The InnovAction Awards recognize outstanding innovation in the delivery of legal services. Pro Bono Net was recognized for its LawHelp Interactive program (http://lawhelpinteractive.org/)
Millions of people appear in court without lawyers each year, often facing extremely stressful situations involving the potential loss of property, money or even their children, yet legal aid organizations can help only a fraction of those in need. The recession has increased the number of people facing serious civil legal problems, while funding for legal aid has plummeted. Automated court forms that help address critical issues such as child support, domestic violence, consumer debt and foreclosure are one solution. During 2009, nearly 150,000 documents were completed using LawHelp Interactive, a 32% increase over the prior year, and more than 100,000 documents were prepared in the first six months of 2010.
In Illinois, for example, LawHelp Interactive is a key component of legal self-help centers set up by Illinois Legal Aid Online and the state court system. “LawHelp Interactive provides a vital and cost-effective service to Illinois Legal Aid Online and the people of Illinois,” said Lisa Colpoys, Executive Director of Illinois Legal Aid Online. “Last year, tens of thousands of lower-income Illinoisans easily and accurately prepared the legal documents they needed to help with unemployment, eviction, foreclosure, child support, and other pressing legal problems for which they could not afford a lawyer.”
This included one Illinois resident facing the threat of foreclosure, who used LawHelp Interactive to produce the necessary documents to get a mortgage foreclosure stay, successfully postponing the judicial sale of the property. In the words of this user, “The ability to produce a legal document specific to my case has eased some of the emotional stress of the circumstance. Thank you for this extremely helpful interactive site.”
At the Los Angeles Superior Court, LawHelp Interactive is used in self-help programs in which litigants use terminals at the court to fill out online forms, and then attend workshops to learn about the legal issues involved. “The real benefit has to do with the amount of time that’s saved,” said Michelle Hopkins, supervising attorney at the L.A. Superior Court's Resource Center for Self-Represented Litigants. “We’
In addition to developing a national technical infrastructure for LawHelp Interactive, Pro Bono Net offers training and support, technical assistance and a platform for sharing of templates and best practices among courts and legal aid organizations. This allows for the creation and distribution of online forms and the sharing of expertise with minimal cost and effort.
“We are very pleased to receive the Innovaction Award,” said Mark O’Brien, Executive Director of Pro Bono Net. “LawHelp Interactive shows how technology, combined with collaboration, can connect and empower those working to transform the delivery of justice.”
LawHelp Interactive also exemplifies the power of public-private partnerships to address significant social problems. It brings together the efforts, ideas and resources of courts and legal aid and pro bono organizations around the country, as well as numerous other groups. The federal Legal Services Corporation was an early supporter of the program, through grants to the Ohio State Legal Services Association. The State Justice Institute is another key supporter. LawHelp Interactive uses HotDocs software, which was initially donated by LexisNexis and is now donated by HotDocs Ltd., which acquired HotDocs in late 2009. A2J Author, a product of the Chicago-Kent College of Law’s Center for Access to Justice & Technology, is used by many organizations to create build user interfaces for the online forms.
The 2010 Innovaction Award will be presented to Pro Bono Net on Saturday, October 23, during the 2010 Futures Conference & Symposium, held in conjunction with the Annual Meeting of the College of Law Practice Management in Washington, DC.
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About Pro Bono Net: Pro Bono Net is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing access to justice through innovative uses of technology and increased volunteer lawyer participation. Pro Bono Net uses innovative web-based platforms—www.probono.net, www.lawhelp.org and www.lawhelpinteractive.org —to recruit and support volunteer lawyers and provide direct information and tools for self representation to low-income communities. Pro Bono Net has also developed Pro Bono Manager, pro bono practice management software that helps AmLaw 200 law firms increase pro bono participation, manage pro bono caseloads more efficiently and raise internal and external awareness of pro bono efforts. Pro Bono Net corporate sponsors include ALM, Epiq Systems, LexisNexis, KPMG, LawScribe, MyFax and Practical Law Company. For more information, please visit www.probono.net.