Pro Bono Spotlight November 2004

Pro Bono Assistance Available Online: PA probono.net

PA probono.net, which can be found online at www.papro-bono.net, is an online resource for legal advocates, including pro bono and legal services lawyers, law professors and law students, and other social services advocates across the country.

Lawyers interested in doing pro bono work on behalf of low-income individuals typically are discouraged by several factors. These factors include a time consuming learning curve in poverty law topics and the perception that finding a suitable case and tracking down training opportunities, mentors and other support is too difficult.

PA probono.net addresses these obstacles and makes the taking on a pro bono project much more convenient by enabling lawyers to:

  • View local pro bono opportunities in their areas of interest and communicate with the sponsoring organization to take a case. This feature has proved to be very effective in linking interested lawyers with cases they want to take. The pro bono program of the San Francisco Bar currently places 75-80 percent of its overall caseload through the San Francisco Web site;
  • Download training materials, model documents, case law and other materials from the comfort of their own desks, 24 hours-a-day, seven days-a-week;
  • Check the calendar feature to learn about training in their areas and communicate with the event’s organizers by e-mailing directly from the site;
  • Use the site’s listserv and roster tools to connect with lawyers more experienced in a particular substantive area of the law (both in their communities and nationally) to get answers to questions that may be beyond their areas of expertise; and
  • Review recent news to stay informed about relevant legal issues.

The site’s main page is open to the public, while specific practice areas of the site are password-protected. Pennsylvania has developed a general civil practice area as a starting point for launching this version of the national model of probono.net Web sites. PA probono.net also provides access to national practice areas in asylum law, death penalty, human rights and self-help support.

Practice areas are hosted or supported by a number of diverse groups and organizations. Private law firms, public interest law firms, legal services organizations, bar association groups or committees, and law school groups and organizations all provide support or sponsorship to practice areas where their areas of expertise fit the support role the practice area is trying to fill.

Overview of Tools
Various tools are available within each practice area to support advocates in their representation of low-income clients:

  • Calendar — Members will find a listing of events in the community, such as training sessions, meetings, lectures or legal clinics. Events can be sorted by date, location or related topic. Users can submit content directly from the calendar page. All submitted content is subject to practice area administrator approval.
  • News — This area provides news stories, links of interest and special alerts. Users can submit content directly from the news page. All submitted content is subject to practice area administrator approval.
  • New Pro Bono Cases — In this area, the practice area administrator and other participating organizations can post descriptions of pro bono matters requiring volunteer assistance. Cases can be sorted by geographic location or related topic. Volunteers are able to review cases and e-mail or call the sponsoring organization if they are interested.
  • Resource Library — This area contains many resources for members, including training materials, model briefs and pleadings, case law and other helpful information.
  • Roster — The roster is an alphabetical listing of all registered members of the practice area and their contact information. This allows members to communicate with other advocates interested in similar issues, building a sense of community.
  • Listserv — Each practice area can support one or more listservs with online, searchable archives of discussion threads.

Additional Features

  • Password-Protected Content — Each of the above tools can be placed behind a password. Anyone wishing to access the password-protected content must first submit a membership application, which is reviewed by the practice area administrator before access is granted. Registered users have the option of saving their password so they do not have to log in every time they visit the practice area.
  • Tiered Access to Content — In addition to password protection, access to content can be further controlled using the tiered access feature. Each registered member of the practice area is assigned a member type (e.g. legal aid staff, pro bono volunteer, law student, etc.). Each piece of content can be made available to all registered members or can be restricted according to one or more member type. Tiered access allows collaboration among lawyers from different sectors while also allowing specialized or sensitive content to be restricted to a particular member type.
  • Searching — The search engine executes a full text search of the site’s holdings. This means the text of each document is searched as well as relevant database fields that describe the document.
  • Mailings — With the mailings tool, practice area administrators can employ the user-data captured on the site to e-mail specific groups of advocates regarding new developments, new pro bono opportunities and other information.
  • Content Sharing — Resources can be shared between password-protected practice areas through a new, extended search tool. For example, a member of the practice area can search for materials posted within other probono.net practice area libraries in Pennsylvania and other states. Each practice area administrator can determine what content to share with other practice areas.
  • Members Can Easily Submit Content — With the click of a button, members can submit library resources, news items, calendar events and pro bono opportunities for publication consideration. Once the practice area administrator approves submissions, content is published directly onto the site.

David Trevaskis is the PBA Pro Bono Coordinator.