Adding Online Pro Bono to Your Access to Justice Toolkit

George "Buck" Lewis

George “Buck” Lewis

Trends favoring online pro bono

A 2013 study done by the Pew Research Center indicates that 85% of American adults are internet users and that 70% of American adults have some sort of high-speed internet connection in their home. As of 2013, sixty-four percent of households with incomes between $20-$30,000 have internet accessibility and fifty-four percent of households with incomes between $10-$20,000 had internet access (as of the 2013 study). The Pew study showed a dramatic increase in smart phone ownership just in the two year period between May, 2011 and May, 2013, so these numbers probably underestimate present internet access via smart phone usage as of the spring, 2015.

The trends are clearly in favor of increased internet usage. There is no reason to believe that use of the internet for requesting and receiving legal advice will not continue to grow with every passing year. It is also clear that although limited scope advice, whether provided in a walk-in clinic, a telephone bank, or over the internet, is no substitute for unlimited scope representation, limited scope advice can provide an invaluable tool to low income residents who cannot possibly afford a lawyer.

History of interactive pro bono websites in the U.S.

We know from experience that interactive websites can successfully help thousands of low income citizens. For the last four years, the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services and Tennessee Bar Association has operated an interactive pro bono website entitled www.ONLINETNJUSTICE.org. On this website, volunteer lawyers sign up to provide pro bono legal answers to low-income families across Tennessee. The site has helped over 8,000 clients since it was launched in 2011. Since 2011, the states of Alabama, Indiana, Minnesota, South Carolina and West Virginia have launched similar interactive pro bono websites, using the same software. Those sites have operated under the respective names of www.Alabamalegalanswers.org, www.Indianalegalanswers.org, www.MNlegaladvice.org, www.SClawanswers.org and www.WVonlinelegalhelp.org. Our firm owns the rights to the software and licenses it to responsible organizations for free under a licensing agreement.

Benefits to lawyer volunteers

The experience in Tennessee and in the other states which have launched interactive websites has been that these websites provide a significant benefit to lawyers. Government and corporate lawyers, who have difficulty providing pro bono in the public arena, are able to provide pro bono services online. Senior lawyers who no longer have a traditional practice are grateful to have the opportunity to use their considerable experience for the benefit of low income clients. Lawyers who are disabled or are on family or medical leave or who have taken a break from traditional practice to assume child-rearing responsibilities, are also happy to have the opportunity to continue to use their skills for the benefit of low income clients. Lawyers also like the fact that they can do pro bono any time of the day or night in any location with internet access. On the internet, lawyers can do pro bono while they sit with their children, while in a doctor’s waiting room, an airport gate, or while riding in a car, bus or train. These sites would also provide opportunities for law student/lawyer collaborations.

The experience in all the states which have launched these sites so far has shown that this online pro bono tool is an important part of the mosaic of pro bono services lawyers can render in carrying out the highest ideals of our profession.

Benefits to low-income clients

The benefits to clients are obvious. Clients in rural areas with very few if any lawyers in their area or in urban areas where the clinics are difficult to attend can get access to advice. In Tennessee, for example, we have had many heart-warming stories about clients who have been able to remain in their homes by asserting their statutory and common law rights they learned about online, clients who have struck better compromise arrangements with creditors as a result of understanding their rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act or federal bankruptcy laws and, of course, clients who have received advice on how to find unlimited scope representation for matters of critical importance such as child custody and conservatorship. Often it is more difficult to create public awareness of a local limited scope clinic than to create public awareness about the existence of a website. Having one web portal allows public awareness to be promoted on a state-wide basis. Of course, a pro bono website is there 24/7/365 for clients – a walk in clinic may not be held but once a month or even once a quarter.

Presently, in addition to Alabama, Indiana, Minnesota, South Carolina and West Virginia, we have signed licensing agreements with Arizona, Mississippi, Wisconsin and Montana. Also, the ABA Pro Bono Committee is in the process of exploring the feasibility of a national pro bono website to which all states would have access. If you are interested in launching a site in your state and/or if you would be interested in having your state participate in a national site, please contact me at blewis@bakerdonelson.com or Samantha Sanchez at the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services at ssanchez@tals.org.

George “Buck” Lewis is a partner at the law firm Baker Donelson and chair of the firm’s Appellate Practice Litigation Group. Mr. Lewis is the past president of the Memphis Bar Foundation, the Tennessee Bar Association, and the Tennessee Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission. He’s a recipient of the ABA Presidential Citation for Access to Justice and inaugural Justice Janice Holder Award from Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services. Mr. Lewis is a current member of the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service.

