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

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

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

National Pro Bono Opportunities Guide

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

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

Remote Legal Connect Platform

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

LawHelp Interactive

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

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

Pro Bono Manager

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

Immigration Advocates Network

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

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

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

Emergency Response & Recovery 

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

For more more information about Pro Bono Net’s programs and initiatives, visit our website at:

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

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

FEMA COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Program

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

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

FEMA’s Ongoing Response to Climate-Driven Disasters

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

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

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

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

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

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

Family Offense Petition Program / Training 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In September 2021, FEMA updated its disaster assistance application.

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

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

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

To access the interview, you can visit To learn more about Disability Rights Texas, visit To learn more about Pro Bono Net’s disaster recovery efforts, visit For any questions or comments about the program, please contact Pro Bono Net’s Pro Bono & Strategic Initiatives Manager, Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz at

This blog post was originally created and published by UniCourt on their blog. Thank you to UniCourt for granting us permission to repost. You can find the original blog post, here: 

Claudia Johnson is an inspiring example of how taking calculated risks and setting audacious goals can lead to a fulfilling life and an impactful career. When she eventually landed in the United States after living in several different countries, Claudia committed her career to serving the neediest legal consumers, working hard to devise tech solutions that scale lawyers’ services and allow them to reach exponentially more people than one-to-one legal services ever could.

We loved talking with Claudia about her dynamic career, inspiring backstory, and big dreams for the changes she hopes to make in the legal industry. We hope you enjoy our interview as much as we did!

UniCourt: Tell us your story. What is your background, and what led you to what you are doing now?

Claudia Johnson: I have lived a wonderful, non-linear life. In total, I’ve lived in 5 countries and 17 cities. Right now, I live in Columbia, Maryland, and Eastern Washington. I grew up in El Salvador, and when the civil war drowned our country, my family moved out. We moved to San Juan, Puerto Rico. In El Salvador, I grew up speaking German, Spanish, and English in that order—I benefited from a German school education, which taught me discipline and independent thinking. When I got to Puerto Rico, I was enrolled in a Catholic school, and that was quite a change. That, added with the fact that we went from well-to-do with social status and privilege to poor, and then immigrants on top of that, made that transition hard and  painful, but it was really good to see the world from a different vantage point.

We were discriminated against for our accent, hair, and features, and for being “extranjeros” (foreigners) and poor. That was hard. But without all those experiences of going from privilege and social standing to nothing and being the butt of jokes, I would not be who I am today. I am thankful for the risks and opportunities my parents took to keep us together and safe, and for the opportunities and new perspectives we encountered and learned from.

In Puerto Rico, we were able to go out at night, to read any book, and there was even political comedy on TV. In El Salvador, there was no 1st Amendment and we were under martial law. The awareness and realization that free speech and freedom of thought and association existed in the US, and was protected by law, was sweet and beautiful. I was so thankful to experience that for the first time in my life. No fear, no fear of thinking, reading, or speaking. It was worth losing everything to gain that kind of freedom.

From high school, I went to UC Berkeley to study nuclear engineering. When I got to Berkeley, I felt I had found my place. I loved the intellectual curiosity and drive of my peers, the diversity, the ability to have access to all kinds of books and journals, the library, etc. Being the only Latina to enroll as a freshman in nuclear engineering was hard for the department. They felt awkward around me—to them I was a novelty. I felt a distance and a lot of stares when I was in the College of Engineering. I had no idea what was going on and did not pay much attention to that. In my second year, I decided to transfer to another department so I could pursue a more self-directed area of study. I switched to Ethnic Studies/Chicano Studies, and focused on health care systems.

I ended up winning an Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship, and I had the pleasure of spending two summers at policy schools, one at Carnegie and the other one at Harvard. I went on to get an MPP/MPH from UC Berkeley Goldman and the School of Public Health.

I then worked with the US Senate doing policy analysis on Medicare payment policy. That was a great experience for me and I learned how policy is made from the ground up. I saw my work published in the Federal Register. I also  learned to work  with huge databases and do analysis that continues to be policy in action.

While doing policy analysis, I decided to go to law school. I wanted to know the outcomes of my work faster and more directly. With policy, there is a 3-10 year period before you really find out if something worked or not. In law, you know right away, and your relationship with your clients is direct and they can give you input right away.  So I went to the best law school I got into, Penn Law in Philadelphia.

I loved Penn and Philly. I felt right at home and felt so lucky to commit myself full time to the study of American Law. It was the first time in my life I did not work while in school—I had put myself through all my prior education, including washing dishes when my English was blossoming in my first year of college. After working almost full time through graduate school,  being able to be 100% focused on studying at Penn was an incredible privilege and I resolved to make the most of it. Penn did not disappoint—and I had the chance to surround myself with hard working and extremely bright minds. I loved learning the law this way.

