Lately we have been working through some new designs for new partnerships as well as redesigning some existing sites. We’ve launched TenantHelpNY.org, a new resource that provides clear and easy guidance to tenants facing eviction. We also have a forthcoming redesign of LawHelpNY.org, a hub of legal aid information in NY state. This has been an exciting time to rethink how we represent legal aid information through accessible user experiences and interfaces. This required usability testing.

Usability testing simply tests how usable a product is. Can users easily navigate the site? Can they interpret cues and directions accurately and quickly? Do our assumptions stand up to real life users? This step is often skipped in fast-paced development environments where stakeholders often think “we cannot afford to slow down.” However, it’s far more costly to just run off of instinct and anecdotes. As Erika Hall notes in her book Just Enough Research, “the faster you are proven wrong, the less time you will spend being wrong.” 

I myself am newer to the legal aid space. When presenting my findings, my colleagues here at Pro Bono Net noted that a number of these insights might surprise those who have been in this space for many years. Here are our top 5 things you may not have known about legal information website users.

1. “I don’t know what ‘Know Your Rights’ means.”

Know Your Rights is a fundamental section of our sites. Users can surf different topics and find answers to their questions. Most users don’t come to the site thinking “I want to know my rights around [issue]” but rather show up thinking something like “I don’t want to be evicted.”

It surprised us that few users went to Know Your Rights but rather gravitated towards headers with the word “help” such as “Get Help” or “Self Help Tools.” However, topic-based navigation was successful once users finally got there. So it seems this is a good route but needs a better, more understandable hook.

This may be accomplished simply by changing the language of “Know Your Rights” or may require some kind of additional heading such as “Browse different topics” or “What are my rights?” Regardless, these changes should be tested with end users.

2. “Users are in an emotionally compromised state.”

When testing the TenantHelpNY.org website we just launched (a site to help people in New York state avoid eviction), one user made an excellent point. Having faced eviction themself before, they noted “users are in an emotionally compromised state” as they are searching for help. Last year our colleague Tim Baran shared LawHelpNY’s experience with this and the need to engage with empathy during the pandemic.

The point here is that usability and experience are of paramount importance on a personal level. If a user is stressed and cannot easily navigate through the site, they may give up or suffer further frustration and distress. 

This means the user experience (the feel or vibe the user has) needs to be calming and inviting while avoiding being dismissive of the situation. The visual design such as color, iconography, images, illustrations etc. should also strike the same tone. This design by Kristen Argenio at Ideal Design Co. struck just that tone with our users for our Tenant Help NY website.

3. “I wouldn’t think of that as a legal issue”

The sociologist Rebecca Sandefur writes about how users “do not understand these situations to be legal.” This is a fundamental point for legal aid organizations to absorb.

In one scenario, we asked users to see if they qualify for SNAP. Almost all of them gravitated to the search bar. When asked about this instinct, they mentioned something along the lines of “I wouldn’t have thought of SNAP as a legal issue. I wouldn’t even expect it to be on this site. I would probably Google it.” 

This indicates that legal aid information with its wide reach needs to be presented in ways that speak to real situations and not heavily emphasize legal language or framing. Here you can see the pathway we expected users to take. Instead they either used the search bar or opened a tab into a search engine.

4. “Wait there’s more information?”

When we tested the Legal Aid Directory, where users use their legal topic and location to find organizations that can help them, we had a shocking surprise. Users didn’t know they could click on the listing to see more information. On the other side of that link is a whole profile page with hand-curated information on that organization and their services. They didn’t know it was there!

As someone who has worked on search products for many years, I was floored to find out this one. To me, it’s a fundamental and obvious assumption that a search platform that lists information about services in your area (such as Yelp) offers a profile page of that business. But you know what they say about assuming.

The issue was a lack of interactive results. When you want to lead users to a destination, you should put in enough icons, colors, buttons, and hover-over animations to make the user think “I want to click on that.” Below you can see both the older card design and the improved design in contrast.

5. “Still, I would use the search bar”

Lastly, we were surprised at how often users preferred the search bar over our topic-based navigation. So many users are used to being able to just find their answer right away in search engines simply by typing in some keywords.

The complication is that search is never the best thing to rely on. Walking users through structures you’ve carefully crafted will help them reach their results more accurately. People just tend not to know how to use search engines properly which rely on keywords rather than sentences. So instead of “Eviction NYC” someone might search “I am being evicted, how do I stop this?” 

