In recognition of Pro Bono Net’s 20th Anniversary, we are sharing highlights from our history as part of our “On This Day in PBN History” series. Throughout the year we will be sharing project launches, collaborations and other important milestones that Pro Bono Net has accomplished since its creation in 1999. To kick off the series we are sharing the launch of one of our most popular and important programs – LawHelpNY’s LiveHelp program.

LiveHelp on LawHelpNY.org

“Please keep this platform open and accessible to anyone in NY this has been very helpful.” – LiveHelp User

On this day in 2010 LawHelpNY announced the launch of a real-time, online chat service available in English and Spanish to help guide visitors to needed legal information and referrals. LiveHelp on LawHelpNY has since grown and is now available to visitors to CourtHelp’s Families and Children and Foreclosure pages as well as visitors to the Crime Victim Legal Help website. Monday to Friday 10:00 am – 1:00 pm visitors can be connected with staff at Legal Information for Families Today for family law issues. LiveHelp continues to be available Monday-Friday 9 am – 9 pm, and is also available on mobile devices.

Designed to help unrepresented New Yorkers with civil legal problems, LiveHelp connects those in need with online tools, resources, know-your-rights information and referrals available on LawHelpNY. Every year, millions of New Yorkers face serious civil legal problems – including domestic violence, family disputes, eviction, consumer debt and foreclosure – without legal representation. The Permanent Commission on Access to Justice estimates that approximately 1.8 million New Yorkers continue to navigate the state’s civil legal system without the help of an attorney. LiveHelp provides a place to start for those who need assistance and helps them navigate the resources and referrals available to them online. Each month, LiveHelp helps 900-1000 people find helpful legal information, online forms to prevent or address legal issues, and information about organizations that can help them further. 

The Volunteers

“This service made it much easier to get information I needed.” – LiveHelp User

The program is staffed primarily by volunteer law students and recent law graduates. These volunteers receive training on common civil legal problems that visitors to LiveHelp face including family law, housing, foreclosure, immigration  and assisting crime victims. They also receive a thorough introduction to all of the sites they will be responsible for guiding individuals to resources. Since the service is online, volunteers can staff the program from anywhere, including the comfort of their own home. Students and recent graduates are even able to receive credit toward their 50 hours of pro bono work requirement to take the Bar in the state of New York.

Expansion

“Excellent service, quick response, helpful information, provided exactly what I needed!” – LiveHelp User

In 2016, Pro Bono Net incorporated LawHelpNY into its core programs, and LiveHelp expanded onto additional sites for the first time. Initially only available on the Foreclosure pages of New York’s CourtHelp website, LiveHelp soon expanded to include all of the sites listed above. We are thrilled to highlight such a strong and influential program as our first “This Day in PBN History” highlight.

For 20 years Pro Bono Net has been a nonprofit leader in innovative programs that increase access to justice. Our comprehensive programs enable legal organizations to maximize their impact, increase pro bono involvement, and empower the public by providing legal assistance and information. Through innovative technology strategies, we create economies of scale, better integrate existing resources and services, and build capacity in the nonprofit legal sector. Each day, our programs help thousands of families stay in their homes, put young immigrants on a path to citizenship, ensure the safety of women and children, and enable volunteer lawyers across the country to make a difference.

 

2017 TIG ConferenceThe 2017 Technology Initiative Grants Conference (TIG) kicks off on Wednesday in San Antonio, Texas. The TIG Conference brings together technologists, legal aid staff, courts, funders and others to explore innovative ways of using technology to promote full access to legal assistance for low-income individuals.  

Pro Bono Net will be well-represented again this year, with a cadre of our program and technology staff in attendance. We’re also presenting in workshops covering topics such as strategies to grow adoption of online forms among advocates, technology to build partnerships with non-traditional justice actors, and expanding assistance through remote services. An affinity session on Thursday will highlight the Statewide Justice Portal Initiative collaboration between the Legal Services Corporation, Microsoft and Pro Bono Net, including the RFP for pilot jurisdictions.

On Friday we’ll be convening our statewide website partners for a networking session to share recent network highlights and updates on major initiatives such as the probono.net template redesign rolling out this year.

Just prior to TIG, we’re hosting a two-day training in San Antonio for legal aid, court and other staff on how to how to author interactive court forms and legal documents for LawHelp Interactive. The training is featuring instructors from Capstone Practice Systems, the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI), and Pro Bono Net.