Eventually I decided to apply for competitive postgraduate school fellowships, and I joined the prestigious Skadden Fellowship, Class of 97. I worked on Medicaid’s implementation of HMOs in Pennsylvania and learned a lot at the Pennsylvania Health Law Project. When my fellowship ended in 1999, I went to Community Legal Services to work on public benefits, and I was lucky to work with Cathy Carr in creating the LAL Language Access Project, which became a model project for the country. We worked on using Title VI of the Civil Rights Act as an advocacy tool. In 1999, I was able to see the City of Philadelphia require that all agencies track the needs of Limited English Proficient communities and services provided. By 1999, we had already formed the National Language Advocacy Network to advocate for accommodations under Title VI of the Civil Rights act of 1964. NLAAN is a network of lawyer working together to end national origin discrimination and is still active and making huge strides.

My husband by then had moved from the University of Chicago back to the San Francisco Bay Area to work the dot com period with So being far away (Philadelphia/Emeryville) — along with the long hours on both ends—made it hard to be long distance, so I moved to the Bay Area, where we had met and lived 6 years before. It was going back home.

I joined the Bar Association of San Francisco, and worked with their Volunteer Legal Services Program, training and recruiting pro bono family law, eviction, and consumer lawyers. My focus was on evictions and preserving affordable housing units. In that process, with San Mateo Legal Aid and the Homeless Advocacy Project we started the “Lawyer of the Day” project. We brought pro bono lawyers to help do the settlement conferences.

At first, the lawyer bar was not happy, but we did provide pro bono landlord counsel also, and over time the outcomes of the representation were positive. The project lasted almost 20 years and was replicated in other states. It only ended because San Francisco created civil guideon for evictions in the early 2000s, basically expanding the project to the full city, not just those who qualified for pro bono services.

After VLSP, the opportunity came to work with Ramon Arias at Bay Area Legal Aid to centralize the intake and case acceptance guidelines for Bay Area. In effect, it required taking 7 different organization practices and merging them into one. A full description of that project for its 20 year anniversary can be found here.

When my husband joined Bridgewater Associates in Connecticut, we moved back to the East Coast, now to Westport, Connecticut. I joined Pro Bono Net to work on beginning an online form project. I was a circuit rider and focused on partnerships with courts and legal aid to use forms. It was 2008, the country was in a major recession, and the self-represented population in courts was finally being acknowledged. I was able to promote and have LHI forms adopted and used as a solution for SRLs in 25 states by 2010.

In 2008, when I started, people did not trust forms or technology as a tool that those without  lawyers could use. By 2014, we had 40 states using online forms through LHI. Online forms became a go-to tool to end and close the Justice Gap.

Part of doing online forms requires making the last mile to court filing easy. In 2012, we did the first XML to XML efiling project in Minnesota—a project solely focused on SRLs. This had never been done before. Out of that project, we wrote this guide that still brings a lot of value to those planning or starting on efiling for those without lawyers, a majority in dockets of limited jurisdiction. We continue to do efiling with partner courts, always focusing on the needs of the person without  a lawyer, to lower the barriers to justice.

UC: What is Pro Bono Net? What is its mission?

CJ: Pro Bono Net is a national nonprofit founded in 1999, based in New York, with offices in San Francisco, that looks to increase access to justice. Through innovative technology solutions and expertise, it builds and mobilizes social justice networks. It has multiple product lines, and LawHelp Interactive is one of them. The company has been and was one of the first groups that brought the power of the internet when it was starting to pro bono services and civil legal aid.

LawHelp Interactive is a platform and a training and best practice engine. In LHI we bring together a HotDocs document assembly software owned by AbacusNext, as well as A2J Author 6 owned by CALI at Chicago Kent. We maintain a robust, secure technical platform that has over 1 Million visitors per year and creates more than 700,000 free legal documents a year.

UC: What are some of your top pieces of advice for future lawyers heading into law school and practicing lawyers who want to get involved in helping close the access to justice gap?

CJ: 1. Be curious. Read a lot—and read in areas where you don’t necessarily have exposure, like outside of law, outside of your community/history/background. Ask questions. Be engaged.

2. Be humble. Even though law is an excellent education and gives you great analytical tools, be humble. In your teams you will have people with backgrounds in other fields. Learn from them. Don’t assume you know everything. Listen. Be kind to your co-workers. Include others and give them credit. Often, the work of women and people of color is not recognized, or is minimized—don’t be that person. Be inclusive. Be an ally. Lift up.

If you look at my path, I pursued what interested me and I feel very happy about my career and the impact I have had in the past 25 years. And I am excited about what else we can do to make our great country better. Being open to change and opportunity is hard for those of us who want to plan out a career. Be ok if plans change. In that change there will be a great opportunity.