The solution here isn’t easy but a good route may be providing users with search results that point them to topics that match their results. This is a way of rerouting users through the method they gravitate towards. They get to use the route most natural to them and then they get gently pushed over to the more structured path. Here is a heatmap of our mobile prototype test.

With these insights, we are left with a call to action around the way site navigation is presented to users, some necessary terminology changes, and a need to consider the emotional experience of the user more closely. I cannot advocate enough for usability testing. Meeting with your users and seeing how they interact with the product seems like an obvious step in any design project,  but it’s commonplace practice to blow right past this.

The good news is you likely already have the skills on hand to study and improve your design! Your research methods don’t have to be perfectly scientific to surface some relevant issues. Often a good basic research question alongside free screen share software is enough. You may not even need high quality mockup tools. Putting some shapes and text together on Google Slides can be enough to convey to your developers and designers what you need. Get into the mindset of asking good questions and being open to being proven wrong and you’ll find you can make more incisive improvements more swiftly than you thought.


Ariadne Brazo is the Product Manager for LawHelp and probono.net, digital platforms that help thousands of people each year solve life-changing legal issues and that strengthen the work of advocates serving them. 

Created in 2011, each year the Fastcase 50 award honors a diverse group of lawyers, legal technologists, policymakers, judges, law librarians, bar association executives, and people from all walks of life. Fastcase “recognizes people who have made important, but unheralded contributions.”

Pro Bono Net’s Senior Product Manager, Jessica Stuart, has made this year’s Fastcase 50! Jessica joined the Pro Bono Net team in August 2008, working first as LawHelp Program Associate and now as Senior Product Manager for Pro Bono Manager. Prior to joining Pro Bono Net, Jessica lived in Los Angeles and worked in Digital Marketing at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Her interest in technology systems started while working on the rebuild of a B2B Asset Management application used by a number of different internal and external stakeholders. She now enjoys applying her interest in operations and product management to helping law firms use technology to make their pro bono programs run more efficiently. Jessica earned her B.A. in Communication Processes from the University of Connecticut, and now lives in Brooklyn.

Jessica is passionate about access to justice, and her motivation has fueled the development of Pro Bono Net’s Pro Bono Manager. For over 10 years, Pro Bono Manager has helped law firms run their pro bono programs more efficiently. Pro Bono Manager’s web-based system has been invaluable to firms’ pro bono programs throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. With a centralized pro bono database at their fingertips, pro bono teams have easy access to the data they need no matter where they are, helping them support the attorneys who conduct valuable pro bono work for communities in need. 

Jessica has also helped lead the platform development and product strategy for Pro Bono Net’s Remote Legal Connect platform. Our Remote Legal Connect technology allows legal services providers, pro bono initiatives, courts, and community partners to rapidly build and manage a legal support program regardless of location. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the platform enabled legal services organizations to maintain operations during unprecedented shelter-in-place orders. Jessica has been crucial in implementing the development strategy for Remote Legal Connect adopted by partners: Atlanta Legal Aid which launched Georgia Legal Connect; and Legal Aid of Nebraska which launched  Nebraska Legal Aid Connect

“The past year has presented challenges that provided opportunities to advance the law, and even accelerated some innovations into the mainstream. We celebrate the diligence, discipline, passion, and creativity of these Fastcase 50 honorees. We are as proud as ever to spotlight the eleventh class of the Fastcase 50, highlighting now 550 people who have inspired our profession, since our first class in 2011.” says Pro Bono Net Board Member, Vice Chair and CEO of Fastcase, Ed Walters. 

Congratulations to Jessica and all of the other 2021 Fastcase 50 honorees. Check out the full list at: https://www.fastcase.com/fastcase50/?class=2021 


To learn about Pro Bono Manager, visit: https://www.probono.net/our-work/advocates/pbm/; or to learn more about other Pro Bono Net initiatives, visit: https://www.probono.net/programs/ 

Ready to Stay, a national coalition working to help immigrants and advocates prepare for immigration reform, held a press event on Tuesday, July 13th to announce the launch of ReadytoStay.org. Ready to Stay is a hub that immigrants can turn to for accurate and reliable support surrounding information relevant to their immigration status and changes in immigration processes. This online platform hosts critical information regarding immigration issues such as DACA renewals, Temporary Protected Status applications, Immigration Advocates Network’s directory of tens of thousands of trusted legal service providers, and more. Because undocumented immigrants are often cautious of reaching out for assistance with issues relevant to immigration status due to fear of bad faith actors, Ready to Stay is committed as a grassroots effort to support immigrants and community-based organizations. 

