The Pro Bono Innovation Fund (PBIF) provides grants to civil legal aid projects that support new, robust pro bono partnerships through collaboration, innovation, and replication of effective practices.
History of PBIF-Funded Projects
The Pro Bono Innovation Fund (PBIF) offers grants to collaboratively engage more lawyers and non-legal professionals in pro bono service and address gaps in legal services and persistent challenges in the pro bono delivery system. Since its creation in 2014, the Pro Bono Innovation Fund has invested more than $30 million to 106 projects in 33 states and the District of Columbia. The PBIF program offers three categories of grants: Project, Sustainability, and Transformation. Click through the tables below to see currently active projects.
Engage volunteers to help low-income clients trying to navigate the City's complex process of applying for emergency rental assistance and other public benefits for 750 low-income New Yorkers. Pro bono attorneys from large law firms and corporations will participate in regular clinics to prepare complete applications and advocate with state and city agencies to ensure clients receive the critical relief to stabilize their lives as low-income communities try to recover from the economic and livelihood impacts of the pandemic.
Engage pro bono attorneys to expand legal representation for low-income tenants facing eviction, focusing on the suburbs. Volunteers will have two types of opportunities. One will focus on advice and short-term representation, such as settlement assistance, and the other will focus on extended representation to contested hearings and trials. The volunteers will receive administrative and substantive legal support from a dedicated paralegal and attorney. Legal Aid Chicago housing law specialists will create e-learning modules and other materials to ensure volunteers have the knowledge and tools they need to represent clients successfully.
Legal Aid Society of Hawaii's (LASH) 2021 PBIF Project aims to create nine training courses for pro bono attorneys to expand their knowledge and increase the quality of services provided at Hawaii's Self Help Centers and Access to Justice Rooms. Using an online training platform, pro bono attorneys will access training when they want and have a course that includes 20-minute video lessons, quizzes, and materials and will automatically issue CLE credits upon completion. LASH will create courses on divorce, paternity, guardianship, adoption, family court restraining orders, eviction, debt collection, and district court restraining orders and a course to assist pro bono attorneys in working with vulnerable clients.
Legal Aid Society's Volunteer Eviction Defense Program (VEDP) will leverage pro bono legal assistance to expand the Legal Aid Society's capacity to meet the rising need for eviction defense and reduce the number of evicted Kentuckians. Legal Aid Society has obtained commitments from Louisville's largest law firms to support VEDP efforts with regular volunteers. VEDP will also offer training, co-counseling, and mentoring to all volunteers who will provide full-scale, in-court representation to low-income renters facing eviction.
NLS will continue to work with the community-wide Evictions and Affordable Housing Workgroup. It will center its efforts on research and relationships with pro bono stakeholders and housing advocates to develop a strategic vision for NLS's eviction prevention pro bono program. It will also develop the necessary pro bono infrastructure and support systems for intake, referral, and case placement to establish a replicable pro bono program designed to prevent evictions and homelessness. The project will also adopt appropriate best practices to develop volunteer support resources, training (in-person and online), video tutorials, intake and case referral, reporting, mentoring, and volunteer recognition.
Legal Aid Chicago aims to address the institutional racism that obstructs pathways to success for at-risk youth. Completing high school and gaining employment or further education are two keys to staying out of the criminal justice system and moving out of poverty. LAC’s dual approach toward these goals is to increase pro bono legal representation of youth to prevent school expulsion and to expunge juvenile records. LAC will conduct outreach and know-your-rights presentations in virtual and in-person settings to ensure parents and students understand their legal rights and are encouraged to seek legal representation. The Disrupting the School-to-Prison Pipeline Project seeks to engage law firms, corporations, and solo practitioners by offering training and co-counseling on a range of extended representation cases.
The Legal Aid Society of Mid New York will preserve and stabilize income and assets for low-income clients by leveraging pro bono resources to obtain a discharge in bankruptcy or other legal help with consumer debt. The project aims to increase consumer-bankruptcy services in the Syracuse area through provider collaborations, implement and evaluate a pro se option for simple no asset bankruptcies, and develop a screening tool and referral process to identify possible candidates for groundbreaking work on student loan discharge in bankruptcy court.
Bay Area Legal Services, Inc. aims to increase the access to pro bono disaster relief legal aid in Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Pasco Counties of the Tampa Bay region, for 200 low-income survivors of all types of disaster. The Tampa Bay Disaster Relief Pro Bono Initiative seeks to engage 65 pro bono volunteers in disaster relief legal assistance by employing disaster-related training and improved technologies to deliver high-quality client services in event of a disaster. More low-income disaster survivors will have greater access to high-quality pro bono legal aid services related to an eligible disaster event and/or its ongoing consequences.
Southeast Louisiana Legal Services (SLLS) aims to close a justice gap for low-income tenants in New Orleans impacted by the pandemic who experience security deposit theft. Their Pro Bono Fighting Security Deposit Theft Clinic will engage pro bono attorneys, a cooperate Legal Department, and Law students through limited scope and/or extended representation opportunities at all stages of a security deposit theft case from demand, negotiation, court representation and judgment collection.
