National Celebrate Pro Bono 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 we have been celebrating National Pro Bono Week by focusing on disaster resiliency. Today we are highlighting additional pro bono work around the country, and sharing resources to help volunteer attorneys get started. 

Earlier this year, the separation of families at the boarder headlined news outlets everywhere. Now? Not so much. While headlines in the US may have moved on, many families are still separated and immigrant parents are still detained in more than 200 immigrant prisons and jails in the U.S.

According to recent numbers, more than 4,000 parents and children were separated at the US-Mexico border between May 5, 2018 and June 9, 2018 as part of earlier “no tolerance” policy under the current administration. While efforts to reunite families have begun, thousands of parents and children still face uphill legal battles for reunification and relief.

Continue Reading An Interview with Betty Balli Torres, Pro Bono Net Board of Directors | A Pro Bono Week Exclusive

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 we are celebrating National Pro Bono Week by focusing on disaster resiliency in addition to pro bono work around the country. Throughout the week we will be sharing events, resources, and highlights of the work being done to help people facing legal challenges post-disaster. We are very proud to showcase this work and hope that it will inspire more people to get involved.

We’re excited to commemorate the American Bar Association’s National Pro Bono Week, a celebration of pro bono legal assistance involving events planned and attended by public interest legal advocates and the organizations they work with. This year’s celebration is focused on disaster resiliency. Recent disasters such as Hurricanes Michael and Florence and Typhoon Mangkhut devastated communities in the southeast and U.S. territories in the Pacific.

This month, Pro Bono Net joined Dentsu Aegis Network, a global marketing communications network, for a 2-day event titled IdeaJam Hackathon, to mark the beginning of a media campaign for disaster survivors and pro bono attorneys.

Continue Reading Pro Bono Net Joins Dentsu Aegis Network for an IdeaJam to Connect Disaster Survivors with Free Legal Help

Puerto Rico and other areas affected by last year’s hurricanes have been in the news prominently in recent months, but what happens when the media spotlight fades? After the cameras are gone, the physical damages remain and rebuilding is an arduous process. Pro Bono Net recognizes the importance of providing access to legal assistance in the wake of natural disasters and works with partners across the country to build innovative solutions to the short and long-term legal needs arising from these events, which disproportionately impact low income and vulnerable communities.

These needs range from housing instability, job loss, loss of important personal documents, as well as issues applying for FEMA aid or being denied by FEMA, that severely complicate the recovery process. As the Louisiana justice community’s experience with Hurricane Katrina demonstrated, it can take up to ten years (sometimes longer) to resolve the range of legal issues that many survivors face after a disaster.

Continue Reading Update on Disaster Legal Response Efforts in Puerto Rico

In honor of National Volunteer Week we will be highlighting volunteers and sharing ways lawyers and advocates can get involved. Today we would like to highlight the StandWithImmigrants campaign from Immigration Advocates Network.

We need volunteers to join the campaign and pledge to Stand with Immigrants!

Visit www.standwithimmigrants.org to get involved. The site offers volunteer opportunities, resources, trainings, and calls to action. There are many ways to get involved, whether you are a lawyer, educator, social worker, health care provider, interpreter, community activist, or concerned neighbor. Some volunteer opportunities require special skills, such as legal training or language proficiency, while others only require time and the desire to help.

When you visit the site, you are invited to “take the pledge.” We’ll send you the Stand With Immigrants monthly newsletter, and update your “action center” on the site to connect you to volunteer opportunities based on location, interests, and areas of expertise.

Search for general volunteer opportunities by profession and location, or specific volunteer positions on the “volunteers needed” page. Explore our resource pages, and find fact sheets, toolkits, podcasts, and recorded webinars on immigration policy, volunteer opportunities, how best to serve immigrant clients, and much more.

Take the pledge today to #StandWithImmigrants and follow the campaign on facebook and twitter to stay up to date on current events and volunteer needs.

 

 


The Stand With Immigrants campaign is a collaboration of the Immigration Advocates Network, American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC), Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), The Advocates for Human Rights, UnidosUS, and Pro Bono Net.

In honor of National Volunteer Week we will be highlighting volunteers and sharing ways lawyers and advocates can get involved. Today we would like to highlight the work of the Pro Bono FEMA Appeals Clinics which were initiated in response to the 2017 hurricane season.

Probono.net/ny is the New York state network site of probono.net and strives to mobilize and support the volunteer legal community.  Probono.net/ny includes the NYC Pro Bono Center (hosted with the Legal Aid Society and the City Bar Justice Center), and a number of different practice area specific sites, including in family law/domestic violence, community development, housing and foreclosure. The information on our site is made possible by the contributions and collaborations we make with our network of legal service providers in the NY community.