The launch event included speaker Daniela Alulema, from the Center for Migration Studies, who broke down the gap in eligibility among immigrants for increased legal protections and citizenship status. Today, there are over 10.3 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Undocumented immigrants are deeply embedded in their communities, with 58% of undocumented immigrants having been in the United States for more than 10 years. About one million of the undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States are already eligible for the existing DACA program, and another 500,000 undocumented immigrants are eligible for Temporary Protected Status. Abraham Paulos, a speaker at the event from the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, highlighted the importance of Black immigrants having access to legal counsel. Out of the 10,000 Liberian immigrants who are eligible for Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness, a program that allows certain Liberian immigrants to adjust their immigration status and eventually become naturalized, only 3,000 have applied. As legal services have been historically less available to Black immigrants, Ready to Stay has committed to ensuring that immigration support is available to all communities in need.

Lack of accessibility to legal tools and advice is a major obstacle to legal immigration status. To ensure that undocumented immigrants who are eligible for legal protections can apply, there must be a coordinated effort to provide reliable information and comprehensive assistance. Ready to Stay is hosted on the Pro Bono Net platform and is available in 12 languages, reflecting its commitment to providing support to all those in need. Already, Ready to Stay has published a resource on fraud prevention available in 9 languages.

Creating a relationship based on trust and reliability is a crucial aspect of helping undocumented immigrants feel safe and confident accessing the tools and information on Ready to Stay’s website. That is why Ready to Stay has been working closely with faith based and other community organizations to support immigration efforts. Because faith based organizations are established cornerstones within some communities, working with faith leaders will help community members feel comfortable accessing Ready to Stay for assistance. 

The Ready to Stay team expressed bright hopes for the future of immigration to the United States. They are hopeful that the Biden administration will deliver on establishing a clear path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and are ready to continue fighting for the rights of undocumented immigrants no matter the political climate. The digital environment has presented many new opportunities for access to justice initiatives, and Ready to Stay serves as a shining example of how technology can be leveraged to support our most vulnerable communities. 


Visit ReadytoStay.org to learn more and subscribe to our Connecting Justice Communities blog to read more about access to justice.

The American Bar Association (ABA) Young Lawyers Division recently announced its 2021 On the Rise – Top 40 Young Lawyers honorees. The On the Rise – Top 40 Young Lawyers award “provides national recognition for 40 ABA young lawyer members who exemplify a broad range of high achievement, innovation, vision, leadership and legal and community service.” You can read the ABA’s press release here.

Pro Bono Net’s Pro Bono & Strategic Initiatives Manager, Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz, has made this year’s ABA’s On the Rise Top 40 Young Lawyers! Jeanne joined Pro Bono Net in 2018 in the aftermath of the major 2017 natural disasters to support Pro Bono Net’s disaster relief initiatives. She later transitioned to her current role to coordinate, develop and grow state and national digital initiatives that strengthen the work of legal advocates and pro bono attorneys helping communities with their legal problems. Among other initiatives, Jeanne helps drive the program strategy for Pro Bono Net’s Remote Legal Connect, a platform that enables legal services providers, pro bono initiatives, and community-based partners to build and manage remote legal support projects. 

Pro Bono Net also congratulates Linda Anderson Stanley, Senior Manager of Disaster Programming at Equal Justice Works for making this year’s On The Rise- Top 40 Young Lawyers! In her role at Equal Justice Works, Linda led the award-winning Disaster Recovery Legal Corp. and created and implemented the Disaster Resilience Program. Linda is also an adjunct professor and teaches a disaster law primer at Stetson University College of Law. Prior to joining Equal Justice Works, Linda worked as a staff attorney at Bay Area Legal Services in Tampa, Fla., assisting individuals with limited access to legal services with their civil legal needs. She focused primarily on disaster relief; housing law; consumer law; and veterans’ issues.