Below is a schedule of panels and sessions with Pro Bono Net staff for the TIG conference:


Wednesday, 3:30pm

Preventative Law: Using Storytelling to Engage Clients Early

  • Lisa Gavin, Iowa Legal Aid
  • Liz Keith, Pro Bono Net
  • Quisquella Addison, Pro Bono Net
  • Adam Stofsky, Briefly

Thursday, 8:30am
All Aboard with Online Forms: Getting Support from Program Leadership and Adoption by Attorneys

  • Joshua Goodwin, Southeastern Ohio Legal Services
  • Richard Granat, DirectLaw
  • Claudia Johnson, Pro Bono Net
  • Marc Lauritsen, Capstone Practice Systems

Thursday, 10am
High Touch, High Tech: Innovative Non-Attorney and Non-Traditional Justice Partnerships Using Technology

  • Dianne Woodburn, JASA
  • Rochelle Klempner, New York Courts Access to Justice Program
  • Mirenda Meghelli, Pro Bono Net
  • Renee Schomp, One Justice

Thursday, 2:25pm
Using Data to Improve your Projects

  • Haydee Alfonso, Bay Area Legal Aid
  • Claudia Johnson, Pro Bono Net
  • Mary Kaczorek, Legal Services State Support
  • Jenny Singleton, Legal Services State support

Statewide Justice Portal Initiative Discussion and Technology’s Role in 100% Access Efforts (Affinity Session)

  • Lucy Bassli, Microsoft
  • Liz Keith, Pro Bono Net
  • Glenn Rawdon, LSC

Friday, 8am
LawHelp / probono.net Networking Session: What’s New and What’s Next for 2017

  • Quisquella Addison, Pro Bono Net
  • Mike Grunenwald, Pro Bono Net
  • Sam Halpert, Pro Bono Net
  • Barbara Siegel, Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association
  • Mary Kaczorek, Legal Services State Support

Friday, 10am
Closing the Gap: Remote Service Delivery in Action!

  • Mike Grunenwald, Pro Bono Net
  • Melody Harkness, Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York
  • Lillian Moy,  Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York
  • Anna Steele, Legal Assistance of Western New York

The National Legal Aid & Defender Association‘s 2016 Annual Conference starts today and Pro Bono Net is participating! The NLADA’s annual training conference provides the opportunity for those in the civil legal aid, indigent defense, and public interest law communities to exchange ideas and further develop their professional skills. Mark O’Brien, Sam Halpert and Mike Grunenwald will be representing Pro Bono Net at this year’s conference. Keep reading to learn more about Pro Bono Net’s participation.

Statewide Justice Portal Initiative Update and Technology’s Role in 100% Access Efforts

Thursday, 4:15 – 5:45 pm
Speakers: Glen Rawdon, Legal Services Corporation; Lucy Bassli, Microsoft; and Mark O’Brien, Pro Bono Net

In April, the Legal Services Corporation, Microsoft, and Pro Bono Net announced a new partnership to develop up to two statewide “justice portal” pilots to designed to help ensure that all people with civil legal needs can navigate their options at each step of the process and more easily access solutions and services available from legal aid, the courts, the private bar and community partners. The technical approach will use open standards and be open sourced to facilitate replication and contributions by other technology partners in the future. This workshop will provide an update on the project thus far, the conceptual vision for the portal and the selection process for pilot jurisdictions. We will also discuss how both existing and new technology initiatives can support the 100 percent access vision and strengthen the work of state justice communities working toward it.

 

Turning Data into Intelligence: Using the Data Our Programs Produce to Improve Services and Generate More Dollars

Friday, 2:30 – 4 pm
Speakers: Ken Smith, The Resource for Great Programs; Alex Gulotta, Bay Area Legal Aid; and Sam Halpert, Pro Bono Net

Every day, our programs generate a wealth of data such as intake statistics, case outcomes data, client demographics, and on-line form user statistics. Ken Smith, President of The Resource for Great Programs, will be conducting the workshop session on this topic, joined by co-presenters Alex Gulotta, Executive Director of Bay Area Legal Aid (and chairperson of NLADA’s board) and Sam Halpert, LawHelp Program Coordinator at Pro Bono Net. This session will show three examples to demonstrate to participants how their programs can turn raw data into strategic intelligence for use in program improvement and fundraising.

 

Smart Advocates Use Smart Forms: Better Advocacy through Document Automation

Saturday, 10:30 am – noon
Speakers: Josh Goodwin, Southeastern Ohio Legal Services; Mark Lauritsen, Capstone Practice Systems; Gelnn Rawdon, Legal Services Corporation

More than 40 states have forms on Pro Bono Net’s Law Help Interactive (LHI), the national automated document server. But most of those forms are targeted for client self-help, not for advocates. Document automation has been around for more than 30 years, and yet most legal services advocates are still drafting pleadings by using search and replace or cut and paste. Evaluations of LSC TIG projects have shown that advocates can reduce the time it takes to prepare forms for their cases by more than 30 percent by using automated forms for the most common practice areas. Not only that, having automated forms ensures that changes in the law are immediately reflected in the forms of every advocate. These same forms can be provided to pro bono attorneys so that they can be more comfortable representing clients outside their usual areas of practice. This session will help you develop a strategy for introducing or expanding automated forms to support the work of the advocates and pro bono attorneys for your program.

