Pro Bono Net will be represented at the Pro Bono Institute (PBI) Conference this year in Washington, D.C. The PBI conference, which will take place in person from March 8-10, 2022, is an annual event tailored to the interests and needs of pro bono leaders at law firms, in-house legal departments, and nonprofit legal services organizations. The conference will also have a virtual component from April 6-7, 2022. 

Pro Bono Net is a national nonprofit leader in increasing pro bono and access to justice through innovative uses of technology and collaboration. Our staff consists of a cross-disciplinary team from legal, technology, and community engagement backgrounds committed to creating innovative, sustainable solutions that support low-wealth individuals with their legal needs. 

Our Pro Bono & Strategic Initiatives Manager, Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz, is presenting in two sessions on disaster relief and recovery at this year’s PBI conference. The topics of the sessions align with the 2022 Disaster Resilience Awareness Month, a joint effort of Pro Bono Net, Equal Justice Works, and other leading organizations supporting disaster relief. Disaster Resilience Awareness Month is observed every March and is an opportunity to highlight the vital role pro bono advocates play in helping families navigate the impact of climate disasters. 

Pro Bono Net Board member Tiffany Graves is also participating as a speaker at the conference, and Pro Bono Net will be a part of the conference EXPO, where attendees can learn more about programs and pro bono opportunities. For more information on these panels and activities, you can refer to the information below. For other sessions at the PBI conference, please visit the conference website here

Wednesday, March 9, 2022 

2:15 – 3:15 pm ET
What Counts? Defining Pro Bono

Over the years various organizations have adopted rules promoting a lawyer’s professional obligation to pro bono legal services. These rules include the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® initiative, which was established more than 25 year ago and has become an industry standard. But has the evolution in access to justice issues left room for changes in policies on what counts as pro bono? This session will discuss current efforts by law firm leaders to review the definition of pro bono, as defined by the Challenge, focusing on particular areas, including: public rights, impact finance & social enterprise, global pro bono, and racial justice.

  • Tiffany Graves, National Pro Bono Counsel, Bradley Arant Boult & Cummings LLP and Pro Bono Net Board Member 
  • Wendy Atrokhov – Public Service Counsel, Director of Global Pro Bono Latham & Watkins
  • Paul Lee – Pro Bono Counsel, Steptoe
  • Nihad Mansour – Assistant Director of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project, Pro Bono Institute
  • Angela H. Zimmern – Senior Counsel and Pro Bono Director, McGuireWoods

Thursday, March 10, 2022 

9:45 – 10:45 pm ET
Live, Learn, Pivot: Making Disaster Preparedness and Relief More Equitable (Part I: Panel)

We live in a world where disasters are more frequent and where low-income and underserved communities bear the disproportionate brunt of the massive disruptions and harm left behind. Making disaster preparedness and relief more equitable can help ensure that all residents, regardless of socio-economic factors, can prepare and recover from disasters. This session will explore unique insights and perspectives gained through experiences and collaborations so that attendees can develop tools, strengthen partnerships, and provide a practical framework for responding to future disasters. A panel of experts from California, New York, North Carolina, and Georgia will discuss shared (and differing) experiences and perspectives on issues and pro bono in disaster legal services — all with a lens toward equity and proposed solutions.   

  • Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz, Pro Bono & Strategic Initiatives Manager, Pro Bono Net
  • Tiela Chalmers – Chief Executive Officer/General Counsel, Alameda County Bar Association and Legal Access Alameda
  • Cheryl Naja – Director of Pro Bono and Community Service, Alston & Bird
  • Iris Peoples Green – Director of Constituent Services, Disability Rights North Carolina
  • Katherine Blass Asaro – Executive Director, North Carolina Legal Education Assistance Foundation
  • Rachel Williams – Pro Bono Counsel, Morrison & Foerster

Thursday, March 10, 2022 

11:00 am – 12:00 pm ET
Live, Learn, Pivot: Making Disaster Preparedness and Relief More Equitable (Part II)

Interactive Workshop (Note: you do not need to attend Part I to attend Part II.) Join this interactive session with experts from California, New York, North Carolina, and Georgia (and put in practice learning from Part I) to model how to organize volunteer responses when disaster strikes. 

  • Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz, Pro Bono & Strategic Initiatives Manager, Pro Bono Net
  • Tiela Chalmers – Chief Executive Officer/General Counsel, Alameda County Bar Association and Legal Access Alameda
  • Cheryl Naja – Director of Pro Bono and Community Service, Alston & Bird
  • Iris Peoples Green – Director of Constituent Services, Disability Rights North Carolina
  • Katherine Blass Asaro – Executive Director, North Carolina Legal Education Assistance Foundation
  • Rachel Williams – Pro Bono Counsel, Morrison & Foerster

Thursday, March 10, 2022 

4:00 – 5:00 pm ET
Pro Bono Expo and Closing Reception

Join us for more networking!  Don’t miss this program – the annual catalyst for new partnerships, relationships, and pro bono initiatives.  Meet leading advocates from a range of public interest organizations and learn about cutting-edge issues ripe for pro bono representation. 

Pro Bono Net will be well represented at the 2022 Innovations in Technology Conference (ITC) this week, and we hope to see you there! This virtual conference takes place January 12th-20th and is hosted by the Legal Services Corporation. 

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. 

ITC brings together more than 650 legal aid advocates, court personnel, technologists and other professionals exploring new ways of using technology to expand access to justice. This year, we’ll be moderating or presenting a range of cutting edge topics, including creating justice systems designed for universal access, collaborative efforts to respond to the eviction crises, tech tools to empower community justice partners, and more.

See below for where you can find us. For more details on each panel and to view the many other excellent sessions offered at ITC 2022, please visit LSC’s ITC website.

Thursday, January 13th

12:30pm-1:15pm

Online Forms Affinity Group

Come meet and learn from the groups working on online forms, the groups providing online form platforms, and the groups doing online form trainings, evaluations, design work. This is a chance to catch up, ask questions, learn what is new and how online forms are changing in use, and as a vital tool for access to Justice.

  • Claudia Johnson, Pro Bono Net, Program Manager
  • Quinten Steenhuis, Suffolk University Law School, Clinical Fellow

LSNTAP Community Meeting

Everyone’s favorite listserv live. Join LSNTAP for a community meeting where you can share ideas and ask any questions you have. This is an opportunity to meet fellow listserv members and discuss how LSNTAP can help. You will also learn about all the new things LSNTAP has to offer.

  • Ariadne Brazo, Pro Bono Net, Product Manager

1:30pm-2:30pm

Interactive Self-Help Forms: A Cornerstone of Resilient and Responsive Justice Systems 

When the world shut down in 2020, many courts and legal aid programs that had already invested in their technology infrastructures and online self-help forms collections were able to rapidly adapt to remote services, and provide pathways to ensure access to justice for thousands of people facing great hardship and uncertainty. As we look to the future, what can we learn from the experience of frontline staff and leaders who made this pivot effectively and data about what forms proved most helpful? What gaps remain for end users that need to be addressed? Join us for an engaging discussion about how online forms and wraparound services – both remote and in person – can help create justice systems built for universal access and resilience. Panelists will share concrete examples and hard-won lessons that can be applied to other disruptive events as well as everyday access needs.

  • Mark O’Brien, Pro Bono Net, Executive Director
  • Amy Billmire, Michigan Legal Help, Staff Attorney
  • Anne Sheeley, Iowa Judicial Branch, Clerk of District Court, Polk County Courthouse
  • Marilyn Harp, Kansas Legal Services, Inc, Executive Director

3:30pm-4:30pm

Helping the Helpers: Tech Strategies to Support Community Justice Partners

Social workers, community organizers, Americorps/VISTA volunteers, librarians and health care professionals are often the first point of contact for people facing a life problem with a legal dimension. But to bridge the justice gap, these helpers need help — to help people detect legal problems, learn about the law, navigate legal processes and connect to legal services. This session will spotlight examples of tech tools and training strategies designed to equip these frontline allies with knowledge and support to effectively and appropriately help people with legal issues. Drawing on examples in housing, elder justice, wage theft, domestic violence and other areas, panelists will discuss the tech strategies, content, training and support models behind them, and what we are learning from evaluations of these efforts. We will highlight well-established and cutting-edge initiatives alike, and approaches that can be adapted to new regions.