Congratulations to Jeanne, Linda and all of the other 2021 On the Rise – Top 40 Young Lawyer honorees. You can view the full list of honorees here: https://www.americanbar.org/groups/young_lawyers/projects/on-the-rise/2021-honorees/. For more information on Pro Bono Net initiatives, visit: https://www.probono.net/programs/ 

After filing to go public on June 4th, LegalZoom debuted on the market Wednesday, June 30th. Shares opened at 31% above offer price, highlighting the important role that the market can play in supporting initiatives to broaden access to legal services. LegalZoom’s success is cause for celebration, coming as a result of increasing interest by investors in technology that can help deliver affordable legal services to more Americans.

This growing interest in investing in legal support technologies was reflected in Village Capital’s “Justice Tech for All” report which found that over $77 million has been invested into over 100 startups focused on leveraging technology to provide legal assistance. Despite the progress shown by the increasing levels of investment in justice technologies, the access to justice gap will not be filled by for-profit organizations.

Joe Patrice, a reporter at Above The Law, explained the gap in access to justice by writing “As the cost of legal services continues to rise and tilt more in favor of deep pocketed clients, there’s a growing hole where middle class consumers used to be. That’s not a hole that LegalZoom will fill by itself…” Because it is financially disadvantaged individuals who face the brunt of the challenges posed by the legal system, the gap in accessibility can only be effectively filled through investment in technologies that provide free legal tools and assistance.

For more than 15 years, LawHelp Interactive has been working to bridge the gap in access to justice, ensuring that legal tools and guidance are available to all. LHI seeks to empower those that the for-profit market ignores by supporting courts and partners in the creation of free legal forms and online assistance. By providing a robust platform and working with a trusted network of partners, LHI aggregates high quality, plain language interviews that provide self-represented litigants with access to over 5,000 free and secure legal forms. The population of self-represented litigants that serve to benefit is significant, with an estimated 75% of cases regarding life-changing legal issues having at least one self-represented litigant. LHI provides assistance in the most crucial areas of legal disputes including family, domestic violence petitions, eviction, foreclosure, consumer debt, divorce, child custody, and child support, as well as public benefit forms. In a 2020 review of LHI, end users shared the profound impact that LHI’s legal assistance had on their lives:

“Means I can try and get my daughter back from [the] state’s custody a lot sooner.”

“This made the process simpler for us [who] have to work.”

“Such a blessing.”

LHI has become an indispensable tool for millions who cannot afford lawyers. In addition, LHI’s reach continues to grow with a 30.5% increase of new registered users in 2020 compared to 2019. This increase resulted in 11,834 new accounts being registered as Self Helpers every month of 2020 — an average of 16 new registered Self Helpers for every hour. Additionally, 658 new Court Employees, and 1,547 new Advocates registered with LHI per month. The sum of these accounts totalled 144,532 new registered user accounts in 2020. To close the gap in access to justice, the growth of nonprofit tech platforms and projects like LHI must be supported with the proper resources to bring the power of the law to all.

The American legal system is riddled with an endemic lack of resources to serve the millions of residents living in poverty who experience legal issues. The price of accessing lawyers and legal assistance continues to rise as people struggle to bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic instability. High price tags, confusing processes, and an undersupply of free legal services make the legal system intimidating and inaccessible, leaving vulnerable individuals helpless in facing legal challenges. Though investors are starting to recognize some of these markets and are investing into for-profit legal technologies, needs won’t be met by market solutions alone. Initiatives such as LHI require resources and intellectual capital to continue supporting a growing user base each day. Nonprofit online form providers like LHI play an essential role in serving the needs of the people that the market does not, and these providers need public support. In the next few months, LHI will introduce a new feature that will allow users who have benefitted from LHI the option of “paying it forward”: making small donations to ensure that LHI can be used by others facing similar justice challenges. If you want to get a jump on that and help support equitable access to justice technologies, consider making a donation. Further, if you are interested in reading more about access to justice, sign up for Pro Bono Net, Connecting Justice Communities blog.


Timothy Steves is Pro Bono Net’s Communications Intern. Currently in his junior year at The George Washington University, he is majoring in International Affairs with a concentration in Security Policy and Philosophy with a Public Affairs focus. 

Juneteenth’s origin dates back to enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, learning that they had been emancipated, close to two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation had formally been put into place. While Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration of the end of slavery, this holiday has not been recognized nationally until recent. Many may just be learning the significance of this holiday. Several work places and law firms plan on making Juneteenth a paid and permanent holiday, including: Latham & Watkins, Morrison & Foerster, and Debevoise & Plimpton; to name a few.  While this holiday becomes more mainstream it is important to recognize Juneteenth’s place in American history and to reflect on the long struggle for equal rights.