There are several other workshops of interest to legal aid and pro bono technology initiatives listed in the full agenda: http://www.nlada.org/2016AnnualConference

 


NLADANLADA is America’s oldest and largest nonprofit association devoted to excellence in the delivery of legal services to those who cannot afford counsel. Their Annual Conference is the leading national training event of the year for the civil legal aid, indigent defense, and public interest law communities. The conference offers advocates the substantive information and professional skills they need to respond to the legal needs of low-income people, provides unparalleled opportunities to meet and exchange ideas with colleagues from across the country, and helps fulfill continuing legal education requirements.

On August 8th, the Practising Law Institute presented a seminar/webinar entitled “Electronic Evidence in the New York State Courts: Representing the Legal Services Client 2016” to explore best practices, safety concerns, and ethical considerations in the case law surrounding electronic evidence for legal services clients in New York.

Erica Olsen, National Network to End Domestic Violence
Erica Olsen, National Network to End Domestic Violence

Technology has become a ubiquitous part of our lives, permeating every public and private space we have. Information can be accessed with the swipe of a finger or the press of a button, and records are accessed from locations all over the world via the cloud. Modern conversations not only happen over phone lines, but via texts, instant messaging, emails and digital recordings. These can be considered electronic evidence in a court of law if properly authenticated.

In addition to witness testimony, these pieces of evidence can help to establish relationships, prove authenticity of intentions, and fact check claims. Especially in domestic violence cases, these pieces of evidence can make a big difference in the outcomes. However, while technology can be used to assist legal services clients in their cases, it can also be abused to monitor, control and coerce victims.

In the first session of the seminar, Erica Olsen, from the National Network to End Domestic Violence, addressed many of the ways that abusers use technology to control their victims. There are plenty of ways technology can be used by abusers including, but not limited to: using spyware on computers and phones; putting physical surveillance equipment in the home or car; making disguised calls to manipulate evidence or sabotage a victim; and creating fake social media profiles and accounts to harass victims or undermine their integrity. Erica spoke on each of these methods and the best practices for discovering, undoing or mitigating the consequences for each of these.

Co-Chairs Terry Lawson & Ian Harris; Speakers Alexis C. Lorenzo & Erica Olsen
Co-Chairs Terry Lawson & Ian Harris; Speakers Alexis C. Lorenzo & Erica Olsen

While an attorney is not responsible for knowing about all technology abuse, being able to recognize the various ways and means can help them prepare for the case, keep their clients safe, and collect evidence. An anecdote, shared by Co-Chair Ian Harris of Staten Island Legal Services, involved a woman being able to avoid danger from her abuser by taking a screen shot of a text containing a gun emoji and using it to alert the judge and the police that he had threatened her. While many may believe a simple emoji is harmless, in this particular situation it was indicative of a threat made on her life.

Ian was able to recognize the danger inherent in the text and arrange for a warrant to be issued for the abuser’s arrest. He was also able to remove his client from her home, so she was not present when her abuser showed up to her home with a gun and asked for her. The abuser then proceeded to kill himself in front of her family when they told him she wasn’t there. If Ian had not taken his client seriously, or had not understood the implications of technology abuse, his client may not have survived.

A frequent advice to domestic violence victims is to get rid of the technology that the abuser is using to monitor them. However, Erica recommends NOT removing technology from the equation with domestic violence clients until after the court proceedings, as the removal of the technology won’t stop the abuse and can lead to an escalation. It also removes the ability for the client to monitor their abuser, look for warning signs of escalation, and collect necessary evidence. However, it would be prudent to find alternative means for the client to use technology so that the information being provided to the abuser is minimized or managed well to protect the client.

Even if technology can be used to abuse victims, it can also be used to provide victims leverage in their cases and can sometimes be the difference between freedom and continued abuse. The evidence provided in text messages, emails, phone records and other forms of communication can be submitted upon authentication during cases and used to establish controlling and abusive behavior as well as harassment of the client to lend authenticity and urgency to the proceedings.

In the second and third parts of the seminar, Ian Harris touched upon some best practices and ethical concerns both in presenting and authenticating the evidence, and in obtaining and storing information collected. Finally, the panel conducted a mock trial in order to provide an example of authenticating electronic evidence, and provide for questions and feedback from those present.

To learn more about electronic evidence in the New York Courts including best practices, ethical considerations and authentication procedures, you can watch the seminar for FREE at the Practising Law Institute.

Co-Chair(s)

  • Ian Harris – Director, Family Law Unit, Staten Island Legal Services
  • Terry Lawson – Director, Family and Immigration Unit, Legal Services NYC – Bronx

Speaker(s)

  • Alexis C. Lorenzo – Senior Attorney, Foreclosure Prevention Unit, Legal Services NYC – Bronx
  • Erica Olsen – Deputy Director, Safety Net Project, National Network to End Domestic Violence

Segments

  • Ongoing and Emerging Technologies Utilized by Litigants
  • Electronic Evidence in the New York State Courts
  • Ethical Issues in Electronic Evidence Under the New York Rules
  • Mock Trial: Electronic Evidence in the New York State Courts

Practising Law InstituteThis seminar/webcast was hosted by the Practising Law Institute. To register for any webcasts or seminars go to www.pli.edu for more information.

