Pro Bono Innovation Fund Grants 2015

In 2015, we awarded the Pro Bono Innovation Fund grants to 15 organizations to support innovations in pro bono legal services.


Alaska Legal Services Corporation

  • Project Term: 24 months (October 2015- September 2017)
  • Grant Amount: $187,566

Rural Alaska Natives have unique and complex legal issues. Alaska Legal Services Corporation will build a Pro Bono Training Academy for volunteer lawyers who lack relevant expertise to represent low-income Alaskans, particularly Alaska Natives, who live in extremely remote locations throughout the state.

Alaska has no law school, so Alaska Legal Services will partner with the University of Washington School of Law, which recently opened an extension office in Anchorage. The law school is considered an expert in distance learning and will consult in the development of a free online training curriculum for pro bono attorneys.

The training curriculum will focus on five practice areas of need. Law professors and project staff will also develop the distance learning curricula and will engage law students in summer externships and in school-year clinics to help develop pro se materials for clients. The project will also create additional online resources, including forms, manuals, pleadings, and brief banks, for volunteers.


Bay Area Legal Aid

  • Project Term: 24 months (October 2015- September 2017)
  • Grant Amount: $280,111

Bay Area Legal Aid's project proposes to permanently changes the structure of its pro bono efforts in the San Francisco Bay Area by replacing the one-by-one case placement model with technology that streamlines and automates routine case placement and processing work and requires significantly less staff intervention. 

The project will engage Bay Area Legal Aid's pro bono team and litigation director to develop specialized pro bono opportunities for firm partners that involve complex litigation. This will not only benefit a large number of low-income people but also broaden and deepen relationships with law firm partners that have expressed a desire to work on more complex and far-reaching issues for low-income communities.


Georgia Legal Services Program

  • Project Term: 24 months (October 2015 - September 2017)
  • Grant Amount: $197,813

Lawyers for Equal Justice is a new, freestanding non-profit incubator program that was established by the State Bar of Georgia, the Access to Justice Commission, and the five Georgia law schools. The incubator is designed to support recent law graduates in establishing practices that use technology, alternative fee arrangements, new models of practice, and enhanced pro bono to serve the large population of underserved low-income clients.

Georgia Legal Services will create a pro bono learning lab within this incubator to develop and create a structure and accountability for the pro bono promise of incubators. The project will coordinate pro bono opportunities to the incubator, will oversee and track pro bono cases and case outcomes, and will coordinate trainings and mentoring of incubator attorneys with legal aid advocates.

The incubator attorneys will handle basic poverty law cases, including family, consumer, administrative law, simple wills and advance directives, and housing with an emphasis on cases in rural areas. It will also seek to incorporate policies for pro bono into the business plans for a solo or small firm practice. The project will develop two toolkits on incubator-pro bono best practices for law schools and legal aid.


Idaho Legal Aid Services, Inc.

Subgrantee: Idaho Volunteer Lawyers Program

  • Project Term: 24 months (October 2015 - September 2017)
  • Grant Amount: $276,000

Idaho Legal Aid Services, in partnership with the Idaho Volunteer Lawyers Program, will create the Pro Bono Opportunities website. This portal will create a searchable online space where Idaho attorneys who wish to volunteer for a case can find statewide case opportunities.

Currently, the Idaho Volunteer Lawyers Program relies on a telephone-based system for placing clients with attorneys. With this project, the Pro Bono Opportunities web portal will allow attorneys to search case opportunities by legal issue and geographic area in addition to whether the client is a veteran and other factors. If no case opportunity meets the attorney's search criteria, the system will be able to automatically notify the attorney when similar cases are posted.

While many case opportunities will be posted by the Idaho Volunteer Lawyers Program, the portal will allow Idaho Legal Aid staff to forward opportunities for consenting clients who need services beyond what Idaho Legal Aid attorneys can provide.

The project will make pro bono services a more robust part of Idaho's low-income legal service delivery system by increasing pro bono representation, increasing the number of low-income Idaho residents who receive legal representation, and expanding the cases and services for which attorneys can volunteer.


LAF (formerly Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago)

  • Project Term: 24 months (October 2015 - September 2017)
  • Grant Amount: $239,207

One of the most important legal services that can be provided to seniors is planning for incapacity through advance directives, including durable powers of attorney for health care and property, living wills, and transfer on death instruments.

While the senior population grows, local legal resources dedicated to providing these services remain inadequate. LAF in Chicago proposes to offer a legal checkup for advance directives for every low-income senior who contacts LAF for assistance on any legal matter.

LAF will partner with the Center for Disability and Elder Law to adapt a successful pro bono workshop model into LAF's intake and scheduling system, so trained volunteer lawyers can provide these services to clients. The project includes critical supports to ensure clients are able to access and follow-through on services and training for volunteers and staff to help seniors.