Pro Bono Net is grateful to Treshauxn Dennis-Brown, AmeriCorps Vista working with our Immigration Advocates Network program, for writing this important piece highlighting what Juneteenth means for him.


This upcoming Saturday marks the national observance of Juneteenth. Traditionally celebrated by African-Americans annually on June 19th and originating in Galveston, Texas, Juneteenth commemorates the very first celebration of emancipation, signifying the end of slavery in Texas, following General Order No. 3 by Union Army general Gordon Granger Although at first embraced solely by African American communities, Juneteenth has gained traction among mainstream outlets in recent years, garnering state and local recognition across the country, especially as the country comes to grips with a legacy of racial tension. But who is Juneteenth for? Juneteenth can be said to be a holiday celebrating Black liberation, but it is important to remember that many heritages simultaneously reside under the blanket term “Black.” 

I am a proud first generation American with heritage deeply entrenched in the Caribbean, boasting primarily Jamaican but also Trinidadian lineages. As such, I sometimes feel as though my plight is somewhat divorced from that of Black/African-Americans, as I cannot lay claim to the legacy of American Chattel Slavery in the same way. Instead, I hail from islands that were colonized by the Spanish and British, each nevertheless saturated with their own horrors, commensurate with the reputation of being sugar colonies in the Colonial Era. Is Juneteenth just for the African-American whose lineage could (or more realistically, could not) be traced back to American slaves who picked cotton in the South, or can other non American Black diasporic heritages be included as an act of solidarity with regards to the common tragic threads in their histories?

While this mainly materializes as an internal thought exercise, the reality remains that of course, despite identifying as a first generation Caribbean-American, son, nephew, grandson to family who immigrated here in the 90s, I and my family are easily welcomed to the fold of Juneteenth celebrations. The ease with which this happens is possible due to the shared connection of the pigmentation of our skin. The fact remains that despite ancestral differences, the plight of Black people, regardless of immigration or residency status,  in the United States is almost universally dismal: Black people retain the lowest median income, are currently enjoying the lowest rate of black homeownership since the 1960s, and are disproportionately stopped, arrested, or fatally killed by the police.²³⁴ The statistics prove that diasporic nuances mean nothing in the face of, well, a Black face.

While this might seem the grimmest of ways to endear oneself to a holiday, I am nevertheless excited to have my first day off in my professional career for Juneteenth. The intellectual divide over whom Juneteenth belongs to will hopefully fade over time as Juneteenth continues to attract interest in the mainstream. Soon the question will not be whether Juneteenth is just a “Black holiday,” as Americans as a whole continue to embrace it as a holiday along the stalwarts of Fourth of July, Memorial Day, and the like.


¹Henry Louis Gates Jr., “What Is Juneteenth? African American History Blog,” PBS (Public Broadcasting Service, September 19, 2013), https://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/what-is-juneteenth/.

²Valerie Wilson, “Racial Disparities in Income and Poverty Remain Largely Unchanged amid Strong Income Growth in 2019,” Economic Policy Institute, accessed June 15, 2021, https://www.epi.org/blog/racial-disparities-in-income-and-poverty-remain-largely-unchanged-amid-strong-income-growth-in-2019/.

³Jacob Passy, “Black Homeownership Rate Hits Lowest Level since the 1960s – That’s Unlikely to Change in Pandemic Year 2,” MarketWatch (MarketWatch, March 11, 2021), https://www.marketwatch.com/story/most-black-americans-arent-homeowners-how-can-we-change-that-11615431459.

⁴“Criminal Justice Fact Sheet,” NAACP, May 24, 2021, https://naacp.org/resources/criminal-justice-fact-sheet.

I recently spoke with Astrid Ackerman on her experience with the Newark Asylum Office’s pilot project. She attended an asylum interview where she appeared remotely, while the client went in-person. Read below to see some tips and hear more about this experience.

Q: Could you explain your organization and role within it?

Astrid Ackerman

I am currently a Kramer Levin extern at Brooklyn Legal Services’ (BLS) Immigration Unit. BLS provides a range of immigration services to low-income non-detained immigrants. As an extern, I have a docket of about 25 cases, including asylum, SIJS, removal defense, LPRs, and VAWAs.