  • Liz keith, Pro Bono Net, Program Director, State and National Justice Communities
  • Rodrigo Camarena, Immigration Advocates Network, Director
  • Brooke Doyle, WebJunction, Senior Project Coordinator
  • Julie Matthews, CLEO (Community Legal Education Ontario), Executive Director

Wednesday, January 19th

3:30pm-4:30pm

A Justice Collaborative: How Seven Organizations Responded to the COVID-19 Eviction Crisis

The COVID-19 global pandemic has exacerbated the eviction crisis that advocates, tenants and community organizers around the U.S. know too well. In June 2021, the CDC announced that it would not extend the eviction moratorium, and many legal services organizations across the country are now facing unprecedented eviction litigation. This session will delve into the journey to create TenantHelpNY.org, an online solution that connects tenants with legal resources and pro bono attorneys. Presenters will share the challenges they overcame and insights gained that informed the new site and will describe the initiative and its current uses. This session is open to anyone interested in learning about innovative digital strategies to respond to the eviction crisis.

  • Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz, Pro Bono Net, Pro Bono & Strategic Initiatives Manager
  • Christine McMenamin, Erie County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project, Inc., Senior Housing Staff Attorney
  • Christopher Oldi, Legal Services of the Hudson Valley, Pro Bono Director
  • Veronica Dunlap, Pro Bono Net, Director, New York Programs

Superstorm Sandy was the deadliest hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic Hurricane season, causing $70 Billion in damage and 233 fatalities over the span of eight countries from the Caribbean to continental North America.¹ A snapshot of the hurricane as a Category 2 would later deem it to be the largest hurricane on record, registering a diameter of 1,150 miles of storm force winds.² Superstorm Sandy, as it became colloquially called, registers as the fourth costliest hurricane of all time according to the National Hurricane Center.³ Now, almost ten years later, history has seemed to repeat itself in the form of Hurricane Ida. Hurricane Ida also sports a fourth place finish on the National Hurricane Center database in terms of most costliest hurricanes, and with a similar spectrum of damage, comes a similar spectrum of economic and residential problems.

Hurricane Ida made landfall on the continental US in Louisiana from August 26, 2021 through September 3, 2021 and subsequently made history as one of the deadliest hurricanes ever to hit the Eastern Coast. Spawning infrastructure and residential damage in the region of billions of dollars, the hurricane also made headlines as experts worried whether the consequences of the superstorm would exacerbate the struggles of regions already bowing under the weight of the rampant COVID-19 pandemic.⁴ However, the longest lasting effects of Hurricane Ida comes in the form of loss of residential properties and lack of electrical power. While some communities dealt with a lack of power well into the September and October months, the truth remains that while there are those who had homes to return to, there remains a staggering amount of families now displaced residentially as a result of extensive home damage.

Common Legal Issues that Arise in the Aftermath of Disasters

And for many that have found themselves displaced residentially, the lack of housing is just one of various problems spawned in the wake of disaster. Families without homes can experience any assortment of short to long term unforeseen consequences. The short term can be regarding housing and document replacement needs (e.g. social security cards, birth certificates, and other essentials for document replacement, and insurance claims and utility shut offs with regards to housing problems), for example. 

However, the more medium and long term issues include significant quality of life setbacks such as section 8 housing applications, contractor scams, disaster relief applications and insurance disputes. For a more complete list of possible short, medium, and long term setbacks in the wake of natural disaster, please follow this link.