The following highlight was originally published HERE.

Pro Bono FEMA Appeals Clinics for the 2017 hurricane season kicked off on December 11 at the New York City Bar Association with three pro bono attorneys and three clients with support from the City Bar Justice Center. The clinics are made possible by the collaborative efforts of the City Bar, the Association of Pro Bono Counsel, and members of the new Task Force on Disaster Relief launched by New York’s Chief Judge Janet DiFiore. As City Bar President John Kiernan described in his statement on disaster relief,

“Veterans of providing disaster legal services knew from the outset that given the scale of the hurricanes’ effects, the need for assistance from volunteer lawyers would certainly ripen and crystallize once the immediate humanitarian crisis advanced to the next recovery stage.”

Indeed, FEMA reported receiving over 4.5 million benefits applications from storm victims, and the call for pro bono lawyers became clear when FEMA began issuing denials in mid-November.

At the clinic, one of the clients had been evacuated from Puerto Rico. Living in a shelter, the client was denied FEMA assistance because the client had not applied first for a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan. The pro bono team called FEMA on a cell phone and engaged in advocacy, filed an online SBA loan application which was immediately rejected, and called FEMA back to pursue his application for relief. Luckily, FEMA’s phone line is open until 10 p.m.

The second client was a mom with two special needs children who is in the midst of a divorce. She is housed and the kids are in school but missing many items from the hurricane. FEMA granted approximately two thousand dollars to repair her home but she needs to appeal, and will return to the clinic next month.

Attorneys were able to help a third client at the clinic – a Superstorm Sandy victim who is still undergoing home repairs. He noticed the FEMA Appeals sign and walked over from the City Bar’s Monday Night Law clinic. This instance of a Sandy homeowner in need of free legal counsel illustrates how years later, New Yorkers are still dealing with home repairs from Sandy and the Build it Back Program.

Please visit the City Bar Justice Center calendar to learn how to volunteer and make the holidays a little brighter for hurricane victims in New York. Pro bono legal help makes an extraordinary difference for families in crises.


In honor of National Volunteer Week 2018, April 15-21, Pro Bono Net would like to extend our gratitude to the thousands of volunteer lawyers who make a huge difference for those in need.  For those at risk of losing their homes, income and even their children, volunteer lawyers are an indispensable resource. Now more than ever it is important for us to support our most vulnerable communities. This wouldn’t be possible without the immense efforts of volunteer lawyers around the country and the organizations that facilitate volunteering.

Make a Plan

What if you or a loved one were taken abruptly by immigration enforcement agents? What would you need to prepare for yourself and your family? At a time of increased and aggressive immigration enforcement, it is good practice to be well-equipped and take appropriate steps to be prepared.

“Make A Plan” is a new resource on immi.org, a project by the Immigration Advocates Network (IAN). Make A Plan was created in response to emergency requests by immigrant families at workshops and community events. Parents wanted to know who their children can stay with, and who can pick them up at school. Heads of household wondered what would happen to their home, business, bank accounts, and insurance policies. The scarcity in organizational knowledge and capacity to provide planning services is what led to the inception of Make A Plan.

Make A Plan puts knowledge in the hands of anyone with a digital device. By answering a few simple questions, anyone can get a checklist of what to do to protect their children, manage their home, bank accounts, insurance and other financial assets if they are detained or deported. Additionally, Make a Plan links to the confidential immigration screening tool in immi, which helps people find out if they may qualify for lawful status in the U.S. Make a Plan is available in English and Spanish. It is free to use on phone, tablet, or desktop at https://www.immi.org/home/make_a_plan.

Let others know about immi. Order free Know-Your-Rights cards to hand out at your office or events: www.immi.org/order. Visit immi’s Facebook Page at www.fb.com/my.immi for graphics to share on social media. Join us in inviting others to #MakeAPlan with immi. Help us get the word out!

After completing a major technology rebuild of LawHelp Interactive’s (LHI’s) backend in 2015, the LHI team shifted focus to improving the look and feel of LHI. That same year, about 20% of users accessing lawhelpinteractive.org were doing so with mobile and tablet devices making it clear that the mobile and tablet experience should be a central consideration for any redesign of the site.