Q: How has COVID-19 impacted your specific work?

Immigration court in NY has been closed for non-detained matters since March 2020 and cases have been postponed indefinitely or recalendared. The pandemic has made it more challenging to communicate with clients given the lack of government support for child care and clients having to adjust to working with video technologies or dealing with the lack of wifi accessibility for low-income workers. As to the affirmative asylum process, asylum offices paused performing interviews during the pandemic and now the offices are reopened with limited space capacities and keeping social distancing protocols. This means that clients and lawyers can’t be in the same office during the interview, unless they explicitly ask for it, and that the asylum officer does not conduct the interview face to face with the asylum petitioner, and instead it is done through video conferencing. 

Q: What is the remote pilot project that you participated in? 

I participated in Newark’s asylum office’s remote asylum interview program. The client had to go in person to the Newark office and the asylum officer was in the office too, but in a separate room than my client and the interview was conducted as a video conference through Microsoft Teams.

Q: What was the remote interview process like?

Overall, the process ran smoothly. I previously had to send a short form to the Newark office requesting permission to appear via video and make use of their pilot program. The interview was on a Monday and I received approval to participate in the program around Thursday. The approval only mentioned that I would receive a Microsoft Teams invite for the conference the day/time of the interview. By the time and day the interview was scheduled, I had not received the invite so I had to call the Newark office and let them know of the issue. I was put in touch with the asylum officer in charge of my case and they called me on my phone. The asylum officer asked whether I wanted to just do the interview on the phone, but I requested he send a conference invite because my client and I would prefer to conduct the interview via video. The officer then sent a Microsoft Teams invite to my email, but the audio was through the phone, not the Microsoft Teams app. I didn’t need to download any app to connect. There were no audio issues throughout the interview. I was able to see my client on video, but unable to see the asylum officer. 

Q: How did you prepare and what tips would you give to other attorney’s participating in remote legal services?

For the most part, I prepared just as I would have for an in-person asylum interview. I reviewed our submission, which included affidavits, police letters, and country conditions research. I also prepared a list of key facts that I wanted my client to touch on during the interview to keep track of what wasn’t mentioned in order to guide my closing remarks in the interview. I also did several mock interviews with my client over the phone. This was really useful as it mimicked the actual interview’s setting. Attorney’s preparing to participate in remote services should make sure they explain the interview process to the client. It’s also good to ensure your computer doesn’t get pesky with Microsoft Teams since you’ll likely won’t be able to try out the link in advance of the interview. Conducting mock interviews with your client via a videoconferencing program is crucial to get the client used to the process. I also think it’s best to prepare the client for an impatient asylum officer and advise your client to provide short answers. Even if there are no video or audio issues, video conferencing is not exactly like face to face communication. There are some physical cues that are harder to perceive in video conferencing that in person. These cues are important for clients to gauge whether they should wrap up their answer or keep discussing it. In place of these cues, I think it’s good practice to have shorter answers and then take the asylum officer’s lead on whether more discussion is necessary. 

Q: Would you recommend this pilot project to other pro bonos?

Yes, it was a great experience and it was good for the client too. Especially for clients who have been waiting a long time for asylum interviews, the pilot project offers a way to go forward with the process. 

Pro Bono Net, with funding from the New York Office of Attorney General, is pleased to announce the official launch of TenantHelpNY.org, a new online resource created to help tenants in New York understand their housing rights during the COVID-19 public health crisis. In September 2020, Attorney General Letitia James announced the COVID-19 Tenant Legal Assistance Initiative, an effort to respond to the legal needs faced by tenants at risk of eviction because of the coronavirus pandemic. As of November 2020, the estimated range of current renter households at risk of eviction in New York State were between 640,000 and 1,180,000, and according to the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development, a total of 222,135 New York State tenants already have active cases in court and face eviction in May when the moratorium ends. 

This new initiative will help address the variety of legal challenges many New York tenants will face over the coming year, and includes the development and management of an online resource center with information related to tenant law and contact information for service providers outside of New York City. The online resource center will also contain an “Advocate Gateway” with specialized resources to support pro bono attorneys providing eviction defense. 

The development of the resource center, or TenantHelpNY.org, was created in partnership with the six (6) grantees under this initiative: Erie County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project, Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York, Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York, Legal Assistance of Western New York, Nassau Suffolk Law Services, and Legal Services of the Hudson Valley. 