Helpful Resources

With countless tenants now displaced and/or seeking retribution in aid for damages, there are resources that can help in such precarious circumstances. A natural first inclination is to check with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, commonly known as FEMA, in hopes that it will offer assistance to those that have suffered damaged or destroyed homes in the wake of Hurricane Ida. For those who have already applied for FEMA assistance, more information can still yet be found at fema.gov/disaster/hurricane-ida

The Figuring Out FEMA pocket guide also offers helpful guidance. The resource, which can be found here, breaks down the process of enrolling in FEMA’s Individual Assistance program. It also explains how to appeal FEMA’s decision if a survivor is denied aid or needs more assistance.  In New York, the deadline to apply for FEMA assistance is now Tuesday, January 4, 2022. For Orange county residents, the deadline is January 31, 2022. Low-income New Yorkers seeking free legal assistance related to Hurricane Ida can call the disaster legal services hotline at 1-888-399-5459 or apply online here. LawHelpNY, a program of Pro Bono Net, also offers extensive legal help and advice in many arenas including, but not limited to, Money and Taxes, Immigration, and Public Benefits. The LawHelpNY Hurricane Ida Information Center can aid in crafting a plan of action where it intersects with a survivor’s needs, including an interactive tool to create an appeal letter to FEMA, which survivors can do on their own.

Those affected by Hurricane Ida in other states are encouraged to check FEMA’s website for registration deadlines. For those who have not applied for FEMA related assistance and/or have had a claim denied or accepted but given less money than needed, there are still other opportunities for recourse. Hurricane Ida affected multiple states in the wake of its destruction including Louisiana and multiple states in the Northeast. Those impacted by Hurricane Ida in Louisiana can turn to https://louisianalawhelp.org/issues/disaster-relief for legal help information and resources. In addition, for those affected in Pennsylvania, guidance can also be found at the Pennsylvania Law Help site. 

On the other hand, for those affected by other major disasters, the National Disaster Legal Aid site, also powered by Pro Bono Net, lends a helping hand. The Disaster Legal Aid site is armed with a litany of resources, related to FEMA, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and legal aid access organizations based nationally and locally, that are useful in fighting for the rights one deserves in the wake of their lost livelihoods. 


Tre Dennis-Brown is the 2021-22 AmeriCorps Vista Fellow at Pro Bono Net. Tre received a Bachelor’s of Arts in Government, with a concentration in Political Theory, from Wesleyan University in 2019. He has previously worked as a Real Estate Junior Paralegal at Greenberg, Glusker, Fields, Claman, Machtinger. Economic equity is a long-time passion of Treshauxn’s, and he is now excited to be addressing justice gaps in legal deserts.

¹https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/DPM-05-2014-0082/full/html

²https://forms2.rms.com/rs/729-DJX-565/images/tc_2013_rms_modeling_sandy_storm_surge.pdf

³https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/news/UpdatedCostliest.pdfhttps://www.forbes.com/sites/alisondurkee/2021/08/29/hurricane-ida-could-make-louisianas-covid-19-outbreak-much-much-worse-fauci-says/?sh=1a10ee1e5649

Pro Bono Net‘s Program Director, Liz Keith, and Pro Bono & Strategic Initiatives Manager, Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz, share takeaways from remote legal help during the pandemic in the American Bar Association’s Law Practice Today Pro Bono Issue. Topics addressed include:

  • Remote Pro Bono Works
  • Design for wraparound services and workflows
  • Connecting with Intention and Care
  • Attorneys Don’t Have to be Tech Pros to do Remote Pro Bono
  • The Future is Now

This article highlights several Pro Bono Net programs: Remote Legal Connect, a multi-state platform that enables legal services organizations to rapidly build and manage remote pro bono programs; Citizenshipworks, a project of Immigration Advocates Network where individuals can learn about their eligibility, complete the naturalization application, and obtain an in-person or remote legal review of their completed application from a trusted nonprofit partner; and other impactful models and resources from the pro bono field.

You can read the full article here: Technology, Pro Bono, & COVID-19: Five Takeaways from Remote Legal Help During the Pandemic.  

Pro Bono Net, in partnership with Alston & Bird, announced today that a new resource is available for individuals applying to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Program.

The online resource includes general information about the COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Program and Frequently Asked Questions about how to appeal FEMA’s determination if an applicant has been denied financial assistance or awarded an amount that’s not enough to cover funeral expenses. 