UC: What role does automation play in improving access to justice? How can document automation in particular make interacting with the courts much easier for consumers and pro se litigants?

CJ: We will never be able to serve everyone who needs legal help one-on-one, not now, and not while civil litigation is on the rise, with consumer, eviction, and family law cases on the rise.

We will not meet the need to have one lawyer for one client in the US—not at current funding levels and not with the current federal restrictions to civil legal aid. No amount of pro bono hours can meet that need, either.  Pro bono hours help, but the need for 47 million low income people facing 5 or more legal problems a year needs more than volunteers and funding.

In my heart, I believe technology is the one tool that can help us start bringing scalable solutions to a big problem of national importance. With technology we leverage expertise and move to enterprise legal services. I am inspired by the work of Richard Granat who has been a pioneer. But technology alone is also not enough. You need practitioners who have handled the cases and know the communities that are not empowered in the legal system. They need to be part of the teams creating the tools. You can’t build tech tools without experience, compassion, and kindness.

Online forms can handle a lot of complexity—and they don’t replace the judgement of a lawyer. So they are great tools to help a lot of people in need, efficiently and effectively. Instead of having a 1:1 lawyer to client relationship, you can scale up. And you can have new skills in your team, so you can support enterprise models like 2 lawyers, 3 paralegals and 1400 people helped, with 200 represented in contested cases. In our system, some forms are used over 100,000 per year. That is an outstanding investment. A non tech supported project would never do that.

Instead of spending 4 hours doing a complex pleading for divorce, you can have your clerk or paralegal spend 30-45 minutes, and then you can review in 10—because everything is standard.

And hundreds of thousands of people can use your forms, 24/7, on weekends, and be empowered to be part of the solution to their legal problem.

As a person alone with a legal problem, you can create your own document, letter, or pleading and you know it is complete. It is typed, you don’t have to worry about missing a section, and you can spend more time getting ready for court, getting organized, and getting support as you move through the case. For the courts—they can issue better orders, with more complete and legible forms, and the litigant can be more present because the form contains guidance and support.

Forms let you serve 10,000 people or more with one form that can handle multiple factual scenarios. In this access to justice crisis, the best  things to do are:

1) simplify the process

2) put it in plain language and then put a form on- it

3) work in partnership with courts,  advocates, and nonprofits that work with those areas of need (housing, child support, credit collection, benefits, etc.)

That is the LawHelp Interactive model: free online forms for end-users, always centered in partnership and the belief that a person has the right to clearly present their petition and raise their concerns directly to a decision making forum.

UC: Why are technology integrations important for legal aid organizations? How can they streamline providing legal services and help break down traditional data silos?

CJ: More and more, you can’t practice legal nonprofit civil law, in fact any type of law, without understanding technology and using technology. If you are a person coming into law to not have to understand technology, you need to reconsider your profession. Tech and law go together hand-in-hand. We can’t put the genie back into the bottle. So now, we have to understand tech, maximize it, and use it in the best interest of our clients and to fulfill our missions.

From case management, to training your interns and new hires, to work process, technology is now embedded or should be in your practice. With 1.7 lawyers per 10,000 people in need, if your mission is to serve those in need, technology is a must. Otherwise, to not use it to make your services scalable and high quality, it is unethical and inefficient.

The new “Standards for the Provision of Civil Legal Aid” by the ABA SCLAID elevate technology and empower legal aid boards, executive directors, and staff to become friends with technology, to do their due diligence, to protect their client’s data and privacy, and to use it to be more efficient and effective. I was honored to be part of the tech drafting group. I think they are a big step forward and offer timely guidance as we grapple with the move to tech. 

One caveat, because unfortunately I see a lot of courts and nonprofits using tools that rely on machine translation to in theory close language gaps, using machine translation alone is not the answer. If you are going to use machine translation to close the language gap with your clients and communities, please use a professional translator to review the end product. It will save your trust with the community and your brand. If you are going to care about accurate meaningful communication, do it right. Otherwise you are putting your brand and credibility at risk.

UC: Who (and what) are some of your favorite resources for learning more about what’s happening in the access to justice space?

CJ: I value so many people, and I follow


@winkiepp n and her podcast Reimagine Justice



@ATJTechFellows (I sit on their Board of Advisors)

@eLizk (we have worked together for years)

@mhpob (same)

@laloalcaraz for some great Chicano cartoons and humor

And so many more. I tweet under @C2AJ as a personal project on things that interest me.

And so many others. I also read the Management Innovation Exchange Work and Journal. I serve as a reviewer for the National Center for State Courts Future Trends in State Courts, so I read the journal when published once a year. And I follow the Access to Justice Fellowship and the fellows and alumni as I sit on their Board of Advisors. I really believe in the idea of diversifying the pool of lawyers and law graduates using and developing technology for civil services.