Posted in Access to Justice | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pro Bono Effect: Making Better Lawyers and a Better Community

A great read about IP lawyers engaging in pro bono work: Pro Bono Effect: Making Better Lawyers and a Better Community.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

TRI-STATE Patent Pro Bono Program to Launch in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut

The Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts in New York is launching the expansion of its Patent Pro Bono Program to include New Jersey and Connecticut with a kick-off event on February 10th, 2015, at Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP in New York City.  The Patent Pro Bono Program will match low-income inventors in the tri-state area with volunteer patent attorneys registered to practice before the USPTO to provide patent prosecution counsel and assistance.

This is only the first of three Patent Pro Bono Programs to launch this month.  On February 17th, Georgia PATENTS (Pro bono Assistance & Training for Entrepreneurs and New, Talented, Solo inventors) will have its kick-off event in Atlanta at Alston & Byrd.  Georgia PATENTS is facilitated by the Georgia Lawyers for the Arts with support from the State Bar of Georgia and the Intellectual Property Sections of the State Bar of Georgia and the Atlanta Bar.

A Patent Pro Bono Program in the Midwest will follow shortly thereafter on February 19th in St Louis.  Gateway VMS and the State Bar of Missouri will debut the program, with the support from Husch Blackwell and Lewis Rice Fingerish.  The Missouri based program will provide patent pro bono coverage for five states, including Missouri, Arkansas, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

The launch of programs in New York, Georgia, and Missouri follows the success of the first Patent Pro Bono Program, a pilot program that launched in Minnesota in 2011.  Since then, Minnesota’s LegalCORPS Inventor Assistance Program (IAP) has matched volunteer patent attorneys with over 60 Minnesota inventors, including 15 inventors who have been granted patents and many others with pending patent applications.  From Minnesota to Georgia, and from California to Connecticut, the interest and encouragement of the USPTO have been key components to the successful establishment of these patent pro bono programs.

“The USPTO is thrilled with the expansion of the Patent Pro Bono Program,” said Jennifer McDowell, USPTO Pro Bono Coordinator.  “Local innovation supports the local economy and these programs will help ensure that inventors have access to patent counsel, which is so critical to the success of their businesses.”  Currently, only five states (Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Illinois, and Indiana) remain without Patent Pro Bono Program coverage.  However, partners in those states are very close to establishing programs so that residents in all 50 states can take advantage of this tremendous opportunity.

Support from the ABA, including the Intellectual Property Law and Business Law Sections and their members, and advice from the ABA’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service and the Center for Pro Bono, also have been critical to the establishment and success of these patent pro bono programs.  The patent bar has truly heeded President Obama’s call to action on this initiative.  For more information about the patent pro bono programs or to volunteer with a program in your area, please contact McDowell at Jennifer.Mcdowell@uspto.gov, or Amy Salmela, ABA Intellectual Property Law Section Pro Bono Committee Chair, at salmela@ptslaw.com.

Co-authors Jennifer McDowell and Amy Salmela have been closely involved in the development of the Patent Pro Bono Program, which was initiated in 2011 as a result of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act to establish programs to provide free legal assistance to under-resourced inventors interested in securing patent protection for their inventions.

USPTO Official Portrait of Jennifer McDowell a Michael A. Cleveland Portrait 10-6-2014

Jennifer McDowell is an Attorney with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

AmySalmela

Amy Salmela is a partner with Patterson Thuente IP

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Advocacy Worthy of a KING

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. What affects one directly affects another indirectly.”

—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

1963, Letter from the Birmingham Jail

When I think of a core reason to engage in pro bono legal work, this excerpt from Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963, letter immediately comes to mind. While in jail for one of his protests, Dr. King wrote this response to an audience of white religious leaders from the south who issued statements of public concern and caution towards Dr. King and his supporters. In the letter, King shared numerous examples of injustices and appealed to the human emotion of the leaders with language, such as, “I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham” and “Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”

You may ask: “What does this have to do with legal pro bono?”  I’m glad that you asked. There are numerous outreach opportunities for the “everybodies” of the world to help the indigent, lower income, less fortunate or poor— whichever identifier you choose for those in need, I am speaking of that population. Attorneys, however, possess talents to offer this population that extend beyond what the “everybodies” can. We are uniquely qualified to advocate and resolve problems that often have broad-reaching precedential value in the lives of people beyond serving meals in one soup kitchen or homeless shelter; we have the potential to reach the nation. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with serving a meal at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter along with the “everybodies.” But, don’t you want more? Most “everybodies” do not have the level of influence afforded attorneys because they are not educated and trained about the most powerful force in this land, the rule of law!