Earlier this year, FEMA created the program to help individuals pay funeral costs for COVID-19-related deaths. Then Acting FEMA Administrator Bob Fenton said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense grief for so many people. Although we cannot change what has happened, we affirm our commitment to help with funeral and burial expenses that many families did not anticipate.” A few weeks after its announcement, the federal agency began accepting applications by phone. FEMA reported that its call center had received over one million calls the first day it opened. 

“It has been an incredibly meaningful endeavor for the firm to help ease the burden of seeking tangible aid for these families,” said Cheryl Naja, Director of Pro Bono & Community Service at Alston & Bird.  “We know it doesn’t alleviate the pain of losing a loved one, but hope this work will provide relief from the overwhelming experience of managing agency applications and appeals.” 

“Over half a million individuals in the U.S. have lost their lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz, Pro Bono & Strategic Initiatives Manager at Pro Bono Net. “Families and loved ones who have incurred in funeral expenses have a right to understand FEMA’s decision on assistance and also a right to appeal the agency’s determination. We are proud to partner with Alston & Bird to develop this timely resource for individuals and families affected by the pandemic.” FEMA’s latest breakdown on the COVID-19 Funeral Assistance program shows that over 300,000 individuals across the United States have already applied to the program. The agency also reported that it has provided over $1.2 billion to over 196,000 people. 

The Frequently Asked Questions, which cover the appeals process and FEMA’s interim policy updates to help applicants understand their rights, are available at: 

Pro Bono Net extends our appreciation to Miriam Archibong, Jessica García Keenum, and Cheryl Naja at Alston & Bird for their time and contributions to this resource. 

To learn more about Pro Bono Net’s disaster response efforts, visit https://www.probono.net/our-work/initiatives/disaster/ or contact Pro Bono Net’s Pro Bono & Strategic Initiatives Manager, Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz at jortiz@probono.net.

The New York State Bar Association President’s Committee on Access to Justice recently requested testimony from public interest legal services organizations, law firms, solo- practitioners and other providers of legal services to New York’s low-income communities. Areas of focus included developments since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic regarding access to justice in relation to family court, immigration proceedings, housing court/landlord-tenant proceedings, criminal justice, social security proceedings, state benefit proceedings, the efficacy and equitability of remote proceedings, and the factor that race plays throughout these considerations.

Our New York Programs Director, Veronica Dunlap, provided testimony on behalf of Pro Bono Net. Veronica’s testimony was part of the virtual forum held by the Task Force on the Post-Pandemic Future, with a focus on the vital importance of continued online remote legal services post-COVID. 

Pro Bono Net is a national nonprofit dedicated to increasing access to justice for low-to-moderate income individuals, families, and communities. For over 20 years, we have provided innovative technology solutions and expertise in building and mobilizing justice networks to transform the way legal help reaches those in need. Pro Bono Net’s New York programs – including LawHelp New York, TenantHelp New York, the New York Crime Victims Legal Help, LawHelp Interactive, Closing the Gap, Family Legal Connection, and Citizenshipworks – enable legal service providers to maximize their impact, increase pro bono involvement, and empower the public by providing legal assistance and information, including resources for unrepresented litigants. At Pro Bono Net, we believe that everyone navigating the civil justice system should understand their legal rights, responsibilities, and what to expect from the legal procedures that they are a part of, even when they can’t access or afford an attorney.

For more information, you can read Veronica Dunlap’s full testimony

Listen to the Immigration Advocate’s Network new podcast, “A Conversation with UndocuBlack Network on the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act (LRIF).” AmeriCorps VISTA Treshauxn Dennis Brown interviews Breanne Palmer, the Interim Policy & Advocacy Director at the UndocuBlack Network and Yatta Kiazolu, the Communications Assistant at African Communities Together. The conversation combines policy questions, personal experiences, and pro bono opportunities concerning the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act (LRIF). The deadline to apply for LRIF is December 20, 2021.