I also read and follow all the blogs and interviews that the Future of the Profession Initiative shares and posts. I am honored to be one of six Penn alums serving in an advisory capacity. 

In terms of researchers, I am a fan of the work that Victor David Quintanilla is doing from the Maurer School of Law on issues around SRL bias and documenting how judges perceive litigants without lawyers by gender and some of his other work. 

There is no shortage of really talented and experienced people doing amazing work.

UC: What are some of your favorite sayings? Do you have any real-world examples of how you’ve seen those sayings come to life?

CJ: “Tiempo perdido hasta los angeles lo lloran”—even angels cry over lost time. To me this is a reminder to be intentional about everything I do. Life is short, so make it real, now, fun, and do what makes it meaningful to you.

“The only constant in life is change”—Heraclitus. Change is scary for everyone. But in change there is great opportunity to learn—and everything is changing—no matter how we try to frame things as constant and linear. So embrace change, learn, grow, and adapt. Once you learn how to slow down to observe change and then speed up to embrace it, it can be so amazing where that takes you. Learning how to use time to your advantage in times of change is a very fun thing to master.

UC: What are your goals for the rest of the year? What projects are you working on? Are there any events in the legal tech and legal innovation space we should know about?

CJ: In the realm of online forms in the nonprofit sector here at LawHelp Interactive—we continue to work on efiling integrations—and we are about to go live with e-filing eviction answers in Southern California. In addition, we continue to e-file domestic violence petitions in New York,  partnering with nonprofits across the state, and that project keeps growing. We now have partnerships with 5 state courts and that is something we hope we can continue to expand.  We are now supporting Medical Legal Partnerships groups using LHI, and that is an area I am very interested in, since I have a public health masters, and really believe in the relationship between unmet legal needs and determinants for health and interdisciplinary approaches to meeting both types of needs.

The online forms our partners create in rural deserts continue to be a lifeline. In addition, we are working on sustainability and finding new ways to provide free forms to all who need them. Our LHI network is vast and robust and all of our partners are amazingly creative, resilient, and the forms are part of their long term strategies in delivering legal services as well as leveling the playing field for those that do not have attorneys.

This year has been busy and foundational for those of us who do tech and access to justice work. I was honored to be part of the drafting group for the ABA SCLAID Standards for Civil Legal Aid for the tech updates—not updated since 2006! That was an incredible opportunity to bring the Standards to date and update so that they reflect how technology is part of every aspect of civil legal aid nonprofits, from training, to Board support, to fundraising, to services, understanding needs, etc. These Standards will last hopefully from 5 to 10 years—and they hopefully will encourage legal civil legal aid providers to get “jiggy” with tech.

I am also getting ready to teach again at Penn Law in the Spring of 2022. The class is “Technology and Access to Justice” but with an intersectional lens. I am lucky to co-teach with Miguel Willis from the ATJ Tech Fellows. We are reviewing the course now, which we taught Spring 2021, to make it better. This course is unique in many aspects. It is taught by two people of color,  so it brings in other perspectives and from two different generational perspectives. When I graduated 25 years ago, I did not have any insight into legal tech. It did not exist. Then we created this movement with hotlines in the early 2000s and document assembly in the late 2000s with support from LSC and many other national and regional leaders, so sharing the lived history on how this field was created, where we started and how we need to move forwards is something that anchors the class. My co-instructor came into law at a different time, and has been involved in bringing legal tech skills to law students since his second year of law school—so we cover a wide perspective and that makes our class fun.

Being able to teach future law graduates from a top 5 law school how to think through law and tech and leverage it to increase access, avoid systemic biases, and recognize how to remove data and other biases that creep in through groupthink and lack of representation in design, risk evaluation and all aspects of tech creation and use, is an amazing opportunity for us and the students that join us.

UC: Where can we learn more about you and your work?

CJ: TedX Talk:


Blog Law and Technology:

A Story of Diversity and Documents: Claudia Johnson

Blog: Connecting Justice Communities—blog posts about LawHelp Interactive

Pro Bono Net’s LawHelp Interactive Provided Legal Lifeline During Covid-19

There are multiple posts here, including highlights of the NY DV efiling project, and highlights of our Partnership with DC Courts and more.

Blogs in Richard Zorza’s Access to Justice Blog: example:

Leveraging Technology to Provide Legal Services at Scale

As Claudia points out, it is worth losing almost everything in order to gain the unprecedented freedom our country promises. By working hard to leverage tech to serve the neediest in our society, Claudia – and other legal tech pioneers – are securing that promise for more and more of those in need of legal services every day. We loved speaking with Claudia and look forward to following her career for years to come.