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 Wantee Ramkaran, a LiveHelp Volunteer for LawHelpNY

LawHelpNY.org, is a website designed to help low-income New Yorkers solve their legal problems. Volunteers staff LiveHelp, an online, real-time chat service that directs users towards relevant self-help materials, legal services organizations and court information.  

Continue Reading National Volunteer Week 2018 Highlight: Wantee Ramkaran, LiveHelp Volunteer

There are 21 summer internship opportunities for law students interested in public interest law and technology through the ATJ Tech Fellows program. Two of these positions will be hosted by Pro Bono Net in New York.

The ATJ Tech Fellows program is designed to provide law students with practical experience on the use of technology in the delivery of legal services. The program offers a combination of virtual classroom learning and a 10-week hands on placement at a partner organization.

One of these positions will be placed in our NY office, working with the national online document assembly team, LawHelp Interactive (LHI) (https://www.atjtechfellows.org/pro-bono-net).

The other position is with partners in NY, Nassau Suffolk Law Services Committee (https://www.atjtechfellows.org/nassau-suffolk-law-services), and hosted at LawHelpNY (LHNY).

As part of the ATJ Tech Fellows programs the summer participants will be part of a diverse cohort across the country receiving training via virtual classrooms, “brown bags” with national thought leaders, and access to mentors through the program. The fellowship also provides a stipend. More details on the Fellowship and how to apply can be found here: https://www.atjtechfellows.org/overview/

 

Deadline is 2/9/2018 for applications.


The Access to Justice Tech Fellows is a 10-week fully funded experiential learning program that places law students at legal services organization to develop innovative solutions that leverage technology, data, and design to expand access to legal services and improve our civil justice.

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.

 

Elizabeth Brancati
LawHelpNY

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.

LHNYLawHelpNY, 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.

Hispanic Heritage month, a chance look at the wealth of contributions the Hispanic community has made and continues to make in our society, is almost over. As we celebrate the contributions, we continue to support our communities in achieving their dreams and goals by providing assistance in overcoming civil legal issues and access to justice. Continue reading to see some examples and learn about how these tools and resources impact Spanish speaking communities nationwide.

In civil law cases, many begin the legal process without the benefit of an attorney due to the cost of retaining one. In order to provide access to information easily and effectively, Pro Bono Net offers a myriad of tools and resources and support, developed by local partners, to assist those who navigate our legal system alone. LawHelp.org is an online resource that helps low and moderate-income people find free legal aid programs in their communities, answers to questions about their legal rights, court information, links to social service agencies, and more. Several states around the country now offer these resources in Spanish to better equip communities to navigate the legal system on their own, or find access to legal aid.

Online interviews and document assemblies help legal aid programs meet the needs of Spanish speaking communities by helping them to help themselves. Many of these households struggle to find the time to go downtown to a legal aid office, so these online tools allow them to handle their legal problems from home on their own time. Providing online resources 24/7 in Spanish and other languages enables the community to better access our justice system in a manner that suits their needs.

Spanish Language Resources

Ayuda Legal MichiganThe Michigan Poverty Law Program has created Ayuda Legal Michigan, a LawHelp powered site, to provide access to their information and resources directly in Spanish. Here Spanish speaking residents of Michigan can access easy to use online forms in their native language in multiple civil legal aid areas. Many of these forms are interactive and guided through the use of LawHelp Interactive (LHI), a Pro Bono Net form generation platform which has supported Spanish online content more than 10 years. All of these forms are available for free. Take a look at an example of a Michigan protective order report.

Ayuda Legal NY offers similar resources and online forms in multiple areas of law in Spanish. The NY State Courts have a Paternity petition form available in Spanish, as well as a Tenant Answer to Eviction, one of the first online forms in Spanish in the LHI system. These online interactive forms make it easier for Spanish speakers to navigate the US legal system, minimizing confusion and increasing efficiency. Ayuda Legal NY also offers various know-your-rights information and tools directly on their website.

Minnesota screen shot spanishIn Minnesota, tenants can request Security Deposit returns using an online interview, available in Spanish, which takes their entered information and produces a document for them to file/ provide to their landlord. For many low income families, not receiving the security deposit back from their landlord within an acceptable time frame can affect their ability to move and secure housing somewhere else. The ability to go through a simple interview that will create the necessary legal forms provides an avenue to ensuring their landlord returns their deposit, enabling them to utilize those funds for a different apartment, or towards purchasing a more permanent residence such as a house.

These are just a few examples of how legal aid programs can put online resources at the hands of our Hispanic communities to ensure equal access to helpful tools. Similar forms and programs can be found in multiple states across the country. The LawHelp Interactive platform supports additional languages and if you are interested in learning more about this capacity please reach out to us.

Resources for Nonprofit Service Providers

At Pro Bono Net we believe that creating online tools to bridge language and culture gaps is key to achieving access to justice for all, and have worked steadily since 2008 across states to support the design and creation of online tools for multiple communities.

In that spirit we would like to share the following resources for legal non profit service providers who are working with multiple languages, as there are now online glossaries that help explain legal language in Spanish. One example is Readclearly, is a glossary shared through Open Advocate. In addition the Sacramento Courts have for years made available some of the most complete legal dictionaries.

Legal nonprofits, courts, librarians and their partners interested in discovering more about Spanish language online tools are encouraged to reach out to us to find out what is available in your state, and/or learn how you can work with us to continue bridging language gaps for those facing civil legal needs.


 

probononet_Logo_with_taglineAbout Pro Bono Net

Pro Bono Net is a national non-profit organization dedicated to increasing access to justice for the disadvantaged. Through innovative technology solutions and expertise in building and mobilizing justice networks, Pro Bono Net transforms the way legal help reaches the underserved. Comprehensive programs including www.probono.net, www.lawhelp.org and www.lawhelpinteractive.org, enable legal advocates to make a stronger impact, increase volunteer participation, and empower the public with resources and self-help tools to improve their lives.

About LawHelp InteractiveLHI logo

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.

About LawHelp.orgLawHelp3Logo

LawHelp is an online resource that helps low and moderate-income people find free legal aid programs in their communities, answers to questions about their legal rights, court information, links to social service agencies, and more. This resource was built and is maintained in partnership with hundreds of legal aid, pro bono and court-based programs across the country. LawHelp.org was recognized with the 2007 Webby Award for Best Law site.