The Immigration Advocates Network (IAN), a program of Pro Bono Net, has won The Workers Lab 2021 Innovation Fund award for ¡Reclamo! – a digital tool to combat wage theft. ¡Reclamo! was developed in partnership with workplace justice advocates from Make the Road New York and is designed to help workers and non-lawyer advocates navigate the complexities of employment law, safely, in plain language, and from any mobile phone. 

Winners of this prestigious award were selected from a diverse pool of nearly 400 applicants from across the country with ideas at all stages of development and from all types of organizations. 

“¡Reclamo! was designed to reduce the prevalence of wage theft in America by leveraging the power of data and organizing to take on wage violations at scale. Support from The Worker’s Lab Innovation Fund will enable us to add and train additional partners and launch a campaign targeting the high-violation construction industry in New York State” – said Rodrigo Camarena, Director of the Immigration Advocates Network

“The Workers Lab is excited to have ¡Reclamo! as one of our 2021 Innovation Fund winners. Their worker-informed digital tool is combating wage theft head-on while making it easier for workers to independently identify their risk and start the process to recover wages. We applaud this innovation and look forward to seeing their impact grow in the service of workers.” – Jeshua John, Program Manager, The Workers Lab

Other 2021 Innovation Fund winners include Los Deliveristas Unidos, Let’s Get Set, the Sex Worker Liberation Project, Solidarity Tech, and United for Respect Education Fund’s WorkIt Platform. 

About ¡Reclamo!

¡Reclamo! is a tool from the Immigration Advocates Network designed to help workers and organizers easily identify and tackle wage theft by automating the data collection process and facilitating access to legal support. This innovation builds worker power by allowing workers to independently identify their risk of wage theft, initiate the wage recovery process, identify opportunities for organizing, and use data to uncover patterns among employers throughout New York state and beyond. ¡Reclamo! was developed with support from the New York Community Trust and the Open Society Foundations. Other supporters include the 21st Century ILGWU Heritage Fund. 

About the Immigration Advocates Network

The Immigration Advocates Network (IAN), a program of Pro Bono Net (PBN), is a nonprofit leader in developing technology solutions to increase access to justice for immigrants and strengthen the capacity of advocates and organizations serving them. For over ten years, we’ve worked hand in hand with partners in the immigrants’ rights movement to bring new tools and resources to the field. Our team of designers, strategists, and attorneys work with leading immigrant advocacy organizations to help them bridge the digital divide, launch new campaigns, and bring the tools of justice to hard to reach communities. Whether it’s by supporting Legal Permanent Residents with naturalization, helping undocumented communities know their rights, preparing the community and advocates for immigration reform, or facilitating access to legal assistance nationwide, IAN works to take on big problems and bring new technology and resources to where they’re needed the most.


Press Contact: Rodrigo Camarena, rcamarena@immigrationadvocates.org

As another Veteran’s Day comes to pass, it’s worth considering the long history of immigrants serving in the US military. Immigrants made up 18% of draftees during WWI, which was a time of peak migration to the United States,¹ and there were 300,000 foreign born members of the US military that served during WWII.² During WWII, the need for soldiers was so great that even the proof of lawful entry requirement was lifted for a time for foreign born soldiers seeking US citizenship.

You probably know that today, an immigrant can’t serve in the US military without LPR status or a “green card,”³ but even a green card holding veteran can end up on the wrong side of the US immigration system. Immigrant veterans can still face deportation for committing crimes, even lower class, nonviolent ones such as drug offenses. Drugs, alcohol, and mental health struggles come up frequently in the stories of deported veterans, who often trace their deportation-related offense back to PTSD acquired while serving. While any active duty military member is at increased risk of developing PTSD,⁴ immigrant veterans are uniquely vulnerable to outsize consequences when dealing with the fallout of trauma. 

The Biden administration has announced plans to review veteran deportations that occurred during the Trump administration, but many advocates wonder what material changes this will bring, as well as pointing out that the unfair deportation of veterans started well before President Trump took office.⁵⁶

As we honor those who have served our country this Veteran’s Day, we should also take a moment to  reflect on the many immigrants who courageously served alongside their US born comrades in fighting for our freedoms.     