At the core of Practising Law Institute’s mission is its commitment to offer training to members of the legal profession to support their pro bono service. 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. For more information about PLI’s pro bono programs and activities, please visitwww.pli.edu/probono. Follow PLI’s Pro Bono Group on LinkedIn, and on Twitter @ProBonoPLI.

Jillian

Jillian Theil is the Pro Bono Net Training and Field Support Coordinator and has been with Pro Bono Net since 2011. She manages the LSNTAP/PBN Community Training series. 

 LSNTAP and PBN recently held a webinar on evaluations, “From Investment to Impact: Recent Outcomes Evaluations of Legal Aid Tech Projects.” The training explored technology project evaluation approaches from legal aid and other fields, and reviewed designing and executing evaluations in resource constrained environments. The webinar was moderated by Claudia Johnson of Pro Bono Net. 

The first presentation by Keith Porcaro and Valerie Elephant of SIMLab kicked off by discussing their organization’s Monitoring and Evaluation (M & E) framework. The framework was inspired by one used commonly in the international development community and in humanitarian settings. They also introduced a new evaluation site they have started, inspired by the evaluation process, feedbackmechanisms.org and evaluation considerations in the legal aid/legal technology setting.

Next, Tara Saylor of Q2 Consulting discussed the Logic Model evaluation framework in the context of an evaluation project for the Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, Inc. She also discussed some key ideas for executing an evaluation when faced with resource constraints. The presentation ended with some great discussion and Q&A with the audience on evaluations in the legal aid technology space. 

Be sure to check out materials available on the SWEB Support Site and join us for the next LSNTAP/PBN webinar, “Future-Proofing Your Projects: Maintenance, Succession, and Continuity Planning.” 


LSNTAPLSNTAP helps nonprofit legal aid programs improve client services through effective and innovative use of technology. To do this, we provide technology training, maintain information, create online tools, and host community forums such as the LStech email list. Read about us, or contact us at info@lsntap.org for more information.

Halimah Elmariah Development & Communications Intern Fall 2015
Halimah Elmariah Development & Communications Intern

 

Halimah is a sophomore at Seton Hall studying International Relations with a minor in Middle Eastern Studies and French. Passionate about social justice and empowering Muslim women, she regularly blogs for MuslimGirl.net. Halimah is a Development & Communications intern for the Fall of 2015 at Pro Bono Net’s New York Headquarters.

In honor of this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities, I would like to highlight OlmsteadRights.org. It has been a little over a year since Pro Bono Net partnered with Atlanta Legal Aid, and the National Disability Rights Network to launch Olmsteadrights.org. The resourceful website features an array of helpful resources, including a self-help segment, a legal advocacy section for lawyers, personal stories of people with disabilities, and a brief history of Olmstead.

The stories featured on Olmsteadrights.org illustrate an intimate portrait of the lives of disabled people, who successfully overcame imposed difficulties that hindered their quality of life. A consistent theme of resilience and perseverance manifests in the various poignant and motivational stories of disabled people meeting their needs with the help of Olmstead, pro bono lawyers, and various legal aid societies.

One story tells of a well-educated banker, who suddenly started to fall more and more frequently, until he eventually fell into a month-long coma due to a nerve damage disease.  After recovering from his coma and regaining some of his physical capability, the banker no longer wanted to stay in the nursing home. He remembers feeling depressed in the first couple of years during his stay in the nursing home. Fortunately, he was able to obtain a Medicaid Waiver, a federal program that provides domestic help for disabled people, and Money Follows the Person, also a federal program that permits people to return to their community.

The story of the Olmstead decision dates back to 1999, when the Supreme Court decided on a landmark case that still impacts millions of Americans with disabilities. Two Georgian women, Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson, both of whom had a mental condition, filed a lawsuit against the state for keeping them in mental institutions, after their doctors cleared them to live in the community.  Lawyers at the Atlanta Legal Aid helped them advance their case that went to the highest court in the United States. Under the American Disabilities Act, the Supreme Court found that the state cannot discriminate against people with disabilities.

Personally, the success of Olmstead hits home. I grew up with an older deaf brother, who luckily was afforded the same opportunities as me, to be able to lead a normal, healthy, and successful life. Fortunately, he received quality education from his pre-school years up until college that helped him improve his speech and work on his interpersonal skills. Additionally, he was offered unparalleled health services to meet his physical needs.

My parents often contemplated what my brother’s life and our family’s fate would have been like if we didn’t live in the United States. When I learned of Olmsteadrights.org, I was grateful that my brother would have access to legal support if he ever required it to meet his legal needs.


