In honor of National Celebrate Pro Bono Week, Pro Bono Net and LSNTAP partnered to produce a pre-Celebrate Pro Bono Week webinar on innovations in technology-enabled pro bono. Moderated by Adam Friedl of Pro Bono Net, the webinar presented examples of new innovations in technology to support pro bono, as well as tips on how

“Librarians [are] very natural navigators.  That’s what they do, they help people figure out what resources they need to use, what medium they may need in order to move forward.” -Stacie Colston Patterson, Illinois Legal Aid Online.

November 2 marked the last of Pro Bono Net’s Libraries & Access to Justice Webinar Series, “Developing Legal Aid-Library Collaborations: Models and Replication Resources.”  This webinar focused on five collaboration models throughout the country, including the technologies they use, the partners they engage, and what they’ve learned along the way.

Collaborations and Programming

Stacie Colston Patterson, Outreach Coordinator at Illinois Legal Aid Online, presented four partnership programs forged between the legal community and public libraries in Illinois.  This includes legal self help centers, which can be found in 99 of the 102 counties in Illinois, 80 of which are housed in public libraries. Another program, “Law at the Library” brings attorneys and judges through the Chicago Bar into Chicago Public Libraries for seminars on specific legal topics, which are then streamed and archived by Illinois Legal Aid Online. The final two programs focus on training librarians and cyber navigators (part time employees housed at libraries throughout Chicago to help patrons use library computers) on the online legal resources available to patrons, providing training opportunities for library staff, and additional collaboration opportunities.

Janine Liebert, Librarian for Programs and Partnerships at the LA Law Library spoke about four models used to collaborate with legal aid agencies.  These include topical legal information sessions in public libraries, answer clinics with self help centers in the libraries, traditional legal clinics, and access to justice via technology.  The subjects they cover vary widely and are responsive to the needs of their patrons, and have recently included debt collection, consumer law and veterans’ benefits.  These collaborative models provide access to legal information and referrals for patrons, serve as a focal point for joint outreach for legal aid agencies and libraries, serve as a means for early intervention for some patrons (allowing them to access mediation or deferred action programs), advocate the public library’s role in access to justice, and support the courts by providing self-represented litigants with information.

These services also include internal trainings, such as a recent CitizenshipWorks training the LA Law Library hosted for more than 50 public and law librarians.   Tony Lu, CitizenshipWorks Project Coordinator, discussed this initiative and how librarians can use CitizenshipWorks.org to help residents become citizens.  CitizenshipWorks is an initiative that assists those seeking citizenship in understanding and navigating the naturalization process.  The Los Angeles Public Library system, in partnership with local naturalization service providers, is creating “Citizenship Corners” in each library branch; incorporating computer terminals featuring CitizenshipWorks into these Citizenship Corners will allow library patrons to use interactive tools to learn about the naturalization process, learn about their eligibility, and find legal help  In addition, libraries in Los Angeles are beginning to partner with citizenship service providers to conduct group processing workshops using CitizenshipWorks in their computer labs, where groups of people can be served by volunteers to complete their naturalization applications.


Continue Reading Legal Aid/Library Collaborations – Lessons Learned

A new webinar series developed by Pro Bono Net and its partners, “Librarians and Access to Justice,” has attracted hundreds of attendees eager to learn how librarians can use online resources to better educate and assist their patrons with legal needs. The most recent webinar, which took place Oct. 11, is summarized below. The last

“With a surge in the number of people seeking assistance for issues with a legal dimension there is a need for partnerships between libraries and agencies that care about access to justice in the community.” – Mary Ann VanCura, Continuing Education & Library Development Specialist, Library Development Services, Minnesota Department of Education

With Mary Ann VanCura’s words in mind, on September 27th, over 200 public and law librarians joined civil legal service providers, advocates and others in the second of the Libraries and the Access to Justice Movement webinar series, “Connecting Library Patrons With Legal Information.”  The resources highlighted in this 90 minute webinar, summarized below, included state legal information websites, interactive forms, consumer information through the Federal Trade Commission’s new siteconsumer.gov and the Public Libraries & Access to Justice site.

LawHelp

Liz Keith, LawHelp Program Manger at Pro Bono Net, reviewed the information available on the system of Legal Services Corporation-funded statewide websites, all of which can be found via LawHelp, a gateway to 54 state and territory sites. These statewide legal aid websites use plain language, and are produced by consortiums of agencies across the state’s legal aid community, to create trusted, credible content, accessible in many formats, and often in multiple languages. Typically a site will have fact sheets, booklets, frequently asked questions, self-help forms, as well as referral and court information.  Many sites also offer live chat assistance to help users navigate the site.  Although legal aid agencies may focus on low income residents, “many of the sites have information that cuts across all demographics, and can be helpful to patrons from all walks of life,” Liz said. Public and law libraries serve as advisory, content and outreach partners on LawHelp.org projects in several states.

Liz also discussed self-help legal information and forms available through many law libraries and court websites. An online directory of court self-help resources is available on the National Center for State Courts website. The Georgetown Law Library also provides user-friendly online research guides for primary legal information in each state, as well as substantive research guides in more than a dozen issue areas.

LawHelp Interactive

LawHelp Interactive is a tool someone in a library can use to create a legal document … [it] guides them through from beginning to end,” Claudia Johnson, LawHelp Interactive Program Manager at Pro Bono Net, explained.  These free, online forms are available in most states (currently 46 states either have such forms or are in the process of developing them).  The forms are created by not-for-profit legal aid agencies and coalitions, and deal with topics such as evictions, foreclosures, divorce, child custody and support, as well as small wills and estates issues.   LawHelp Interactive hosts over 3,000 forms, although not all forms are available in all states.  To learn more about how libraries can get involved in LawHelp Interactive projects in your state, contact Claudia at cjohnson@probono.net.

Consumer.Gov

Carol Kando-Pineda, of the Division of Consumer and Business Education at the Federal Trade Commission, presented on several tools available to users. The Federal Trade Commission’s website provides print publications, video, audio, games, puzzles, social media and more to inform the public about a host of different consumer issues.  The FTC has completely revamped their general consumer information materials, including the “Taking Charge” booklet, and has created a tool kit with presentation slides, agendas, press releases and anything else a library, or any community group, would need to give a presentation on identity theft.

However, as she pointed out, “30 million people do not read well enough to read a newspaper or apply for a job.  That’s 14% of people over 16.”  This called for a rethink of the current site, to better serve the needs of these users.  From this, Consumer.gov was created.  This site doesn’t replace the current materials on the FTC website, but gives users quick and easy to use materials designed not to overwhelm them.   Focusing on small chunks of key information concerning money management, credit loans and debt as well as identity theft, the FTC partnered with linguists as well as legal aid agencies to create a site that goes beyond plain language, using simple video as well as audio to assist users.  The resources encompass information for both users and information providers (such as teachers, librarians and advocates), and all the print materials can be ordered from their bulk order websiteConsumer.gov is available in English and Spanish, and the print materials on the site are available in Tagalog, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Spanish.


Continue Reading Connecting Library Patrons with Legal Information

“Libraries are everywhere … this is a partnership we should encourage.” – Glenn Rawdon, Program Counsel for Technology, Legal Services Corporation

This statement is one of the cornerstones of the Libraries and Access to Justice Webinar Series, a training series developed by Pro Bono Net that kicked off on September 13th.  More