If you’re interested in doing pro bono work to help veterans, you can check out volunteer opportunities available through the Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program.

To find cases from active duty servicemembers that need legal representation, visit the Military Pro Bono Project website.

If you are feeling inspired by this message of support for immigrant veterans, please visit the Veterans for Peace Deported Veterans Advocacy Project donation page.


This blog post was written by Dina Knott, an Americorps VISTA member currently serving with Immigration Advocates Network (IAN) as Volunteer and Community Education Project Coordinator. So far, she has enjoyed working on finding and selecting resources to keep IAN’s nonprofit library up to date and updating the IAN Legal Directory, which lists free and low cost legal service providers.

References:

¹https://www.uscis.gov/about-us/our-history/history-office-and-library/featured-stories-from-the-uscis-history-office-and-library/the-immigrant-army-immigrant-service-members-in-world-war-i

²https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/new-citizen-soldiers-naturalization

³https://www.usa.gov/join-military

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25793582

https://www.washingtonpost.com/immigration/biden-deported-veterans-return/2021/07/02/a557285e-db63-11eb-9bbb-37c30dcf9363_story.html

https://theconversation.com/deported-veterans-stranded-far-from-home-after-years-of-military-service-press-biden-to-bring-them-back-154320

In September, the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) and the  Hague Institute for Innovation of Law (HIIL) released their long-awaited report, Justice Needs and Satisfaction in the United States of America. This nationwide study engaged over 10,000 people across the U.S. to determine justice needs, people’s perceptions of justice information, and how people are interacting with the justice system. 

We at Pro Bono Net believe this study is very valuable to our partners and all legal non-profits across the U.S. We have distilled some of the most important takeaways for organizations that provide legal services and information online. A full copy of the report can be found here and an interactive dashboard can be found here

Disclaimer:

While IAALS and HIIL interviewed over 10,000 people for this report, their participants skewed toward mostly white, upper-middle class, and suburban individuals. (While the report indicates the survey was available in English and Spanish, it also does not provide a breakdown of responses by language.) Although this set of participants admittedly is not truly representative of all people experiencing legal problems, we still believe the data from this study can be instructive on how we and our partners think about presenting legal information online. 

Takeaways:

Our four key takeaways from the IAALS / HIIL report are:

  1. The internet is the main source of legal information for people with legal needs, and most people only use one source for legal information. This makes it very important that the content people see on legal information sites is current and well-thought-out, because it is likely that it is the only source they view. 
  2. Search presence is vitally important for legal information sites. This means paying attention not just to the keywords and rankings for sites and pages, but to other ways a legal aid organization could appear in search as well, such as Google Maps and Google My Business. 
  3. Facebook is the dominant social network platform for legal information seekers. Organizations should think about how to leverage Facebook profiles and content to engage with information seekers. 
  4. Content readability and trustworthiness are vitally important to educating users and keeping them engaged. Using plain language and making sure that resources are easy to understand and well organized are key to user engagement. 

Read below for more context and information on each takeaway. 

The internet is where most people are looking for and engaging with legal information

The highest used source of legal information was the internet (31%), followed by lawyers (29%), family members (25%), and friends (20%). IAALS Report, pg. 161. 

Over half of people said that they only used one source of legal information, while only 20% of people said they used two sources, and 12% said that they used three sources. This means that people looking for legal information on a website are likely to use that as their only source of information. In 2020, Pro Bono Net’s 20-state network of LawHelp legal information websites had record usage – more than 10 million visits – and in 85% of visits, people viewed a legal rights resource. The most heavily trafficked resources often involved issues where access to legal help was severely limited for people already facing financial hardship  – issues navigating the unemployment compensation process, applying for SNAP, and addressing eviction and housing stability issues. 