 

OlmsteadRightsThe Disability Integration Project of Atlanta Legal Aid Society created OlmsteadRights.org in collaboration with our partners and funders to be a place for everyone to learn about the Olmstead decision. The website also provides resources and information for self-advocates, family and friends of people with disabilities, and legal advocates alike. The website was created by the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Inc. in partnership with the National Disability Rights Network and funded by a Technology Initiative Grant (TIG Grant) from the Legal Services Corporation (LSC).

 

Jillian Theil has been the Training and Field Support Coordinator for Pro Bono Net since 2011. She manages the LSNTAP/PBN Community Training series. 

Legal Services National Technology Assistance Project

In honor of National Celebrate Pro Bono Week, Pro Bono Net and LSNTAP held a special webinar on “Virtual and Remote Pro Bono Legal Services Models.” The training, moderated by Liz Keith of Pro Bono Net, highlighted examples of how virtual and remote legal services models are enabling new forms of pro bono participation and expanding the reach of servicers to underserved communities. It covered new and emerging projects, resources and considerations for replication, as well as the staffing, technology and partnerships involved.

Liz Keith kicked off the call by exploring the benefits of virtual and remote pro bono legal services models legal aid programs, pro bono lawyers, and clients. Debra Jennings of Legal Aid of Western Ohio, Inc then discussed her organization’s LiveHelp project to connect those persons with legal assistance to address their legal needs. She covered the goals, project nuts and bolts and also outcomes. Liz then talked about a LiveHelp/LiveChat initiative to assess and pilot a new live chat platform for LiveHelp initiatives using the LivePerson Pro software.

Claudia Johnson of Pro Bono Net then discussed LHI-Connect, a new way to share and create documents between lawyers and clients remotely and asynchronously. The project is a new capacity in LawHelp Interactive that allows lawyers to co-produce documents with their clients from a secure site.

Finally, Phong Wong of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles presented on the LAFLA/library video conferencing project, which serves to enhance client accessibility and work productivity by bridging geographic barriers between LAFLA’s offices, community libraries and other partners. She also talked about the rollout of the Pro Bono Training Institute, which leverages technology to connect pro bono attorneys to pro bono opportunities through interactive trainings.

The training ended with great discussion and question, so be sure to view the resources available at LSNTAP.org.

Mirenda

 

Mirenda Meghelli is the LawHelp Interactive Program Coordinator at Pro Bono Net, where she works as part of a team to support and grow initiatives using LawHelp Interactive, an award-winning national online document assembly platform operated by Pro Bono Net in partnership with legal aid, pro bono and court access to justice programs across the country. Mirenda has been spearheading the LawHelp Interactive rebuild project, along with Doug Carlson, Pro Bono Net’s Director of Technology and Operations.

 

LawHelp Interactive (LHI), Pro Bono Net’s award-winning online legal document assembly platform, allows low-income individuals without access to a lawyer to prepare their own legal forms online for free. It’s also used by volunteer attorneys, legal aid advocates and court staff seeking to work more effectively and provide innovative models of service delivery.

Thanks to grants from the Legal Services Corporation Technology Initiative Grant program to Blue Ridge Legal Services and the Booth Ferris Foundation, Pro Bono Net has finished a complete overhaul of the current LHI platform that modernizes and streamlines the application architecture.

LHI-powered forms are being produced and used in court and legal aid office settings, at homes, shelters, and in public libraries, for remote legal assistance where advocates may be miles away from a client they are supporting, and in large group clinics where a number of participants complete forms simultaneously with advocate and volunteer support. The forms are available in over 40 states, and in many places available in multiple languages.

Released in April of this year, the rebuild platform promises to be a vast improvement, while still maintaining the previous system’s functionality. We interviewed Mirenda Meghelli, LawHelp Interactive Program Coordinator, about the LHI rebuild and her important role in the process.

 

Can you give me a brief background on LawHelp Interactive?Welcome page LHI

LHI became a project of Pro Bono Net in 2006 and since that time, the project has grown at a rapid pace – from 76,000 documents completed in 2007 to more than 509,000 forms completed in 2014. The LHI team maintains a national server where these forms are hosted.  We also train and support local legal aid, pro bono, and partner courts design the forms on LawHelp Interactive. Legal experts make the templates that are used to create the forms and documents with HotDocs and A2J Author.

The service is being used in ever more creative and compelling ways to empower self-represented litigants and increase the capacity of legal services and pro bono attorneys.  Interactive forms enabled by LHI are now used at remote court and law library kiosks, in online and brick and mortar self-help centers around the country, and in large group clinics. None of these models of service existed 10 years ago; however, this increasing activity is taking place on a system that reflects legacy architectural and software choices made almost a decade ago.

LawHelp Interactive increases opportunities for people to get justice on their own. It also improves efficiency for access-to-justice programs. LHI has grown quite rapidly in the past few years, and yet it was still running on the same technology. We definitely needed to upgrade.

