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. Today, in honor of National Celebrate Pro Bono Week, we’re sharing the profile of Elizabeth Brancati, a LiveHelp volunteer with LawHelpNY. Her story below was written by Allana Benton, LawHelpNY’s Serve New York VISTA.
After nine years of being a prosecutor in New York City, Elizabeth and her family decided to leave the “Big Apple” for a small suburban town. With the move she decided to take a break from the frenetic pace of the practice of law and stay home to care for her children. The transition proved to be more difficult than anticipated—she missed working as a lawyer. Finding an opportunity to stay involved in legal services in a way that still allowed her to tend to her family was difficult. Eager to find a way to stay active and connected in the field of law, she began to research pro bono opportunities. She stumbled upon Joan Archer’s “Volunteer Spotlight” profile, which detailed Joan’s volunteer experiences with LawHelpNY—an opportunity to get back into the field while still being at home with her children? It seemed too good to be true.
Volunteering as a LiveHelp operator came to be a perfect fit for Elizabeth. By making a small time commitment each week, she has been able to impact many lives: “I have been able to help people across the state—in real time—that have all kinds of questions and issues going on in their lives… I chat with a lot of users with questions about Family Law – custody, visitation, divorce, guardianship, adoption, and more. With the training sessions for operators and from reading the materials the LawHelpNY site links to, I have learned a ton about this area of law and can now more quickly help users navigate the court websites and information they might need. On one day, I answered three questions in a row about grandparents seeking guardianship of their grandchildren, and I could quickly point them in the right direction.” Most of the site visitors that she encounters are from New York City; this allows her to feel more connected to the place she formally called home. Additionally, it allows her to familiarize herself with areas of law that differ from what she had practiced.
While volunteering, Elizabeth came across a service listed on LawHelp that she often recommends to visitors in underserved parts of the state. The New York State Bar Association’s Free Legal Answers program connects volunteer attorneys to low-income individuals in need of limited representation and advice. Elizabeth has since become a volunteer with them as well! Elizabeth marvels at how technology makes pro bono volunteering so easy and accessible: I interact with people who are chatting from their phones while they are on the go and who live in places 10 hours away from me. I think it is great how convenient LiveHelp is for the users who are looking for help and also for the operators who assist them.
Although her children keep her busy most days, putting aside some time to volunteer has become an import and rewarding addition to her week. Elizabeth has been a consistent and dedicated volunteer, providing compassionate and professional assistance to New Yorkers navigating legal issues without the benefit of an attorney: “When I think about the values and lessons I want to instill in my children, being kind to others, helping those in need, and being a good neighbor are always on my list. Through volunteering for LawHelpNY, I get to do all of those, and my kids can see me doing it. When I first started searching for volunteer opportunities, I didn’t have much hope that a part-time, remote legal pro bono position existed anywhere. I felt so lucky to have found LawHelpNY and am grateful to have contributed in a small way to our New York community.”
LiveHelp is an online chat service designed to help users navigate legal aid websites and locate legal information, resources and referrals. LiveHelp volunteers offer individuals real-time assistance by pointing the way towards resources written in plain language about their legal problem and/or by helping them identify a free legal aid organization for representation or advice. LiveHelp operators are primarily law students and law graduates, working under the supervision of an attorney.
LawHelpNY, a program of Pro Bono Net, is New York’s leading online tool for helping low-income New Yorkers find solutions to their legal programs. Available in both English and Spanish, it provides and promotes access to high-quality online information about free legal services throughout New York, legal rights in a broad range of substantive areas, the court system, and related advocacy, government and social service organizations.