Through TenantHelpNY.org, a mobile-friendly website, tenants will have access to: 

  • Plain language guides for tenants and the general public, developed in collaboration with grantees under the OAG initiative; 
  • Know your rights housing information on the COVID-19 crisis, discrimination, disability inclusion, and eviction process;
  • A legal help directory to assist tenants in connecting with volunteer attorney programs in their region, and
  • A list of Frequently Asked Questions about available COVID-19 housing protections.

In addition, TenantHelpNY.org’s Advocate Gateway will give pro bono attorneys and other advocates providing civil legal services to tenants access to the following resources: 

  • A password-protected online community to provide pro bono attorneys with access to specialized training and a membership roster to build their network and support effective tenant advocacy;
  • A library with curated advocacy materials created by volunteer attorney programs; 
  • Focused listservs to ask questions and discuss issues around COVID-19 and housing law in New York State, and; 
  • Pro bono opportunity information that will allow volunteer attorneys to connect directly with legal service provider staff. 

“Pro Bono Net is proud to work with our partners to build a platform that will serve New Yorkers at a time when they are most vulnerable. We are grateful to Attorney General Leticia James for concretely demonstrating her support for solutions to aid impacted communities by funding TenantHelpNY.org,” said Veronica N. Dunlap, Director of New York Programs at Pro Bono Net

Learn more about the organizations behind this initiative: 

For more information, comments, or questions about this initiative, please contact Veronica Dunlap, New York Program Director at Pro Bono Net, at vdunlap@probono.net


1. Stout Risius Ross, LLC, Estimation of Households Experiencing Rental Shortfall and Potentially Facing Eviction (New York Figures) https://app.powerbi.com/view?r=eyJrIjoiNzRhYjg2NzAtMGE1MC00NmNjLTllOTMtYjM2NjFmOTA4ZjMyIiwidCI6Ijc5MGJmNjk2LTE3NDYtNGE4OS1hZjI0LTc4ZGE5Y2RhZGE2MSIsImMiOjN9 (2020)

2.  Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development, 220,000 Tenants on the Brink and Counting, https://anhd.org/blog/220000-tenants-brink-and-counting#_ftn1 (2021).

Early in 2021 Lagniappe Law Lab launched their redesigned Pro Bono Net site, ProBonoNet/LA (probono.net/la). For over a decade the ProBonoNet/LA site has served as an online hub connecting public interest lawyers, pro bono volunteers, and the entire Louisiana Civil Justice Community. 

With nearly 150 site members and a rich collection of legal materials, the ProBonoNet/LA site is a well-used resource for attorneys and advocates across Louisiana. This meant that any site redesign effort had to make both the users’ needs and the visibility of the resources first and foremost. “Getting the most out of a site redesign meant understanding the ‘most valuable features’ of the existing site, and thinking strategically about enabling new features that foster a sense of community and purpose” said Amanda Brown, director of the Lagniappe Law Lab. “In our design working group we found that featuring the most-used site tools prominently in the design was key to our users getting the most out of the site. We also used this opportunity to highlight important features that were not used as commonly, but are critical to building up a culture of pro bono in Louisiana.” 

Lagniappe Law Lab engaged Pro Bono Net’s longtime design collaborator, Kristen Argenio of Ideal Design Co, to develop several different options, with different looks and color palettes. “In the end we chose a site design that is a bit of a clean take on traditional colors, and incorporates some Louisiana-specific design elements,” said Brown. “Our users are definitely excited about engaging with the new site. Since we’ve launched, recurring site traffic has grown, unique visitors are up, and people are staying longer on the site. We’re thrilled to have this refreshed resource for the Louisiana Civil Justice Community.” 

Pro Bono Net will be represented at the 2021 Equal Justice Conference (EJC) this week. This virtual conference takes place May 3rd-7th and is hosted by the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service and the National Legal Aid & Defender Association. 

“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.”

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. 

We are also looking forward to celebrating Pro Bono Net’s Board member Betty Balli Torres, Executive Director of the Texas Access to Justice Foundation, who is being recognized with the Innovations in Equal Justice Award on Thursday from noon 12:00 – 12:30pm ET. The awards ceremony will be live streamed via the ABA and NLADA’s Facebook pages. We hope you will join! 