How many states use LHI? Courts? How many users per year?

Over 40 states use LawHelp Interactive. In 2014, more than 509,000 forms we assembled on the LHI platform. We are used by courts, legal aid advocates, pro bono lawyers, volunteers and individuals from all over the country. Users can visit www.lawhelp.org, find their state and subject matter to see if there are available forms and they will be sent to LHI.  People are asked a series of questions, and then their answers are used to tailor their documents. They can use the site anonymously or create an account and save their answers. The site is used by legal aid advocates, pro bono lawyers, and people representing themselves. In some states, forms created by LHI can be e-filed to a court or fax and filed.

What was the need for the LHI system rebuild, and how did the project get started? And why now?

The rebuild started in 2013 with Legal Services Corporation Technology Initiative Grant funding to Blue Ridge Legal Services (BRLS) in support of the project. With all of the new ways that the LHI platform was being used, and the sheer increase in the number of users, it was definitely time to update the system. Working with BRLS, Marlabs, The Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI), as well as long-time LHI contractors including Capstone Practice Systems, Todd Pedwell and Associates, and Kaivo, we were able to rebuild the LHI technical infrastructure into a single technology stack creating a more reliable and scalable system. Internally, Claudia Johnson, Liz Keith, Mark O’Brien and the LHI tech team including Alice Pucheu, Kanchana Hegde, Greg Tenzer and Doug Carlson all contributed significantly to this project as well.

Can you tell me a little about your role in the project?

In consultation with BRLS, I’ve served as the program lead on the rebuild project where I worked with the LHI team and contract rebuild developers, Marlabs, to roll out the new LHI technical infrastructure. This involved participating in regular, sometimes daily calls, with developers and the technical team as the project progressed, handling grant and administrative aspects of the project, liaising with LHI partners who tested the system and offered valuable input, and working with the external and internal rebuild team to make sure we reached project goals.

It was really interesting and exciting to be a part of a rebuild of this kind. Our partners and end users utilize LHI to do important work and the system is a means through which access to justice can be increased.  This new platform better supports this important work.

Who else was involved in the project and what were their roles?

Many people have been involved in the launch of this project. Allison McDermott was the original program lead for the LHI rebuild and worked with Jim Wiegand, who previously served as PBN Technical Director, to scope out the project. Ahuva Shabtai, who served as business analyst for LHI, coordinated much of the project including overseeing the documentation phase before the development work began. Alice Pucheu, Pro Bono Net’s Project Manager, has also worked to move this project forward and has been the primary person supporting partners in transition to the new system with respect to LHI widgets, e-filing, and CMS integration projects. Claudia Johnson, LHI Program Coordinator, Mark O’Brien, PBN’s Executive Director, and Liz Keith, Pro Bono Net’s Program Director, have provided guidance on business/program aspects of the project and the LHI technical team and contract rebuild developers under the leadership of Doug Carlson, Pro Bono Net’s Director of Technology & Operations, were responsible for much of the development, testing, and troubleshooting of the LHI rebuild environment.

Longtime collaborators Capstone Practice Systems, Todd Pedwell and Kaivo also played an integral role in transitioning to this new technical infrastructure, and HotDocs Corporation provided invaluable technical assistance on key aspects of the new system and supporting current and new HotDocs interviews in the the rebuild environment Finally, LHI partners who provided feedback and engaged in community testing of the new system provided a tremendous help in the launch of this new system.

Beyond the rebuild project, LHI is supported day-to-day by a longstanding partnership between Pro Bono Net and Ohio State Legal Services. Together we have received generous support for our LawHelp Interactive program from the Legal Services Corporation’s Technology Initiative Grants program, as well as from the HotDocs Corporation.

What were the biggest challenges this project faced?

As part of the rebuild, we migrated an incredibly large volume of user and form data from the old infrastructure to the new one. Migration of data from any legacy system is always challenging as it involves ensuring that there is no corruption or loss of data during the migration.  In the case of LHI, this work has been complicated by inconsistencies in legacy data due to changes in validation rules over a 10-year period of operations. As a result, we needed to develop manual processes to analyze and resolve missing or malformed data required within the new system.  This challenging work affected the project timeline and project costs.

What are the top 2-3 differences between the old system and the new? Tell me about some of the new features?

Interview LHI 2While the plan of the rebuild was to replicate the existing system functionality with minimal enhancements, there are a number of differences in the new system benefiting the different LHI user groups. Notably, load balancing has been implemented with the new LHI system. This basically means there are three servers operating at once for LHI increasing reserve capacity and allowing the usage of the two other servers if one server experiences problems.

Another major difference is that LHI now operates as a unified technical stack & database. The old system’s architecture consisted of a number of distinct technologies maintained by different people. Streamlining LHI into a single technical stack and database makes maintenance and troubleshooting of the system much less complicated and improves the ability for LHI to integrate with other systems.

