Pro Bono and Tech

Increasing Pro Bono Among the Private Bar

Although pro bono volunteers cannot replace the work of legal aid lawyers, many of whom are subject-matter experts, the private bar is a critical resource to address the civil legal needs of low-income Americans. Private practitioners, in-house corporate counsel, retired lawyers, law students, and paralegals are eager to assist by donating their skills and time. LSC’s Pro Bono Innovation Fund (PBIF) supports projects that more effectively engage pro bono volunteers in serving the unmet legal needs of eligible clients. The creation of the fund was recommended by LSC’s Pro Bono Task Force in 2012. Congress allocated $2.5 million for it in LSC’s FY 2014 appropriation and increased that allocation to $4 million in subsequent years. In 2018, Congress further increased funding for PBIF to $4.5 million. Projects funded under the PBIF program develop, test, and replicate innovative pro bono efforts that enable LSC grantees to expand client access to high-quality legal assistance using private, volunteer lawyers. In 2018, LSC awarded 15 grants to expand pro bono legal services in 12 states. Many of the funded projects focus on building new partnerships between legal aid programs and law schools, law firms, and other local service providers. The projects will engage more pro bono lawyers and other volunteers to leverage LSC’s federal funding and increase the legal resources available to meet civil legal needs of low-income Americans.

  • Projects funded in four states focus on providing representation to tenants in eviction cases by recruiting and training private attorneys to provide assistance and full representation to clients facing eviction. Legal Services of Greater Miami will recruit more pro bono attorneys and volunteers to address low-income clients’ critical legal problems. The grant will allow the organization to implement enhance- ments to its case management system and develop client-centered intake and referral processes with Dade County Bar Association Legal Aid’s Put Something Back Pro Bono Project. The project will also develop a pilot pro bono eviction defense project in a Miami-Dade County courtroom. Legal Action of Wisconsin will expand the work of its Eviction Defense Project. Launched in January 2017, the project is a court-based pro bono program that has more than quadrupled representation for tenants in eviction cases. The project helps clients defend against eviction, minimizing the harmful impact of eviction filings on long-term housing stability. Almost 100 volunteer attorneys and 25 students have already partnered with the Eviction Defense Project, providing help to nearly 700 low-income clients. The grant will allow the project to increase service hours.
  • Alaska Legal Services will expand available legal services for rural residents by increasing the number of pro bono providers. The grant will support the creation of legal training modules for advo- cates in specific subject areas where there is the most need. Alaska Legal Services will recruit and train local rural community leaders, such as Indian Child Welfare Act workers, health aides, tribal employees, and law and paralegal students to expand the program’s outreach efforts. Montana Legal Services Association will create a statewide network of retired attorneys to provide advice to low-income clients throughout the state. These volun- teers will also mentor and offer litigation support to the program’s attorneys.
  • The LSC Board of Directors continued its tradition of honoring exemplary pro bono work done for clients of LSC-funded legal aid organizations at three quarterly board meetings. In 2018, lawyers and law firms in Tennessee, Idaho, and Indiana received LSC Pro Bono Service Awards in recognition for their service.

Pro bono attorneys are important partners to legal aid organizations in meeting the legal needs of communities.

Leveraging Technology to Expand Access to Technology

LSC promotes technology to improve the delivery of legal services through its Technology Initiative Grants (TIG), annual technology conference, and other projects.

LSC’s TIG program funds projects that use innovative technology to provide greater access to high-quality legal assistance for low-income Americans. Established in 2000, the program distributes up to $4 million annually to LSC-funded legal aid organizations around the country. Over the years, LSC has funded more than 700 technology projects totaling nearly $65 million. LSC grantees use this funding to explore new ways of serving eligible clients, strengthen program capacity, and support the efforts of pro bono attorneys. Congress appropriated $4 million for TIG in FY 2018, and LSC awarded 26 grants to 24 legal services organizations in 21 states.

Examples of projects funded include:
  • Utah Legal Services will employ artificial intelligence to create an online application and client-referral process through the LegalServer Case Management System. The system will guide users seeking legal help through the process of identifying their legal issues and help match them with the appropriate resources for them. LAF in Illinois will use artificial intelligence to improve its client intake system, saving staff time and making it easier for clients to receive the help they need. Legal Aid Society of Hawaii will enhance access to legal aid services through search engines and voice-assistant queries like Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa. In partnership with Stanford Law School’s Legal Design Lab, the organization will pilot methods to protect people from accessing low-quality, potentially predatory legal websites.
  • Montana Legal Services Association will extend the reach of the Montana Court Self-Help Program to 11 rural communities across the state. The project will place technology in remote locations to connect rural residents to self-help law centers in more populated areas of the state. West Tennessee Legal Services will create an organization-wide knowledge information system through Microsoft’s SharePoint Online program. This will help meet the challenges of delivering legal services in rural areas by facilitating collaboration among staff across different offices and providing a technology-based framework to improve remote staff supervision.
  • Philadelphia Legal Assistance Center will enhance, which helps individuals who cannot afford an attorney to complete Chapter 7 bankruptcy filings through an automated system. Enhancements will include streamlining Upsolve’s bankruptcy questionnaire and improving its operation on mobile devices. Legal Aid of North Carolina will further develop the A2J Author document assembly product, which helps self- represented litigants prepare court forms and other important legal documents. The project will expand the availability of user- friendly legal forms for North Carolinians facing civil legal issues. Legal Services of Northern Virginia will create online, mobile- friendly visual guides to teach users how to navigate complex civil legal issues such as housing and consumer law.
  • LSC’s annual Innovations in Technology Conference brings together technologists, legal aid advocates, court personnel, academics, and other professionals to exchange ideas and explore innovative ways of using technology to expand access to justice and high-quality legal representation for low-income people. A record-breaking 400 people attended the 2018 conference in New Orleans. LSC President Jim Sandman and LSC Board Chair John Levi delivered opening remarks at the conference. Bob Ambrogi, a lawyer and leading legal journalist who has been writing and speaking about technology for two decades, served as the plenary speaker. He explored the impediments to broader use of technology and what can be done to overcome them.
  • LSC, Microsoft Corporation, and Pro Bono Net continued to work with state partners in Alaska and Hawaii on Legal Navigator, a pilot program to develop online, state- wide legal portals to direct individuals with civil legal needs to the most appropriate forms of assistance. These portals will use cutting-edge, user-centered technology to help ensure that people with civil legal needs can navigate their legal options and more easily access services available from legal aid, the courts, the private bar, and community partners. An important project milestone was reached in 2018: the completion of the machine learning system powering Legal Navigator. Users will interact with a chatbot- like interface enabling them to engage in conversations with the system and be directed to the right legal resources for the situation they face. The system will improve the more it is used, ultimately learning to understand colloquialisms and slang.
  • LSC partnered with the 2018 Access to Justice Technology Fellows (ATJ Tech Fellows) program to expand the summer fellows program. The program, which is affiliated with the Seattle University School of Law, seeks to equip the next generation of lawyers with the skills needed to better ensure access to justice. It connects law students with civil legal services organizations for an immersive, 10-week, paid project-based placement. Students spend the summer leveraging technology, data, and design as they develop solutions to address barriers that prevent low-income Americans from receiving legal help. In the summer of 2018, 19 ATJ Tech Fellows worked on LSC-funded Technology Initiative Grant projects across the country.