Monday, May 3rd

1:00pm-2:30pm: Minding the Gap: Addressing Inequity & Disparity in Disaster Legal Services

Disaster recovery can be challenging to many underrepresented survivors, who often have more barriers than others to overcome. Presenters will discuss the disparities in impact and services provided in specific disaster areas, practices that programs can implement for successful legal service delivery, and the key elements of equitable rapid response models.

  • Moderator: Cheryl Naja, Alston & Bird
  • Tiela Chalmers, Alameda County Bar Association and Legal Access Alameda
  • Iris Peoples Green, Disability Rights North Carolina
  • Katherine Asaro, North Carolina Legal Education Assistance Foundation and North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center
  • Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz, Pro Bono Net

1:00 – 2:30pm: From Participation to Power: Co-Design and Tech Strategies to Support Legal Empowerment

This session will highlight participatory design and technology strategies from the US and beyond to help communities know and shape laws that impact them. Panelists will discuss projects that draw on equity design principles and strategic uses of technology and data to help connect individual casework with systemic advocacy.

  • David Rodriguez Andino, Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico
  • Ariadna Godreau Aubert, Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico 
  • Matthew Burnett, Open Society Justice Initiative
  • Liz Keith, Pro Bono Net

Tuesday, May 4th

12:00pm-1:30 pm: Innovations in Remote Delivery Models

This session will focus on innovative programs in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, aimed at remote and rural service delivery. The ripple effects of the pandemic have disproportionately impacted racial minorities, who have been hit the hardest concerning housing, health, family, and employment issues. This session will offer examples of solutions and outreach strategies that advance a just and equitable recovery for rural communities and other communities affected by the crisis. 

The workshop will feature 1) www.GeorgiaLegalConnect.org, a technology-inspired program that connects low-income Georgians to attorneys for legal advice, 2) the Rural Economic Improvement Project in Alabama, which aims at better serving rural counties by coordinating with non-lawyers and using technology to reach clients, and 3 ) a comprehensive system of pro bono clinics in Mississippi, including the challenges of transitioning these clinics in the time of COVID-19. 

  • Cari H. King, Atlanta Legal Aid 
  • Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz, Pro Bono Net 
  • Farah Majid, Legal Services Alabama
  • Nicole McLaughlin, Mississippi Access to Justice Commission and The Mississippi Bar’s Access to Justice Initiative

Wednesday, May 5th

12pm-1:30pm: A Hands-On Training for Creating Online Interactive Interviews

Interactive online interviews help with self-screening, connecting to the right legal information, filling out legal or intake forms, and more. Learn how to write an interview script for diverse client situations, and how to build an app for your script. 

  • Alison Corn, Pro Bono Net
  • Sam Harden, Pro Bono Net
  • Pat Malone, Pro Bono Net

5pm – 6:30pm: 50 Tech Tips 2021

This fast-paced, engaging session will provide tips about free and low-cost technology, including mobile apps, remote work tools, web platforms, and solutions for Windows and macOS. Technology leaders will share new tips relevant to the access to justice community at what is always one of the most popular sessions at the EJC.

  • David Bonebrake, Legal Services Corporation
  • Liz Keith, Pro Bono Net
  • LaDierdre D. McKinney, Michigan Legal Help Program
  • Glenn Rawdon, Legal Services Corporation
  • Jane Ribadeneyra, Legal Services Corporation

Friday, May 7th 

3pm-4:30pm: Online Forms Are Cornerstones for Access: In Good Times and In Bad Times

In 2020, the world was shut down due to Covid 19. The problems created by poverty and lack of legal representation did not stop, in fact for many, new problems developed, including DV, hunger, housing insecurity as it tends to happen in economic crisis. In this workshop will provide two examples from two very different states of how well developed and managed online forms projects play a vital role during emergencies and disasters, as well to meet pent up demand by those who can’t afford attorneys and representation. We will look at how forms are placed in a context of reducing barriers for those in need and share approaches that are helping 10,000s of people in need across multiple areas of civil law–including housing, family law, protection from abuse, benefits, etc. Laurie Garber and LaDeidre Mckinney, who manage two of the most successful online projects in the US, will share on partnership, and incrementally growing a collection that automates how they place their forms in the online universe to make it helpful and relevant to all, starting from simple to complex.

  • Laurie Garber, Northwest Justice Project
  • Claudia Johnson, Pro Bono Net  
  • LaDierdre McKinney, Michigan Poverty Law Program