Finally, we introduced a more simplified uploading and updating process for forms developers to upload their content into the LHI server. This change was implemented given template developer feedback on the upload and update process over the years and during a rebuild focus group.

When did the new system go live, and how can I access it?

The new system went live on April 20, 2015 and can be accessed via www.lawhehelpinteractive.org. It is the same website address as before and old users are able to log into their accounts from the same location. To use the LHI platform, users can create an account which can be done from the main website page or complete an interview anonymously.

With all of the new upgrades to the platform, accessing and filling out the interviews is better supported for users in all of the 40 states utilizing the platform. Backup servers ensure that thousands of users can access the system at the same time and access their compiled documents based on their interviews quickly!

Pro Bono To Go - Checklist Options
Pro Bono To Go – Checklist Options

Volunteer attorneys, paralegals and law students routinely work in field settings such as clinics, courthouses or community legal education events. Providing comprehensive support to legal volunteers in these settings can be challenging, but the ubiquity of mobile devices and tablets makes them ideal vehicles for supporting pro bono in these contexts. In Minnesota, Legal Aid Services of Northeastern Minnesota, Legal Services State Support and the State Bar of Minnesota worked with Pro Bono Net to create new solutions for legal professionals on the go.

Pro Bono to Go” is a mobile-optimized library of Interview Guides and Settlement Checklists designed for pro bono attorneys. The resources are available through ProJusticeMN.org, Minnesota’s statewide advocate site. Interview Guides contain questions that help attorneys and legal service providers navigate a client interview on a selected topic. Settlement Checklists include issues likely to be relevant to a settlement within the selected topic. While these guides and checklists will not cover every situation, the attorneys and legal service providers can adapt to the client’s situation using these resources as a road map.

Pro Bono To Go - Housing Law: Eviction Settlement Checklist
Pro Bono To Go – Housing Law: Eviction Settlement Checklist

The Interview Guides are intended to help gather important information from clients. Each guide contains a series of model questions to solicit information likely to be relevant to the topic area. The Settlement Checklists can help volunteers assist clients in reaching comprehensive settlements with adverse parties. Each checklist contains issues that should be discussed with the client, and issues to consider addressing in the client’s agreement.

By constructing a series of mobile-optimized client interview guides and settlement checklists to help volunteer attorneys and legal service advocates, ProJusticeMN and Pro Bono Net have given practitioners a powerful new tool as omnipresent as their smartphones. With so much information literally at their fingertips, attorneys and legal service providers are better able to serve those unable to afford paid legal services.

ProJusticeMN.org is a unique collaboration of the Minnesota public interest legal community. The Minnesota Legal Services Coalition, Minnesota State Bar Association, Legal Services Advocacy Project, and the federal Legal Services Corporation worked together to develop ProJusticeMN.org.

This year, Pro Bono Net celebrated our 15th Anniversary. As we reflect back on the past 15 years, we caught up with a few individuals who were critical to our early growth and development. Below is an interview with Liz Keith, Pro Bono Net Program Director. 

Pro Bono Net: Tell us about your time and role at Pro Bono Net?

Liz Keith: I’m approaching a decade with Pro Bono Net.Liz Keith That sounds like long time, and in some ways it is! But PBN and the communities we work with are incredibly dynamic. I’ve never stopped learning along the way, and have had opportunities to work on and develop a wide variety of projects over the years. I started as a Circuit Rider, helping our partner organizations around the country develop their LawHelp.org and probono.net initiatives. My role has expanded since then. I’m still very involved in those efforts, but now oversee our strategies and services across our programs.

PBN: What drew you to working here?

LK: I came to Pro Bono Net after completing a self-tailored masters degree in community informatics at the University of Michigan, focused on public interest applications of technology. Before that I had worked for several years at the Maine Women’s Policy Center, where I helped to coordinate advocacy and community outreach initiatives focusing on economic security, freedom from violence, health care, and civil rights. In Maine I had a chance to work on several novel initiatives that used online tools to support participation of rural and under-represented communities in policy formation, as well as educating women about changes in the law.

Finding Pro Bono Net was a little like finding a needle in a haystack. It combined my interests in access to legal information, community engagement, and creating innovative solutions to help people in need. The fact that Pro Bono Net is not just a technology provider was also attractive. It’s equally invested in improving collaboration in the legal sector, and supporting our partners in developing effective content, outreach, and sustainability strategies. At the time there very few nonprofit organizations working across these areas – and we’re still pretty unique in that way. The national scale of PBN’s work was an added draw.

PBN: What have been the most exciting changes to observe as the organization has grown?

