Practising Law Institute (PLI) is a nonprofit learning organization dedicated to keeping attorneys and other professionals at the forefront of knowledge and expertise. PLI offers pro bono training, scholarships and access to live programs, webcasts, and on-demand archived programs, as well as an extensive Pro Bono Membership program.
Pro Bono Net was lucky enough to interview Leonard McKenzie, PLI’s Scholarship/Pro Bono Privileged Membership Manager; and Janet Siegel, PLI’s Director of Pro Bono. We were able to discuss topics such as PLI’s Pro Bono Membership and its benefits, PLI’s Pro Bono Podcast, what topics are addressed in their plethora of programs, and what scholarships PLI offers and who qualifies.
Question: How would you describe PLI and the work it does?
Leonard McKenzie: We are a nonprofit educational organization with pro bono at the core of our mission. Our official description notes that we are “dedicated to keeping attorneys and other professionals at the forefront of knowledge and expertise.” We do this by offering a variety of programs and publications developed and presented by world-class faculty and experts.
Question: Can you share with us a little about your roles at PLI?
Janet Siegel: As Director of Pro Bono, I am responsible for the advancement of PLI’s pro bono initiative and am continually looking for opportunities for PLI to help the access-to-justice community. Along with the pro bono team, I carefully monitor new developments to be sure that we are meeting the needs of our pro bono customers.
Leonard McKenzie: As Scholarship/Pro Bono Privileged Membership Manager, my primary role is to oversee our scholarship program, where we grant individuals access to our content at little or no charge. I also manage our Pro Bono Membership program, which grants access to organizations at no cost.
Question: Can you tell us about what topics you feature in your programming and how you choose them? Which programs are most important in today’s climate?
Janet Siegel: Our pro bono team works to raise awareness of the great need for pro bono representation, which is especially urgent during this pandemic, and offers training to support attorneys so that they can better represent pro bono and legal services clients. We offer programs on a wide array of ongoing substantive topics of interest, including immigration, domestic violence, criminal justice, nonprofit organizations, consumer bankruptcy, housing, and veterans’ issues, as well as updates on important new legal developments relevant to the access-to-justice community.
We choose new programs by following current developments to determine what programs might be of the greatest assistance. Responding to recent events, we offered a series of web-based programs (now available on-demand) on the impact of COVID-19 on immigration, nonprofit organizations, housing, and employment, as well as best practices and ethical issues in providing remote legal services, all of which drew very large audiences. In response to the protest movement in the wake of George Floyd’s death earlier this year, we quickly organized our civil rights, diversity, and criminal justice programs so that they could be accessed easily at pli.edu/accessjustice.
Question: Can you explain what the Pro Bono Membership is at PLI? What are the benefits of being a PLI Member?
Leonard McKenzie: PLI’s Pro Bono Privileged Membership is a program we started over a decade ago, with the objective to grant IRC Section 501(c)(3) organizations access to our programs at no cost. We now have over 600 Members nationwide. Pro Bono Privileged Members receive free, unlimited access to a wide selection of live programming, including over 10,000 hours of on-demand programs, as well as our state-of-the-art Interactive Learning Center. They can earn CLE credit free of charge and manage their credits and compliance requirements using PLI’s My Credit Tracker tool. More information is available on our Pro Bono Privileged Membership site.
Question: Does PLI offer scholarships? How does that work?
Leonard McKenzie: Yes, we offer scholarships to a wide range of individuals, including law students, pro bono attorneys, attorneys experiencing a financial hardship, and government employees, just to name a few. Scholarships generally range from a 75% to 100% discount, and the process for applying is quite simple. Visit this link, complete the application form, and click “submit.” We’re proud to have a very generous scholarship program — this year alone, we have granted access to over 2,800 applicants.
Question: What topics are showcased in PLI’s Pursuing Justice: The Pro Bono Files podcast?
Janet Siegel: The purpose of the podcast is to highlight the “real world” experiences of lawyers who are doing pro bono work and to encourage other attorneys to consider pro bono representation. We have covered a variety of topics, including attorneys helping with disaster relief, helping small businesses during the pandemic, and helping veterans obtain their benefits.
Question: How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed how PLI operates?
Leonard McKenzie: I would say that the biggest change is that for the past nine months, we have not hosted any in-person programs. However, when it comes to technology, PLI has always been extremely forward thinking, and as a result we have been able to deliver our programs online in both live and on-demand formats. We also work closely with state regulators to be certain that all our programs are compliant with any changing regulations during these challenging times.
Janet Siegel: PLI has always supported the legal profession and, more broadly, the rule of law. We are proud to support the access-to-justice community, and will continue to provide the highest quality, timely training programs for both pro bono attorneys and attorneys working at nonprofit and legal services organizations so that they can better represent their clients.