So, what opportunities are there? Maybe the marches in Ferguson, the “die-ins” in New York, the abhorrent attacks on law enforcement, or the senseless killing of innocent children and college students in their classrooms has left you believing there is nothing you could possibly do to change the status quo. Trust me. There is some social need perfectly suited for you to apply your legal knowledge and skills, and about which you can get excited. Perhaps, you could see yourself helping the homeless, but in another way like negotiating a housing lease, working on a legal hotline, or advocating for adequate mental health treatment and the benefits to cover it.  Maybe issues within families resonate with you. If so, assist your local legal services provider by helping a domestic violence victim pursue a restraining order and safe housing, or handle a child support matter for a parent hanging on by a fraying financial thread. Perhaps, you’re more of a business law type and can take on consumer issues, such as identity theft and fraud schemes that are often targeted at the “least of these.” How about support for those who risk their lives to defend us? Drafting a will, power of attorney and living will for a soldier would relieve both the soldier and his/her family of unnecessary stress. And, if mentoring makes sense, but it’s not your  bent,  secure expungement of the juvenile record of an aging-out foster youth or other young person to enable him/her to overcome barriers to education, public benefits and employment, or help to stabilize the status and living arrangements for an immigrant child. For the latter, there will be more than enough opportunities to do so in the very near future.

The fact that you are reading this tells me that you likely think of yourself as a good person and became an attorney to use your skills to change the world. As Dr. King cautioned in his letter, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”  So, even if you think of yourself as quiet, certainly don’t be appallingly silent by doing nothing! There is something for you to do.  As I recently heard someone say, “No one on earth can change the world, but we, as attorneys can change people’s worlds.”

As the nation celebrates what would have been the 86 birthday of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I encourage you to accept this truth that you can change people’s worlds by finding some legal pro bono work to perform. In so doing, you will add your unique stitch to this single garment of destiny that is still America. Such a legacy is surely worth getting excited about!

 

dawn du VerneyDawn M. Du Verney, Esq. is an attorney with the U.S. Social Security Administration in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area. She is also a member of the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service, the ABA Section of Litigation’s Children’s Rights Litigation Committee Working Group on the Right to Counsel for Children, and Co-chair of the Section of Litigation’s Criminal Litigation Committee. She is the former Executive Director of the State of New Jersey Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Commission.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Make Access to Justice for All a New Year’s Resolution

If you are like many of us, you may have made a resolution or two for the new year – maybe to work out more, or eat better, or to kick a bad habit. Maybe, as an attorney, you resolved to do more pro bono work in 2015.  Tennessee Bar Association President Jonathan O. Steen renewed his commitment to access to justice – read more about his resolution here.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

An International Perspective on the Role of Pro Bono

In the U.S., we are very used to a culture of pro bono participation and encouragement of that culture in the legal community. It is not news to note that other countries may have a different perspective, but this piece offers an interesting comparison between the U.S. and the U.K. attitudes:

“I went to the European Pro Bono Forum this month expecting to be welcomed with open arms as an emissary of America’s expansive pro bono culture. I found London’s pro bono leaders suspicious of efforts to boost pro bono, and hostile to the American model. With good reason.”

Read more: http://www.litigationdaily.com/id=1202676912565/The-Global-Lawyer-Pro-Bono-Law-in-an-Anti-Bono-Land-#ixzz3Jd7ynZoU

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The National Federation of Paralegal Associations Celebrates Pro Bono

The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) Annual Convention & Policy Meeting was hosted by the Dallas Area Paralegal Association (DAPA) from October 9, 2014 through October 12, 2014 at The Fairmount Dallas. This year’s annual convention and policy meeting “Live Large. Think Big… in Texas” was attended by 40 local associations.

The NFPA Model Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility Guidelines provide that each paralegal should aspire to contribute 24 hours of community service, in addition to 24 hours to pro bono service annually. During the year, paralegals voluntarily report hours via the NFPA Pro Bono/Community Service Hours Reporting Forms to record and report the number of hours contributed to local groups, pro bono agencies, events, associations and organizations. Local associations may then report these hours to the state and local bar associations, highlighting the valuable contributions paralegals make to the delivery of pro bono legal services and to making access to justice a reality.