The Importance of Search:

When people were asked about where on the internet they looked for legal information, search engines were the heavy favorite (73%), followed by specific websites (62%). IAALS Report, pg. 166. Online forums and social media collectively made up only 28%. Our takeaway from this is that search presence is crucially important for websites delivering legal information. Pro Bono Net’s LawHelp sites have consistently performed well in Google search rankings for many topics, and as part of the LawHelp upgrade we are adding in full Schema.org support to create rich search results. This will make content on LawHelp sites more discoverable by search engines by providing Google and other search engines more “clues” about the content of key pages.

There are different aspects for search appearance as well, including Google’s My Business features. Notably, the Google maps listing includes a “Questions & answers” section where users can post questions that are answerable by anyone. If your organization has physical locations that can be found with Google Maps, we recommend creating a Google My Business listing in order to take control of the information displayed, and to regularly check on the Question & Answer section of your listing. 

Social Media:

When asked about looking for legal information on social media, an overwhelming number of people said they used Facebook (78%) when compared to other social media platforms. IAALS Report, pg. 167.

If your organization has a social media presence, we recommend focusing efforts on Facebook over other platforms. Data show that the most common social media platform referrer to LawHelp sites is Facebook by a huge margin (98%), and on average users from Facebook view 2.22 pages. For sites on the Pro Bono Net platform, 72% of social referrals are from Facebook. 

What makes information valuable?

When asked to pick the three most valuable characteristics of legal advice or information, survey participants said that trustworthiness, ease of understanding, and being targeted to their situation were the most valuable. Interestingly, characteristics related to the method of delivery were some of the lowest ranking, with ‘one-on-one help’ and ‘available online’ being the two lowest-ranked characteristics above ‘other.’ IAALS Report, pg. 173.

This information echoes what we at Pro Bono Net have heard in user testing and content development: users want to see information in a context that signals its trustworthiness. In other words, if someone is looking at a website they want to feel they can trust the information on that website. 

Unfortunately, the survey did not go on to ask participants what made information trustworthy, however, based on our experience, it involves the following factors: 

  • Website appearance – also thought of as the ‘storefront’ idea, this concept means that website visitors pick up on visual cues like design, listed dates, and things that appear out of place, in order to gauge credibility. 
  • Currentness of content – if a website’s content appears to be current, with current dates or addressing current topics, this lends it credibility in the eyes of visitors. 
  • Appearance of authority – this can come from both the organizations listed on a website and from the overall appearance of the site’s design and layout. 

One of the biggest goals for the LawHelp Design Refresh, which includes refreshed color palettes and a full site redesign, is to give LawHelp sites a more modern and contemporary look and feel, that matches not only what users expect to see, but also how users expect to navigate websites today as well. Visit LouisianaLawHelp.org for an example of a site with this new treatment. We believe this will increase perceived trustworthiness, as well as accessibility. We want LawHelp sites to showcase the content that our community works so hard to provide, and to offer a positive, calming experience for users facing stressful legal situations.  

Ease of understanding was the next most important factor. This means that using plain language and breaking up legal concepts into easy to understand pieces are essential in creating a valuable online resource. We know some of our partners strive for a 6th grade reading level for all of their Know Your Rights resources. Even though content may come to LawHelp or Pro Bono sites from external partners, we encourage all LawHelp Content Coordinators to have a plain language review phase planned and agreed upon upfront with any partnering authors.

Takeaways:

As we noted at the beginning of this post, the four key takeaways are: 

  1. The internet is the main source of legal information for people with legal needs, and most people only use one source for legal information. This makes it very important that the content people see on legal information sites is current and well-thought-out, because it is likely that it is the only source they view. 
  2. Search is vitally important for legal information sites. This means paying attention not just to the keywords and rankings for sites and pages, but to other ways a legal aid could appear in search as well, such as Google Maps and Google My Business. 
  3. Facebook is the dominant social network platform for legal information seekers. Organizations should think about how to leverage Facebook profiles and content to engage with information seekers. 
  4. Content readability and trustworthiness are vitally important to educating users and keeping them on the site. Using plain language and making sure that resources are easy to understand and well organized is key to user engagement. 

Did the report spark additional takeaways for you? Have questions or need help putting these suggestions into practice? We welcome your feedback! Don’t hesitate to contact us.