Client documents will be automated and integrated into LAF's case management system to simplify and streamline the work of the volunteer attorneys. In collaboration with Illinois Legal Aid Online, the project will also create an e-learning curricula that will be available to any volunteer attorney statewide.


Legal Aid Society, Inc.

  • Project Term: 18 months (October 2015 - March 2017)
  • Grant Amount: $333,982

Legal Aid Society, Legal Aid of the Bluegrass, Kentucky Legal Aid, and Appalachian Research and Defense Fund will create a statewide pro bono program for eligible military veterans, so they receive the legal help that they need.

The four legal aid organizations in Kentucky will coordinate to recruit and train volunteer lawyers in addition to creating uniform and streamlined intake protocols and case acceptance policies for eligible veterans.

The project will use existing technology to create a statewide hotline to connect any veteran to trained legal aid staff. Staff will triage legal issues before referring the client to pro bono volunteers. By building on the KY Justice Online system, veterans will have access to more content, and volunteer lawyers will have the opportunity to provide assistance through the pro bono portal.


Southeast Louisiana Legal Services Corporation

  • Project Term: 24 months (October 2015 - September 2017)
  • Grant Amount: $290,520

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans' health care delivery system, a new model of community health clinics has emerged to serve the city's most vulnerable populations.

Through partnerships with Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, The Pro Bono Project based in New Orleans, and the Daughters of Charity Services of New Orleans, Southeast Louisiana Legal Services will launch a medical-legal partnership to integrate legal aid with healthcare at eight community-based health clinics.

The partnership will remove access barriers for low-income clients through new and expanded pro bono services provided by volunteer lawyers, paralegals, and law students. The project will provide services on critical disability, Medicaid, and housing issues and will measure improved health and legal outcomes of clients served through the clinics.


Community Legal Aid, Inc.

  • Project Term: 24 months (October 2015 - September 2017)
  • Grant Amount: $209,524

Unmet legal needs negatively impact the health of low-income and minority communities. Unmet legal needs also interfere with the ability of health care providers trying to improve the health of their most vulnerable patients.

Community Legal Aid will develop a medical-legal partnership to provide legal help to patients participating in a new primary care model at the UMass Memorial Medical Center, the fourth largest safety net health provider in the state.

The new primary care model seeks better health outcomes for some of the most vulnerable families in central Massachusetts. Using a community health framework, it integrates care coordination and behavioral health into the primary care setting.

In partnership with the Medical Center's General Counsel's office and Office of Community Benefits, this project will recruit private attorneys in central Massachusetts to conduct full assessments of patients' legal needs and partner with a Community Legal Aid attorney to integrate legal services into the new primary care model. The project will include a rigorous evaluation to measure the impact of the medical-legal partnership intervention on the new primary care model.


Legal Services of Eastern Missouri

  • Project Term: 24 months (October 2015 - September 2017)
  • Grant Amount: $160,000

Community economic development activities, including small business development, are critical to breaking the cycle of poverty and revitalizing low-income areas.

Legal Services of Eastern Missouri's project will leverage the resources and skills of volunteer business attorneys to provide free business legal assistance and education to low-income entrepreneurs starting or expanding community businesses with an emphasis on minority and women entrepreneurs who have limited access to capital to afford legal resources.

The project will increase pro bono opportunities for transactional attorneys and recruit new volunteers, meet the legal needs of a larger number of disadvantaged entrepreneurs, and produce online pro bono training materials. The project will also conduct a national survey of existing transactional pro bono projects for micro-entrepreneurs and will develop a manual of best practices that can be shared with other legal aid programs interested in launching a similar effort.

Legal Aid of Western Missouri

  • Project Term: 24 months (October 2015 - September 2017)
  • Grant Amount: $257,441

In the urban core of Kansas City, the lack of access to legal assistance often means that issues ranging from the lack of access to healthy food to the causes of blighted property never get addressed.

The Adopt-a-Neighborhood project seeks to expand Legal Aid of Western Missouri's efforts to bring large law firm resources to the urban core and improve neighborhood conditions. Based on a successful six-year partnership formed between a major law firm and the Marlborough neighborhood in Kansas City, the project will expand opportunities for large- and mid-sized firms to form long-term pro bono partnerships in low-income communities. It will also be an excellent way to provide training for newer attorneys and get positive publicity for pro bono work.

The project will work with community partners to conduct need and asset assessments in five urban core neighborhoods to determine the best role for law firm and pro bono volunteers. Pro bono opportunities will include the simple negotiation of documents and contracts for small community non-profits, litigating clear title and abandoned property issues, and large projects like assisting with negotiations to bring a grocery store to the neighborhood or converting an abandoned warehouse into a community center.