On Saturday, October 11, 2014, NFPA honored over 60 paralegals from local associations throughout the United States for meeting and/or exceeding the recommended aspirations for completion of pro bono/community service hours. These paralegals received certificates along with a commemorative pro bono pin.

Following the presentation of certificates and pins, NFPA also announced the 2014 pro bono award winners who received commemorative plaques:

Association Pro Bono Award: Dallas Area Paralegal Association

Association Pro Bono Award: Dallas Area Paralegal Association

Individual Pro Bono Award: Risa Burgess, Dallas Area Paralegal Association  (pictured here with DAPA President, Lisa Lynch )

Individual Pro Bono Award: Risa Burgess, Dallas Area Paralegal Association (pictured here with DAPA President, Lisa Lynch )

Christine M. Flynn is a paralegal with the law firm Haggerty, Goldberg, Schleifer & Kupersmith in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and serves as Coordinator of Pro Bono for The National Federation of Paralegal Associations.

Posted in Pro bono news | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Who Are You Gonna Call? How About LSNTAP

logo
The Legal Services National Technology Assistance Project (LSNTAP) is an online resource that provides legal aid programs with advice and support on which technology can be used to assist in their mission. LSNTAP provides frequent free online trainings, roundtables, a tech blog and the robust LSTech discussion list. There is also a growing technology library. The website has an online chat feature, should you wish to ask a question, or you can just email them for information instead. Although geared specifically to support staff at Legal Services Corporation grantees, most of the content is also available to non-LSC funded groups.

If you want to know about a particular form of technology relevant to your work visiting the LSNTAP pages should be one of the first things you do (in addition to consulting other important technology information resources such as the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center (LTRC), the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) and Techsoup.org).  Here are some of the resources that you can find there.

Videos: LSNTAP has a YouTube presence with videos of interest to those doing technology work for legal aid programs.

Some of the videos are very short “how to” clips while some are archived full-length webinars.  Among the topics:  geographic information system (GIS) mapping, securing cloud files, website analytics, website accessibility, setting up a Google custom search engine, how to use technology to support low-English proficient (LEP) speakers, online resources for helping self-represented litigants and using video cameras and editing videos.

Case Management Systems (CMS): LSNTAP maintains a section on their website that allows comparison of the case management systems most in use by LSC grantees. The six systems are: Kemp’s Case Works, Legal Files, Legal Server, Pika CMS, Practice Manager and Time. Other case management resources on the NTAP site may be found here:

http://lsntap.org/search/all?keyword=case%20management%20systems

http://cms.lsntap.org/cms-listing

Trainings:  LSNTAP has frequent and free online trainings and webinars.  Upcoming events are webinars on Microsoft’s OneNote, 50 Tech Tips, Using Mobile Phones for Service Delivery, Innovations in Technology-Enabled Pro Bono, Getting Beyond the Like: Social Media Engagement and Visualizing Your Data Through Dashboards

http://lsntap.org/trainings

Tech Library: The Tech Library is key word searchable – if you want to rummage for anything such as “open source,” “hotdocs,” or “Outlook” this would be a simple way in to see what was available. But the library is also tagged and sorted by topic, the most general being: Legal Aid Tech, Tech Management, Future Think & Ethics and LSC &Technology Initiative Grants.

Clicking on one of these general topics will reveal links to a wide range of specific technology information:  Wikis, mobile websites, multimedia, hotlines, document assembly, statewide websites, communications, phone systems and XML for example.

Other Resources: LSNTAP maintains a Survey Bank with over 25 sample surveys that may be of use to organizations, a technology blog that can be searched by keyword and also supports the LSTech discussion list.  One can request admission to the LSTech list on the LSNTAP home page.

There is also an online help/chat desk which is currently available 10 am – 3 pm CT, Monday through Friday.  The current policy is that “any staff member from an LSC-funded program can use the chat client to receive help.” If the help desk is offline send in your technology question to helpdesk@lsntap.org

jones_headshot

 

Bill Jones is the Technology, Information and Content Coordinator for the ABA’s Center for Pro Bono.

Posted in Center for Pro Bono | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Request for Proposals: 2015 Equal Justice Conference

EJC

2015 ABA/NLADA Equal Justice Conference

Presented by

ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service &

The National Legal Aid & Defender Association

  May 7-9, 2015 (Preconference May 6)

Hilton Austin | Austin, TX

Request for Session Proposals

The 2015 Equal Justice Conference planning team invites you to submit session proposals for this year’s conference.  Please refer to the proposal guidelines and complete the session proposal submission form online.  If you have questions about completing the online form, please contact Erin Wellin at erin.wellin@americanbar.org.