With that in mind and in partnership with Legal Aid Society of Hawaii (LASH), LHI secured funding for a mobile-first redesign and related enhancements to the LHI platform. LASH and the LHI team formed a group of national partners to serve on a mobile usability committee*. We also enlisted the help of Rootid, a national brand strategy, design and web development firm for nonprofits to create the new designs and layouts. Rootid was a great fit for this project because they were able to leverage their prior experience with LHI where they conducted a device-independent LHI usability study (funded under a Legal Services Corporation Technology Initiative Grant).

Implementation

With the new designs and related enhancements settled upon by the summer of 2017, the LHI Tech team began coding these enhancements. This development was in part funded through another Legal Services Corporation Technology Initiative Grant that supports the LHI infrastructure granted through Ohio State Legal Services Association (OSLSA).

Pro Bono Net’s Mirenda Meghelli and Alice Pucheu were leads on the project, and were supported by their colleagues Doug Carlson, Greg Tenzer, and Kanchana Hedge.  LHI Program Manager Claudia Johnson also acted in an advisory capacity, and others at PBN were also key in helping the project become a reality, including Liz Keith and Mark O’Brien. After deployment, Pro Bono Net’s Community Support Associate Rafael Ramirez has been key in tracking end user help requests.

Though the new look and feel did not include major changes in functionality for the platforms, some improvements were made to take advantage of the opportunity. The new features include improving the search function and abilities through a new grid system, and improving the account creation/sign in experience to make it easier for users. The system now also lets attorneys mark “favorite” forms; a helpful shortcut for regular users.

Plain Language

In addition to an updated design, the new platform underwent a plain language review to improve accessibility of the platform across all devices. The LHI environment has been significantly improved since the redesign went live and additional enhancements and fixes continue to be pushed based on end user feedback and ongoing testing. More than 4,000 people have watched the new informational video, and feedback from partners and users on the new design has been positive:

“I really liked the mobile-optimized interface!”

“Staff are always available and responsive. New website design seems much more user-friendly.”

“The website redesign is a great improvement.”

With more than 1 million interviews served on LHI in 2017, this mobile-first redesign will benefit the large and growing number of LHI users.

Learn More

If you want to learn more about LawHelp Interactive, please contact Claudia Johnson at cjohnson@probono.net. If you have questions related to the LHI Redesign project, please contact Mirenda Meghelli at mmeghelli@probono.net

More information about LHI can be found here: probono.net/lhi or to visit LHI go to http://www.lawhelpinteractive.org

*The mobile advisory group is made up of national partners from California, Ohio, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, South Carolina, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Kansas, Utah, and Georgia. The group also included technology partners from HotDocs Corporation and CALI.


Pro Bono Net leads a national effort to provide online legal document assembly for poverty law and court access to justice programs. LawHelp Interactive allows subject matter experts to create interview templates that can be used to assemble court forms and other legal documents based on a user’s input. The system increases opportunities for self-represented litigants to achieve justice on their own and improves efficiency for legal aid, pro bono and courts-based access to justice programs. Read a case study about how the NY Courts are using LawHelp Interactive. This project is in collaboration with Ohio State Legal Services Association, with funding by the Legal Services Corporation and the State Justice Institute, and using HotDocs software.

The current Administration is ending Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for hundreds of thousands of people, and the future of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is uncertain. Detention and deportation rates are up. How can communities protect themselves?

Immi.orgImmi.org, a project of the Immigration Advocates Network, provides free information in English and Spanish to empower immigrants. Immi features include: a learning center with plain language articles about immigration law, a personalized screening interview to anonymously identify legal avenues for relief, and a referral list of over 1,000 nonprofit legal service providers.

In its first year, more than 100,000 people have visited immi. Nearly half have tried the personalized screening interview, to find out if they may qualify for legal immigration status. In the United States, an estimated 10 to 20% of undocumented immigrants have legal options, but do not know it. Immi helps them find out more.

How can advocates and volunteers help? Share immi.org with your community. Use it in your workshops, post it on your website, and prepare immigrants for legal appointments. Order free Know-Your-Rights cards to hand out at your office or events: www.immi.org/order. Share immi on social media: www.immi.org/share. Help us get the word out, to empower immigrants.  


immi™ helps immigrants in the U.S. understand their legal options. Our online screening tool, legal information, and referrals to nonprofit legal services organizations are always free to use.

The Immigration Advocates Network (IAN) is a collaborative effort of Pro Bono Net and leading immigrants’ rights organizations designed to increase access to justice for low-income immigrants and strengthen the capacity of organizations serving them. IAN promotes more effective and efficient communication, collaboration, and services among immigration advocates and organizations by providing free, easily accessible and comprehensive online resources and tools.