New Mexico

New Mexico Legal Aid

  • Project Term: 24 months (October 2015 - September 2017)
  • Grant Amount: $272,718

New Mexico Legal Aid will create a web-linked statewide coalition of pro bono attorneys, law students, and paralegals to assist low-income families in some of the highest poverty rate communities in the country. Using the organization's DirectLaw pro bono web portal, attorneys who are concentrated in urban areas will access web-based resources and communicate securely online and via videoconferencing with clients, giving priority to underserved rural families and single-parent households.

The project will train law students and paralegals to use the DirectLaw system to provide remote research and other support for pro bono attorneys. New Mexico Legal Aid will also partner with the Southwest Women's Law Center and the New Mexico Women's Bar Association to build the statewide coalition by conducting a One Woman, One Case campaign to expand the number of attorneys who can handle family law matters and other legal issues that address persistent poverty.

New York

Legal Aid Society of Northeastern NY

  • Project Term: 18 months (October 2015 - March 2017)
  • Grant Amount: $362,559

The need for legal assistance is acute in rural New York. Low-income tenants or debtors face significant odds when appearing in court without an attorney. Legal Aid Society of Northeastern NW, Legal Assistance of Western NY, and the Volunteer Legal Services Project of Monroe County will collaborate to close the urban-rural service gap by creating a virtual platform to connect rural clients with online interviews, shared documents, and urban volunteer attorneys who will help review and prepare pro se pleadings for housing and consumer law matters.

The project includes an active campaign to recruit, support, and sustain volunteers and clients in using the new system. The project will create a scalable technology infrastructure that creates efficiencies, expands services, and lowers the cost of serving rural areas.

Legal Services NYC

  • Project Term: 24 months (October 2015 - September 2017)
  • Grant Amount: $346,738

Low-income people are targeted by predatory, for-profit trade schools that make misleading promises about the training offered and job prospects post-graduation. Students at these schools often take out tens of thousands of dollars in federal student debt to attend but are left without much to show for it — and without the means to repay their loans. Other low-income people attend legitimate schools but fall on hard times because of disability or unemployment. Legal Services NYC will engage pro bono attorneys to obtain relief for these individuals.

The project will enlist volunteers who are transactional lawyers at large firms and corporations as well as law students and other professionals. Volunteers will secure debt discharges, consolidation, and income-related relief for low-income people.

To strengthen the effectiveness and coordination of pro bono student debt advocates across the country, the project will also create a national database of FOIA materials on predatory for-profit schools in partnership with Legal Services NYC will also create comprehensive training manuals and videos for volunteers that will be available on for other legal aid organizations.


Legal Aid Society of Cleveland

  • Project Term: 24 months (October 2015 - September 2017)
  • Grant Amount: $214,566

Of the active attorneys in greater Cleveland, 29 percent are aged 60 or older and this percentage will grow to over 30 percent in the next 10 years. The ACT 2 Project will create well-structured and supported pro bono opportunities to meaningfully engage late career and retired attorneys to serve more low-income clients.

ACT 2 attorneys will have different roles at Cleveland Legal Aid that range from most engaged to less time intensive. ACT 2 attorneys can serve as in-house volunteers handling extended representation cases as part of a practice group. They can also participate as in-house volunteers who are responsible for a specific pro bono project. As a third option, these volunteers can engage in traditional pro bono service through any of the organization's existing efforts.

The project will provide space, administrative, and paralegal support for the volunteers in addition to the traditional supports for volunteers. It will also match senior lawyers with law students and new lawyers so these early-career attorneys can be mentored and introduced to pro bono by their more experienced colleagues.


Blue Ridge Legal Services, Inc.

  • Project Term: 24 months (October 2015 - September 2017)
  • Grant Amount: $171,255

The 25th Judicial Circuit in Virginia includes some of the most rural counties in Virginia with more than 250,000 people living below the poverty line according to the 2013 census data. Most of the counties have no history of organized pro bono engagement by the private bar. Blue Ridge Legal Services proposes to achieve universal pro bono participation by attorneys in the 25th Judicial Circuit by working with the Circuit's 12 judges as well as the leadership of the various bar associations in the Circuit.

The project is a pilot of the Virginia Access to Justice Commission, which seeks to test the effectiveness of engaging the judiciary in encouraging the private bar to undertake pro bono to meet the civil legal needs of the region's low-income clients.

The project envisions the creation of a pro bono planning committee composed of the local judiciary, bar leaders, and legal aid representatives to develop and implement a plan for expanding pro bono participation among the Circuit's rural bar associations. The project will also seek to engage the only law school in the Circuit, Washington & Lee Law School, in a collaborative effort to identify the best ways to incorporate law students into the new pro bono efforts.