Session proposals are due no later than
Friday, October 10, 2014.

www.equaljusticeconference.org

Posted in Equal Justice Conference | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Online Tennessee Justice:  Growing Popularity for a Legal Advice Tool

jones_headshot

Online TN Justice  is a website that allows qualified users to post legal questions to their passworded account on the website and receive free legal advice from an anonymous, volunteer attorney.  This is usually not a real-time exchange but, rather, an asynchronous one. The client logs back in to view their answer and to post any follow–up questions.

Online TN Justice is a joint project of the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services (TALS) and the Tennessee Bar Association. It was developed by IT staff in the Baker Donelson Memphis office and has been described as a “virtual walk-in clinic” where the client can receive brief advice.

Erik Cole, the Executive Director of TALS at the launch, made a 4–minute YouTube video “Welcome to Online TN Justice” that describes how the site is used. Prospective clients must fill in an online form to establish eligibility in terms of their income and liquid assets, and must not be imprisoned or enquiring about criminal law issues. (Those who are not eligible are provided with alternate paths to possible assistance.) The authorized user will provide their name and their county after which they use their assigned username and password to send in their question. The volunteer attorney, who remains anonymous, is able to browse among the questions posted and choose those they will answer.  The attorney-client relationship is limited, based upon agreements made when parties signed onto the site. [Tennessee law (RPC 1.2(c) and 6.5)]

If the volunteer attorney wishes to take on the entire case pro bono they can do so as long as they communicate with the site sponsors through an email address. Attorneys who use the site are covered by insurance maintained by the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services.  The website will track pro bono hours worked—the site administrator will file for 1 hour of ethics & professionalism credit for every five hours of logged work.  (http://www.onlinetnjustice.org/Account/AttorneyFAQ ) Other states that have adopted the software don’t necessarily have to follow the Tennessee policies:  some states may not allow anonymity or provide CLE for pro bono hours.

Online Tennessee Justice has been in service for three years and three months during which 6,700 questions have been asked.   There are now over 420 attorneys registered who are now fielding an average of 211 new questions per month.

Online Tennessee Justice supports the delivery of pro bono legal services by removing many common difficulties and barriers.  There is no need for clients or attorneys to physically meet in a specific location, neither party needs to be “present” simultaneously, the attorney can select a time that is most convenient for themselves to open and answer a question, and conflict checks are very simplified because of Tennessee’s guidelines for pro bono and brief service.  In addition, the web-based resource allows rural areas to receive more service from city-based lawyers.  The site also helps advance the culture of pro bono:  South Carolina has used their version, South Carolina Law Answers, to pair law students with volunteer attorneys in the “First Friday Blitz“—law students research and write up the answers which are then reviewed and commented upon by attorneys before the answer is posted to the client.  Tennessee sees the value in this and is also adopting the concept.  Law students, through these mentored, brief service pro bono opportunities, get a good hands-on experience that should encourage them to do pro bono throughout their careers.

Five other states have availed themselves of the opportunity to launch customized versions of the Tennessee software for their own pro bono work:

Minnesota Legal Services State Support http://www.mnlegaladvice.org/

Alabama Law Federation http://www.alabamalegalanswers.org/

South Carolina Bar Pro Bono Program http://www.sclawanswers.org/

Indiana Pro Bono Commission http://www.indianalegalanswers.org/

West Virginia http://www.wvonlinelegalhelp.org/ (currently they are only taking on volunteer attorneys before opening to the public).

Mississippi and Montana are close to adopting the software.  Other states have expressed an interest—Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, New Mexico, Texas and Utah.

This Online TN Justice site runs on two servers, one for the database and one for the website, contributed by Dell. The software to run the resource, estimated as a $60,000 value, can be licensed for free by Access to Justice organizations wishing to set up their own sites by emailing Buck Lewis, Chair of the Tennessee Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission (or call 901/577–2256).  Baker Donelson was recently recognized by the Tennessee Bar for the contributions their IT department made in creating this site.  Baker Donelson also received the NLADA’s 2014 Beacon of Justice Award for the resource.

Bill Jones is the Technology, Information and Content Coordinator for the ABA’s Center for Pro Bono.

Posted in Center for Pro Bono | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment