criminal justice, nonprofit organizations, consumer bankruptcy, housing, and veterans’ issues, as well as updates on important new legal developments relevant to the access-to-justice community. 

We choose new programs by following current developments to determine what programs might be of the greatest assistance.  Responding to recent events, we offered a series of web-based programs (now available on-demand) on the impact of COVID-19 on immigration, nonprofit organizations, housing, and employment, as well as best practices and ethical issues in providing remote legal services, all of which drew very large audiences. In response to the protest movement in the wake of George Floyd’s death earlier this year, we quickly organized our civil rights, diversity, and criminal justice programs so that they could be accessed easily at pli.edu/accessjustice.

Question: Can you explain what the Pro Bono Membership is at PLI? What are the benefits of being a PLI Member?

Leonard McKenzie: PLI’s Pro Bono Privileged Membership is a program we started over a decade ago, with the objective to grant IRC Section 501(c)(3) organizations access to our programs at no cost. We now have over 600 Members nationwide.  Pro Bono Privileged Members receive free, unlimited access to a wide selection of live programming, including over 10,000 hours of on-demand programs, as well as our state-of-the-art Interactive Learning Center. They can earn CLE credit free of charge and manage their credits and compliance requirements using PLI’s My Credit Tracker tool. More information is available on our Pro Bono Privileged Membership site

Question: Does PLI offer scholarships? How does that work?

Leonard McKenzie: Yes, we offer scholarships to a wide range of individuals, including law students, pro bono attorneys, attorneys experiencing a financial hardship, and government employees, just to name a few.  Scholarships generally range from a 75% to 100% discount, and the process for applying is quite simple. Visit this link, complete the application form, and click “submit.” We’re proud to have a very generous scholarship program — this year alone, we have granted access to over 2,800 applicants.

Question: What topics are showcased in PLI’s Pursuing Justice: The Pro Bono Files podcast?

Janet Siegel: The purpose of the podcast is to highlight the “real world” experiences of lawyers who are doing pro bono work and to encourage other attorneys to consider pro bono representation. We have covered a variety of topics, including attorneys helping with disaster relief, helping small businesses during the pandemic, and helping veterans obtain their benefits.  

Question: How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed how PLI operates?

Leonard McKenzie: I would say that the biggest change is that for the past nine months, we have not hosted any in-person programs.  However, when it comes to technology, PLI has always been extremely forward thinking, and as a result we have been able to deliver our programs online in both live and on-demand formats. We also work closely with state regulators to be certain that all our programs are compliant with any changing regulations during these challenging times.

Janet Siegel: PLI has always supported the legal profession and, more broadly, the rule of law.  We are proud to support the access-to-justice community, and will continue to provide the highest quality, timely training programs for both pro bono attorneys and attorneys working at nonprofit and legal services organizations so that they can better represent their clients. 

Pro Bono Net mourns the loss of our dear friend and founding Board Chair, Michael Cooper, on Monday, November 16, 2020.

Mike’s deep understanding of the justice gap, unmatched personal credibility and openness to new ideas were critical during Pro Bono Net’s early years.  “Mike was so generous to agree to be our first Board Chair when we were just starting out as an organization,” said Michael Hertz, the co-founder of Pro Bono Net.  “He cared so deeply about access to justice and the need for innovative solutions that he took a bet on us.  His tremendous judgment guided us through many challenges as a new organization.”

Mike served on our board for more than 18 years, retiring in 2017, and we are thankful for his outstanding leadership, wisdom and friendship,” said Pro Bono Net Board Chair Dave Heiner. “Mike was a great mentor to me when I was a young lawyer at Sullivan & Cromwell and mentored me again years later when I took on the Pro Bono Net Board Chair role.  All of us at Pro Bono Net will greatly miss Mike.

Mike joined Sullivan & Cromwell in 1961, after graduating from Harvard Law School, and served as managing partner of the Litigation Group from 1978 to 1985.  Mike’s dedication extended well beyond the firm’s clients: helped to found the firm’s pro bono practice, he served as President of the City Bar from 1998 to 2000 and he held top leadership roles in numerous organizations including The Legal Aid Society, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and Volunteers of Legal Services.  Among the many pro bono matters he handled during his career, he took particular pride in his representation of Guantánamo detainee Adel El Ouerghi in 2005.

Mike was a strong advocate for Pro Bono Net from the beginning and helped to shape the organization’s work and build a strong board to support its mission. Mike’s reflections on our 15th anniversary can be found here.

Mike will be greatly missed by the Pro Bono Net family, the legal community, and the many organizations where he generously volunteered his time. We extend our condolences to his wife Nan, his family and colleagues at Sullivan & Cromwell.

Mark O’Brien
Co-Founder & Executive Director
Pro Bono Net