Increase the number of clients in rural areas receiving legal assistance by enabling the Legal Aid of Nebraska to use Colorado Legal Services’ asset-mapping process to design and implement pro bono service-delivery models in three rural areas of the state.
Expand the Housing Cooperative Preservation Initiative (HCPI) by recruiting pro bono volunteers to provide services in their areas of Limited Equity Cooperatives (LECs) in the District of Columbia. LECs make up a significant portion of affordable housing in the District. Over 100 LECs in D.C. are providing more than 3,000 residents affordable housing. Many LECs were formed under D.C.’s first right of purchase law, which allows tenants to acquire buildings slated for sale.
Create a pro bono legal clinic located at the Trumbull County Bar Association offices. This project will be a partnership among the organization’s Volunteer Legal Services Program, the local bar, and the county’s eight courts. The pro bono project’s initial focus will be on issues relating to housing evictions, foreclosure, and consumer debt and credit matters.
Develop new pro bono opportunities to improve the education and employment outcomes of low-income students by resolving or mitigating civil legal problems that prevent them from getting a degree, using their degree or achieving the highest level of occupational credentialing and licensing. The project also aims to build and test a new place-based model of pro bono delivery for replication in other communities that have technical or community colleges as partners.
Expand the Driver’s License Restoration Project to include pro bono volunteers. Nearly two million Texans are unable to obtain a valid driver’s license because of nonpayment of fines, fees, or surcharges. In total, four out of five license suspensions in Texas are financially related, with only the remaining 20% directly resulting from unsafe driving. The loss of a license can perpetuate a downward cycle of escalating debt and job loss for low-income Texans. Most drivers requiring such services do not have the funds to hire an attorney. Expanding the Driver’s License Restoration Project to include pro bono attorneys will allow Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas to better meet the significant need for this type of legal assistance.
Support the Lawyers in Schools Project, which establishes weekly general legal advice and intake clinics in Baltimore City schools. More than one-half of students attending Baltimore City Public Schools are living in poverty. Low-income families often rely on schools for needed resources and information, such as medical services, food pantries, social workers, and mental health counselors. Schools are an ideal access point for families who already frequent the school building for student pick-up and drop-off and parent-teacher meetings.
Enhance pro bono representation for low-income tenants in New York City who struggle with housing conditions including mold, vermin, lack of heat, plumbing and appliances. The project will increase pro bono tenant representation though innovative “study groups” of lawyers from large law firms and corporate legal departments. These hybrid study groups will commit to providing full representation on pre-screened cases. Legal Services NYC will support volunteers through structured training and mentorship designed to build expertise and momentum for the project.
Increase access to high-quality legal assistance for Native population residing throughout the state. The goal is to recruit late career and retired attorneys to offer community legal education on critical topics, to provide direct representation to individuals, and to mentor Michigan Indian Legal Services’ junior staff attorneys to build the organization’s capacity to serve clients.
Expand the Neighborhood Vacancy Initiative program, initially launched in 2018, by engaging law firms and pro bono volunteers to help stabilize housing, return vacant property to productive use, and improve the quality of life in low-income neighborhoods. The project provides access to legal representation for urban neighborhoods and residents plagued by vacant and abandoned property.
Expand and replicate its Neighborhood Vacancy Initiative (NVI). NVI provides focused legal assistance to disadvantaged neighborhoods in St. Louis to transform vacant properties into safe and affordable housing. By creating partnerships between law firms and economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, the project helps community groups and residents to address some of the biggest challenges: disinvestment, displacement, and vacancy. NVI partners with pro bono attorneys to provide assistance, including litigation, to compel owners of vacant, run-down properties to make repairs, sell, or find alternative resolutions. Pro Bono attorneys help with vacancy prevention and title clearance. They also assist low-income homeowners in accessing home repair funding.
Expand its Student Legal Aid Project, which works with pro bono attorneys, law students, and paralegal students to improve low-income technical college students' education and employment outcomes. Pro Bono attorneys represent students at unemployment, expungement, drivers' license, and bankruptcy hearings. This project has successfully launched virtual, in-person, and hybrid pro bono clinics.
Support an existing project that assists low-income individuals with driver's license restoration and helps eliminate underlying barriers to obtaining state IDs. Having the correct form of identification allows individuals to obtain employment, pursue educational opportunities, and take care of their families. The project partners with three law schools in the Dallas-Fort Worth area to train law students to handle various cases under the direction of a law professor or project attorney.
Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA) will use grant money to sustain Second Act Justice Project (SAJP), their 2018 PBIF project grant, which is on track to develop a very successful emeritus project that fits within MLSA’s existing pro bono structure. In the first eighteen months of SAJP, the program has achieved great results and expanded the scope and breadth of legal issues that MLSA can assist with. MLSA continues to build both SAJP and the pro bono program overall by developing and implementing a recruitment strategy to support a greater number of cases being served with extended representation, creating a training curriculum to focus on more extended services, and building a strategic donor/volunteer cross-over plan.