LK: The most striking is probably the transformation in how the communities we work with view technology. In my first few years I did a lot of site visits to our field partners. The local project coordinator and I would do outreach presentations about LawHelp.org and probono.net to legal aid program staff, community groups, law schools, and so on. Invariably, about 10 minutes into a workshop, someone would raise their hand and say, “all of these online legal resources are great, but do low-income clients really have access to the Internet?” It was a valid question at the time, and a digital divide still persists in certain areas, so part of our strategy has always been to work with community anchor institutions that help the public access LawHelp.org. But these days, we’re hearing questions like, “these online resources are great, but our clients are asking if they can apply for services online or e-file forms through LawHelp Interactive.” Some of that change relates to how much more interwoven technology is with our daily lives now, but evaluations of PBN’s programs and training initiatives show that we’ve played a key role in helping to grow the capacity of the field in taking innovative approaches to client services and volunteer mobilization. Some of the most exciting ideas I hear these days come from people who once described themselves as Luddites. In our consumer-facing work, we’ve also expanded our longtime focus on plain language to include other critical areas like language access. Another exciting development has been the growth of our immigration work, via the Immigration Advocates Network, from a small pilot to a major national initiative using innovative technology and collaboration to tackle complex issues and expand legal services for low-income immigrants.

PBN: What are you most proud of from your time at Pro Bono Net?

LK: I think Hurricane Katrina was a galvanizing moment for Pro Bono Net as an organization and me personally on certain levels. I had done a site visit to New Orleans just a few months before. The impact of Katrina was so widespread it became apparently very quickly that the affected communities, particularly low-income ones, would be dealing with legal issues stemming from the disaster for years to come. We were still a small organization at the time, but were able to mobilize quickly to assist our partners in the region with certain immediate needs, and then in leveraging their LawHelp.org and probono.net projects to deliver critical information to the public and help coordinate response efforts by legal aid staff and volunteers. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to support the work of incredibly dedicated advocates and programs throughout the Gulf Coast in the wake of that event. Since then, I’ve worked with other partners on efforts that use our programs to help people recover from crises – whether natural or industrial disasters, like the BP oil spill or the 2008 economic recession. It’s gratifying to see how our programs can help people get a foothold out of crisis, support the work of legal aid practitioners and volunteers, and advance our partners’ own goals on the ground.

Also – and I can’t take credit for this, but I’m not sure where else it fits in this interview! – I’m really proud of PBN’s staff. They are incredibly talented, committed and deeply engaged in the work we do and supporting our collaborations around the country. They’re also a lot of fun. You can see how we like to spend our spare time in Jake’s summer 2014 round-up.

PBN: Where is Pro Bono Net going over the next 15 years, how will our role change, and how will the second 15 years be different from the first 15?

LK: The only constant is change, right? I think our core mission and approach – developing innovative, sustainable solutions for expanding access to justice – will be a constant. I also think we’ll continue to focus largely on solutions that are scalable and replicable and can have widespread impact, not just one-off projects. That said, I see PBN becoming even more of an incubator, and creating spaces for our staff and partners to develop, test, and learn from small-scale projects. I think increasingly we will mix and match our own technology platforms with cutting-edge commercial tools or innovations in the start-up space. I also see us getting more involved in designing and delivering direct services in certain contexts. We do this now through CitizenshipWorks.org and a few other projects, but other examples might include developing and managing a large-scale remote volunteer initiative for underserved communities, or designing new programs that engage many more non-attorneys and non-legal organizations in access to justice. Looking ahead, I’d love to see us leverage the “network” nature of Pro Bono Net even more – how can we connect the hundreds of public interest organizations and thousands of volunteers in our network in new and creative ways to match resources to needs? And how can we connect individuals facing life-altering issues with these groups, and to each other, in ways that not only solve their immediate problem, but also provide information and resources that have an enduring positive impact on whole communities?

PBN: What are some examples of innovative technologies we hope to support/help develop in the next few years to close the justice gap?

LK: I’m glad you’re not asking me to look 15 years ahead on this one! In the near term, I’m excited about the new capacities we’re building into the next generation of LawHelp Interactive and CitizenshipWorks. On LHI, this includes creating a more scalable platform to better support the creative and diverse ways that legal aid programs, courts, libraries, shelters, and others want to use it. And CitizenshipWorks 2.0 will include new remote consultation tools to bring naturalization legal assistance to smaller and rural communities where resources are scarce. We’re also exploring expansion possibilities for the Debt and Eviction Navigator (aka DEN), a tablet-based screening tool that is used by social workers and nurses to assess the legal needs of the homebound elderly. DEN guides the social workers through a series of questions to conduct consumer and housing “legal health check-ups” for the seniors and then direct them to sources of help. It’s part of a national trend toward partnering with non-legal organizations and lay advocates in solutions for closing the justice gap. I think supportive tools like DEN have a lot of promise, particularly when they draw on the incredibly rich information and referral resources on LawHelp.org sites. We’re also expanding our mobile strategies through several LawHelp.org and probono.net projects. So, a lot to look forward to. Stay tuned to Connecting Justice Communities for updates!