Like many of you, Pro Bono Net’s thoughts are with those impacted by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. As advocates for justice, you no doubt share our concerns about the disproportionate and long-term impact disasters often have on low-income and other vulnerable communities, as well as the direct impact these hurricanes have had on nonprofit legal aid programs such as Lone Star Legal Aid.

Legal aid programs help survivors rebuild their lives and navigate the road to recovery, including obtaining disaster benefits, overcoming displacement, replacing wills and vital documents, making insurance claims, combating contractor fraud and scams, safeguarding civil rights and much more. We know from our work in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and Super-storm Sandy that this will require long-term commitment, and Pro Bono Net is committed to working with our justice community partners to address the needs that will emerge in the months ahead.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and Super-storm Sandy, Pro Bono Net joined with others in the community to create a national website – DisasterLegalAid.org – to provide ongoing support for legal aid, pro bono and criminal defender attorneys across the country on legal issues related to all types of disasters, as well as referral information for the public. It is a joint effort of Pro Bono Net, Lone Star Legal Aid, the American Bar Association, the Legal Services Corporation, the National Legal Aid & Defender Association and Texas Legal Services Center.

In the wake of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and in preparation for Maria, Pro Bono Net has been in touch with a number of programs directly impacted. In coordination with Lone Star Legal Aid, we’ve added sections to DisasterLegalAid.org with legal relief information for Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. Details about federal benefits and disaster legal help available are still emerging in certain regions and information will continue to be updated as it arrives. We are also working directly with our LawHelp partners in Puerto Rico, AyudaLegalPr.org, to identify and make available Spanish-language disaster legal information for the public.

We are working on several enhancements to our LawHelp Interactive-powered interview that guides individuals through the creation of a FEMA appeal letter. First, Capstone Practice Systems is converting the interview to a mobile-responsive A2J 6.0 version, and a Spanish-language version will follow. We are also working with pro bono attorneys from Weil Gotshal to review the interview and update related FAQs and user guides. While this tool was initially designed for pro se use following Super-storm Sandy, we encourage programs considering standing up appeals-related projects to consider using LHI Connect’s remote document sharing and review capabilities to engage volunteer attorneys in helping individuals prepare their FEMA appeals claims during the short appeal window. Please contact info@probono.net to learn more.

Below are more resources those in the public interest legal community can use to help now, and stay connected as needs evolve:

  • BookmarkDisasterLegalAid.org for emerging developments in regions that have been impacted by Harvey, Irma and Maria. Disaster Legal Aid provides centralized resources nationally to legal aid and pro bono programs on a range of disasters, as well as referral information for the public.
  • Visit  the State Bar of Texas’s Disaster Relief Resources page or the Houston Volunteer Lawyers Project’s Volunteer Portal to learn about ways out of state pro bono attorneys can help those impacted in Texas. The Florida Bar Foundation’s Hurricane Information page has information about how Florida attorneys can lend their expertise to relief efforts.
  • Watch a free Practising Law Institute one-hour briefing for attorneys Aftermath of Hurricane Harvey: Disaster Assistance which took place on September 7th.  PLI’s Amy Taub was joined by Laura Tuggle, Director of Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, and FEMA representatives to discuss federal disaster assistance for disaster survivors. Another 1-hour audio briefing took place on September 18th that will be made available to listen to through PLI’s website in the coming weeks.

If you are in the legal community and able to help in other ways but aren’t sure where to start, feel free to contact us at info@probono.net and we’ll do our best to connect you with the right resources.

 

LHIIn 2016, Michigan Legal Help (MLH) partnered with expert developer Bob Aubin, and Pro Bono Net to create a tool that helps online form developers automate the identification of text that needs to be translated. When an interview for Pro Bono Net’s LawHelp Interactive (LHI) needs to be changed to plain language, or to any other target language this tool helps to minimize the time and effort required.

The inspiration for this project came about as Bob Aubin worked on creating Spanish forms for Michigan. After finding out how long it took to pull the text that needs translation and how much time it took to reinsert the translated text, the idea came about to develop a more error proof automated way to do this. The idea of creating a “Text Management Tool” (TMT) was born! Below is an interview with Angela Tripp (Co-Director and Project Director of Michigan Legal Help Program), and Bob Aubin.

How did the need to create this tool come up?

Angela: Michigan Legal Help (MLH), michiganlegalhelp.org, has a very complex divorce interview in HotDocs, and we wanted to translate it into Spanish. This process was laborious – Bob had to cut and paste each question, prompt, set of answer choices, help text, etc. from every cul de sac in this long interview, and it took a lot of time and effort.

