What innovative, creative models already do or would result in increased legal services for low income individuals and communities?
Online access to pro bono legal services, such as through http://www.OnlineTNJustice.org, allows people in rural areas to connect with volunteer attorneys even though they are not able to physically visit a clinic or a pro bono attorney in a larger metropolitan area. Perhaps ideas for using the services of senior attorneys, like Second Season of Service, could also be expanded to reach rural communities through mobile clinics. These could be associated with health or other needed services to reach the maximum number of people in need.
Using online document-assembly technologies, pro bono programs can create structured interactive templates for volunteer attorneys that expedite legal document production and provide attorneys new to an area of law with everything they need to take on a pro bono matter. The Minnesota Legal Services Coalition, in partnership with the Volunteer Lawyers Network and the Council on Crime and Justice, has done just that, creating an online interactive interview to help pro bono attorneys with no prior expungement experience pursue criminal expungement on behalf of indigent clients. The interview allows the attorney to print a set of pleadings and letters tailored to each client’s criminal record, and is available alongside related forms and training materials on http://www.ProJusticeMN.org.
Document assembly applications can also be used to allow pro bono attorneys to provide remote, unbundled services for self-represented litigants. In California, court-based self help centers in Los Angeles Superior Court are emailing assembled documents to remote pro bono lawyers for review. The pro bono lawyers review the pleadings and get back to the self-represented litigant.
Innovative uses of technology and the expansion of unbundled services can remove a lot of barriers to pro bono work – the possibilities are limited only by our imaginations.
Legal Services of Northern Michigan has developed and implemented an internet based advice site for low income people with legal problems. The site screens the people for eligibility and then allows them to post a question. The questions are answered by a panel of pro bono attorneys. The average wait time for a response is less than seven days. The site has been in operation for approximately five years. During that time the private attorneys have answered questions for approximately 2,500 people. The estimated cost (including development) is $4.00 per question.
Originally LSNM’s program was lauded as a model for the use of technology to increase pro bono services to clients– especially in rural areas. Then about three years ago, LSC started backing away from the technology with constant issues around the screening module and private attorney advice. They are now trying to force LSNM and a replica program in Minnesota to instruct the private attorneys that they may not give legal advice to the questioners. Instead they can only give legal information. Neither LSNM’s nor Minnesota’s attorneys are likely to waste their time doing something a lay person could do.
The decision being made on LSNN’s on-line advice project and on other extremely restrictive ruling from LSC personnel are having the effect of chilling rather than encouraging pro bono efforts. Remember all of the rules and interpretations surrounding the participation in and provision of pro bono services are generated in-house and do not come from Congress. I hope the pro bono committee looks closely at atmosphere of exclusion and restriction within the Corporation and brings about change. Otherwise technology and innovation will be limited to even more unique ways to simply deliver forms to people.
I agree-it is a chilling effect. Public Law Librarians direct people to resources. Attorneys can give legal advice, we cannot.
The Pro Bono Collaborative (PBC), housed at Roger Williams University School of Law, is an innovative, low-cost pro bono model that connects law firms and law students with community organizations that need pro bono legal services for their organization and/or their clients. The PBC’s pro bono service model is unique in that it involves a three-way partnership– law firm (as opposed to individual lawyers), law school and community organization—to identify unmet legal needs and create pro bono projects that address those needs. The PBC is not a referral program where individual attorneys are matched with clients. Instead the PBC matches law firms with community organizations to provide pro bono legal assistance in a specific area of law that affects a large number of the organization’s clients and fits within the expertise and/or interest of the law firm’s attorneys. Most of the PBC pro bono projects result in long-lasting relationships between law firms and community organizations. The PBC began with three pilot projects and now has 18 active projects.
The PBC is replicable and we would love to assist any law school or legal services organization that is interested in creating a Pro Bono Collaborative—the model can be implemented on a small scale with just a few hours per week! Please contact Eliza Vorenberg for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Non-practicing lawyers and solo practitioners are often not able to do pro bono work due to lack of backup, ever-changing hour-availability (whether its summer vacation or unknown future client demands), and impractical commuting/hour demands. At the same time, nonprofits cannot efficiently cater to each of these lawyer’s various needs with their stretched staffs.
The West Cook Pro Bono Network, based in Oak Park, Illinois, has tapped into previously unused legal hours by catering to the needs of both groups. For the participants, we provide pro bono opportunities that: (1) have finite and scheduled hours; (2) are geographically convenient; (3) are sensitive to time demands over school holidays; and (4) provide backup through working in teams. The latter also has provided community building that makes the work more enjoyable. For the nonprofit legal organizations, we offer a mass group of attorneys with one contact person. This makes it worthwhile for the nonprofit to come to us and change traditional hours from time to time.
Finding the work has not been a problem! PILI has been enormously helpful in identifying which nonprofits would benefit from our group and work within our model. Each one we have worked with has come to us for training (CDEL, CRLF, LAF, CVLS), has changed hours for us, and has allowed us to train incoming attorneys. Even the one project that has not quite worked, has been a positive experience in learning the limits for organizations and our model. The type of legal work that has been successful thus far is: (1) doing POAs and living wills (our last event served 36 local seniors); (2) teaching Constitutional law to Chicago middle schoolers; and (3) VAWAs and U Visa work. We have three hopeful ideas in the works that we will pilot soon and see if we can add to the permanent roster. Those are domestic violence witness prep (not individual representation), GAL, and landlord/tenant work. We welcome other ideas.
The challenge for the Network is keeping our group known to potential participants. Oak Park has free infrastructure that allowed easy ways to spread the word, e.g., our newspaper allows free announcements and there is an email listserve that goes out to thousands of parents, but we haven’t reached all the solo practitioners and, as parents leave their jobs, we want them to know we are here. The advertising has to be frequent as the participants are in and out as their circumstances change (which is another reason why many people don’t do pro bono–they don’t want to seem irresponsible if they are looking for a job, etc . . .).
We are nine months old, have 28 “active” attorneys with another 20 lurking on our listserve and have already donated over 100 hours. These 100 plus hours would have been left on the table but for the Network’s existence.
Our goal is to have 40 active attorneys and 5-6 projects for them to float through as their schedule and life circumstances change. Our website is http://www.westcookprobono.com. We would appreciate anyone who likes the idea to “like” our facebook page which is west cook pro bono network. And thank you to the ABA for supporting us so quickly and encouraging this post.
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