Legal Services of the Hudson Valley (LSHV) utilizes a Sustainability Grant for continuation of its 2018 PBIF “Pro Bono Housing Project” Grant that primarily engages pro bono litigators in direct representation of clients in complex housing court cases and administrative hearings for the purpose of delaying or preventing evictions. The Project allows volunteer litigators to take complex, time consuming housing cases off the hands of LSHV staff attorneys, saving hundreds in legal services hours and significant dollars in agency resources and provides high quality and effective representation from some of the top firms in the state (if not the country) to low-income, vulnerable clients.
Sustain the Veterans Law Pro Bono Project, which provides holistic legal assistance to former service members on a variety of issues. Services offered include legal checkups conducted by law students, review of records by pro bono volunteers, civil legal aid assistance and individual pro bono case placements. Legal Services of Northern Virginia has built up a strong referral network and recruited corporation sand law firms to take on discharge-upgrade and veterans’ benefits cases.
Expand the grantee’s “Military Mondays” program—a monthly free legal clinic for low-income veterans. Initially supported by a 2017 Pro Bono Innovation Fund grant, the program is now on track to help 800 veterans and other low-income clients on critical legal issues.
Strengthen the Economic Fairness Project, which established a partnership between the grantee and the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office. The project created two clinics that allow pro bono volunteers to assist victims of wage theft and defendants in debt collection cases. In its first 18 months, the Economic Fairness Project has secured more than $640,000 in debt relief and $24,626 in lost wages for clients. It has provided legal assistance in 487 consumer debt cases and 44 wage theft cases. The clinics are now being replicated by courts in Massachusetts and legal aid organizations in other states.
Legal Aid of West Virginia, Inc.'s (LAWV) involves integrating pro bono delivery across LAWV offices, developing pro bono leadership projects, and effectively engaging technology. LAWV managers and a new Pro Bono Supervising Attorney will lead efforts to develop recommendations for change and create the team to increase internal collaboration and assist with the program's transition to a new case management system.
Develop new systems for communicating with and supporting volunteers, including high-touch mentorship by LABG attorneys and a full suite of electronic resources. An early focus will be on piloting a program to secure pro bono representation in eviction cases. The eviction project would encourage pro bono attorneys to volunteer for regular eviction docket dates and provide extended representation to individuals facing eviction.
Engage in a rigorous assessment of Legal Aid of Southeastern Pennsylvania's (LASP) current pro bono program and identify successful pro bono projects to replicate. LASP's vision is to integrate pro bono into key internal operations, such as intake and case assignment, and improve the overall program with effective volunteer trainings and resources. The transformation efforts will strengthen collaborations with law schools, law firms, and corporate legal departments, engaging volunteers in critical pro bono work, including eviction defense, protection from abuse, and clearing criminal records.
The Pro Bono Partnerships Project aims to strengthen and fully integrate pro bono into NNJLS’s intake and advocacy. The transformation effort will also strengthen the organization's pro bono marketing and data collection.
GLSP’s transformation goal is to ensure impactful involvement of lawyer volunteers as part of GLSP’s delivery of legal services to help close the justice gap for Georgians in poverty through improved Pro Bono Program partnerships, communications, and case-management technologies.
Acadiana Legal Service Corporation aims to deliver effective and efficient high-quality legal services to the greatest number of clients through partnerships with pro bono volunteers by providing resources and motivation needed to provide maximum impact to clients.
Incorporate new technologies to expand the grantee’s outreach to law firms and attorneys in Chicago. The project will collect and review data from other pro bono programs and conduct internal assessments to develop recommendations for integrating pro bono into its overall legal services delivery. Prairie State Legal Services’ goal is to increase accepted pro bono referrals over the next two years by 15% and 20%. Staff will develop and set organizational goals for pro bono services in every office, project, or region. Prairie State Legal Services will also hire a new Director of Pro Bono and reshape its pro bono staffing and capacity.
MAP will engage in pro bono strategic planning to transform their program into a modern, high-impact model that will leverage new technologies and integrate pro bono efforts throughout the organization.
Expand the grantee’s pro bono program by producing a three-year road map to integrate and restructure its pro bono efforts. The project includes: (1) launching a pilot project for new associates at large law firms to provide direct representation to low-income tenants; (2) creating training opportunities and resources; and (3) developing print and online marketing materials to enhance the organization’s pro bono support and recruitment efforts.
LSV is partnering with statewide partners to build a coordinated, centralized and sustainable infrastructure for pro bono in Vermont. LSV will focus on effective practices for recruitment, flexible volunteer venues, and effective data collection, to expand access to justice in Vermont.
Develop a pro bono program that is technology-enabled, uses data and evaluation to make program decisions, and provides comprehensive support for volunteers. The project’s goal is to offer a variety of pro bono opportunities to attorneys and to collaborate closely with community partners and corporate legal departments. To achieve this, Legal Aid of Arkansas will conduct an analysis of organizational policies and processes for pro bono and employ community asset-mapping to evaluate unmet legal needs and untapped resources. The organization will update its pro bono volunteer database and work with statewide partners to streamline pro bono processes.
Should you have any questions or need assistance, please reach out to the PBIF team.