Then once we had that translated, he had to put it all back together again. It took many hours, and we had to test for many more months to make sure everything was working as intended. In the meantime, over the year it took us to do this, we made multiple changes to the English interview, and had to go back and painstakingly make those same changes. Bob thought that there had to be an easier way to do this, so he created one.

Could you share some details of those interviews and how are they being used?

Angela: We have used the Text Management Tool (TMT) to speed up translation of interviews into Spanish, and to make major changes to interviews. We plan to use it in the near future to improve the plan language of our interviews – we anticipate making a lot of changes to the text when we review our interviews for plain language. We’re also going to use the tool to make our HD interviews more mobile friendly by shortening the questions as much as possible.

How did you develop the tool?

Bob: Knowing that the HotDocs Component File is an XML file, I figured we could develop a way to cycle through the XML and copy any instances of interview text found. All nooks and crannies that can contain interview text were identified. Then we hired HotDocs Corporation as a subcontractor to create the tool in C# to do what we had specified.

Since we created Ayuda Legal in 2014, there have been over 64,000 pages views, representing approximately 2.5% of all Michigan Legal Help visitors. Right now, we have 3 forms available in Spanish, all in family law, including a form to request and interpreter.

What other uses for the tool are there, besides the intended simplification of the process of pulling text from a HD interview and putting it back into it?

Angela: That’s what the tool does; the multiple uses come from the different goals you can accomplish by doing this. When same sex marriage (and divorce) became legal, we had to modify a lot of the language in our divorce interview; this helps do that. When you want to translate into another language, this helps do that.

Any time you need to modify a lot of text at once, this tool help – whether you want to translate, improve plain language, update legal information in the interview, or make more mobile friendly – this tool helps you do that and makes sure all the new text gets put back into the right place in the interview.

Bob: The tool has also proved to be a valuable troubleshooting tool for developers.  We had an interview with a lot of number computations in it, and one of them was misbehaving. The server error could not tell us which computation it was, so we used the tool to produce a report of the computations and all text was scanned. The error was quickly found and fixed.

Finally, we wanted to merge two separate but similar interviews with separate component files into one interview. The tool generated reports for each of the component files, and those reports were compared in Word to show the differences we had to address.

What type of response are you getting from the community?

Angela: People have been very excited. The response at the training and the survey has been uniformly positive, with one training attendee saying,

“This will be fabulous for debugging. And it has potential for managing translations is terrific”

another commented

“BOB AUBIN AND ANGELA TRIPP RULE!!!!!!!!!!!!”

We’d still love to hear from people what they think – we have separate surveys for HotDocs developers (https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/TMTDev) and document assembly project managers (https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/TMTprojmgr) – if you haven’t taken a survey yet, please do!

Are there any programs that are now using the tool to improve their existing interview?

Angela: Well, we are in Michigan. Other states are right now learning how to use the tool—and we expect that in the next coming months, developers will use the tool to trouble shoot, create new content, and find new uses for the tool.

Are you now creating any new content/forms with this new capacity?

Angela: Not at this time. Its biggest application for us is maintenance – updates, translations, improving existing content. Maintenance is one the biggest challenges in the document assembly world, and it’s great to have a tool to help make this easier, and less time consuming.

Any last work to project owners on the importance of using plain language for LHI interviews?

Angela: Only that it is extremely important, and as we move to developing more and more for mobile devices, using plain language is even more important. We have to learn to say things in simpler terms and fewer words so that it will fit and make sense on a small screen for people who are on the “go”; the only way to do this is through plain language.

You can find the tool, User’s Manual, and training video all here: https://www.probono.net/dasupport/library/folder.617503-HotDocs_Text_Management_Tool


Michigan Legal HelpThe Michigan Legal Help website and affiliated local self-help centers are part of the Michigan Legal Help Program. The Program works with judges, courts, lawyers, bar associations, nonprofit legal aid agencies, legal self-help centers, libraries and many others to promote coordinated and quality assistance for persons representing themselves in civil legal matters in Michigan.

LHI logoPro Bono Net leads a national effort to provide online legal document assembly for poverty law and court access to justice programs. LawHelp Interactive allows subject matter experts to create interview templates that can be used to assemble court forms and other legal documents based on a user’s input. The system increases opportunities for self-represented litigants to achieve justice on their own and improves efficiency for legal aid, pro bono and courts-based access to justice programs. Read a case study about how the NY Courts are using LawHelp Interactive. This project is in collaboration with Ohio State Legal Services Association, with funding by the Legal Services Corporation and the State Justice Institute, and using HotDocs software.