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Web-Based Strategies To Support Pro Bono and Legal Services Delivery

Websites are a powerful tool for pro bono and legal service organizations who want to get their message out.  Whether it's informing the public, giving legal information to those with questions, assisting in the request for services or recruiting volunteers they have served well.  During the pandemic they helped organizations to maintain their presence and continued to provide a framework for assisting those in need. 

Here's a brief showcase of some of the interesting strategies deployed by several organizations.


Websites can be complicated structures particularly if they attempt to provide legal help and legal information.  To help site visitors find the resources they need several things are useful: simplified content language, robust search capability and a sitemap are basic.  However, sometimes there is no substitute for being able to chat with a live person who can navigate with you through the site.  Lately there are automated chatbots or bots which perform a similar function but are available all the time.

CARPLS Legal Aid (Cook County, Illinois) provides a Benefits bot called "Benny"

"If you are in Illinois and unemployed, Benny is designed to help you along the road to getting Illinois unemployment benefits. Benny is a project of CARPLS Legal Aid, a nonprofit legal aid organization in Illinois. CARPLS has been helping everyday people with their legal problems for over 25 years.   
By answering a few questions, Benny can:
Help get you on the right path to applying for unemployment benefits;
Help identify why you might be having problems getting the benefits you need;
Help you navigate the unemployment hearing and appeals process. "

The (Tennessee) site has their own bot which will allow a person to find information by typing or speaking.

"Hello, I am HELP4TN Bot, I can help you find information on this website or help you fill out forms?"
The bot will assist in filling out forms for Divorce (Families with Children and Indigency.  For form fill-in the user must create an account first.  The Workers' Champion bot will assist with workers' compensation forms and the Renter Defender bot will help with information on renting and evictions.

The Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing (Chicago, IL) provides users with a Renters robot called "Renny"

"Hi there and welcome to Rentervention! I'm Renny, your virtual assistant. I'm a robot that's designed to help tenants with all sorts of housing issues. What can I help you with? "

Also on the Rentervention page is an Eviction Moratorium Letter creator.

"This tool creates an Illinois Moratorium Declaration to protect you and your household from eviction for nonpayment of rent. Beyond that, it will even email it to your landlord! Additionally, we can even text you the document to forward to your landlord through SMS"

Pine Tree Legal (Maine) has a chatbot which they have named "MOOSE":

 "I'm a chatbot (not a human). I can’t give you legal advice or be your lawyer. But I can answer questions about Pine Tree's services and help you find things on our website!"
Bots and chatbots

Bots and chatbots


Gamification is an engaging way of helping people understand unfamiliar concepts or situations in a safe environment.  In a narrative the player makes choices and sees what the results might be without actual risk.

Pine Tree Legal Assistance in Maine has several games on its website:

RePresent: "A game for people going to court without a lawyer"
RePresent: Renter! "A game to prepare for an eviction hearing"
"If you have an eviction hearing soon, and will be going to court without a lawyer, you can practice representing yourself by playing RePresent: Renter! You’ll learn how to prepare for court, what your rights are as a renter in Maine, what happens in court on the day of your hearing, and how to present evidence and cross-examine the other person in your case."

And as part of this resource

Changeville interactive game for children 6-10 is part of a larger resource called "Families Change" a resource for children and parents during separation or divorce. 

Gamification to assist

Gamification to assist

Guided Assistant tools

Guided interviews help people deal with unfamiliar forms or issues by asking a series of questions based upon a flow chart.  As questions are answered the answers are stored and later used to populate the form's fields automatically.

Acadiana Legal Service Corporation (Louisisana) offers 6 guided assistant tools for individuals to answer questions and receive information on Unemployment Benefits, Housing Grievances, Uncontested Divorce, Small Successions and Child Custody.  These tools link to resources at  Pro Bono Net's Law Help Interactive site that provides legal forms for free.

Legal navigators and assistants

Legal navigators and assistants

Legal Navigators

Legal Navigators can be similar to guided interviews in that they may ask a series of questions. Based on the responses, the navigator will try to identify what type of legal situation a person has at which point resources that match the issue will be offered.  It might be based on simple keyword identification or a complex logical flowchart.  More powerful navigators, such as LSC's portals for Alaska and Hawaii might tap into machine learning to identify legal issues based on what a person types into the query box. Or an API call might go out to SPOT to also use machine learning to identify the legal issue.

Acadiana Legal Service Corporation (Louisisana) Acadiana links to a Family Law Navigator that supports divorce/child custody, an Employment Law navigator and a Landlord Tenant Law navigator on eviction and tenant/landlord rights.

Housing Navigator for Richland County (South Carolina) has a navigator request form that allows a trained volunteer to contact the requester in a few days.

"After filling out the intake form or contacting the Navigators program, you should receive a phone call from a Navigator within 24-48 hrs."

Legal Wellness Checkup

In LSC's Justice Gap Report the point is made that for many people "not seeing their problem as a “legal” problem is another major barrier to seeking legal help." Legal Wellness tools seek to address this. Sometimes an experienced questioner will run the legal wellness tool, other times individuals will run it themselves. After the series of questions have been answered, the tool will generate a report on possible legal issues discovered.

The Tennessee website,, has a Legal Wellness Checkup which, using conditional logic, helps identify area of legal risk and links to county resources to help.

"The Legal Wellness Checkup is not legal advice but can help you learn your rights and figure out how to get legal help when you need it. It is free to take the Legal Wellness Checkup."

The Center for Elder Law & Justice (Buffalo, New York) provides links to the New York Elder Law Risk Detector Legal Health Check-Up Tool on Issues of Housing, Debt, Financial Exploitation, Health Care, and Abuse as well as to the Senior Financial Safety Tool.  Both of these tools were developed in concert with Pro Bono Net and are built using the Neota Logic platform. A set of YouTube videos explains how the Financial Safety tool works.

Legal Wellness and Checkups

Legal Wellness and Checkups

Online access to service entry points

The web is great for quick connections to resources.  A website developer doesn't need to make all tools/resources locally since they can easily link to a universe of resources.  Perhaps there was an application that came out of the Georgetown Iron Tech Lawyer competition built using Neota Logic that will be a useful resource to a site visitor.  Or maybe a pertinent game or a link to an pro bono organization's YouTube channel.  The website can be a gateway to many digital resources.

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing mount a link to an "interactive tool for getting tailored guidance on Californians' right to job-protected leave either to bond with a new child or for a pregnancy-related disability" Neota Logic describes the app:

"To help employees and employers understand their rights and obligations under these forms of “new-parent leave,” the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) worked with technology provider, Neota Logic, and students at the University of California, Irvine School of Law (UCI Law) to create an interactive app that provides tailored guidance based on inputs from the user. The app interviews the user and provides a narrowly tailored report on how California Law applies to the user’s particular situation."

The Hampden County Bar Association (Springfield, Massachusetts) provides a Zoom Lawyer for a Day clinic scheduled every week during a 3-hour window. One registers for this via an online form. "Welcome to the Virtual Lawyer For a Day program providing brief legal advice and general help to landlords and tenants about the preparation of notices to quit, complaints, and responsive pleadings in eviction cases."

The Justice & Diversity Center of the Bar Association of San Francisco through their Community Organization Representation Project made a COVID-19 Virtual Q&A Board available to non-profits.  At the moment it is not accepting new requests, but previously it promised a one-week turn-around for answers to non-profit's questions from pro bono attorneys.  This text is pulled from the Internet Archive site:

" In light of nonprofits’ widespread business law concerns resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, CORP has created a Virtual Q&A board to increase accessibility to our pro bono legal services. Nonprofits can get answers to questions in the following areas:
§  Planning for a Return to the Workplace
§  Protecting Employees' Health in the Workplace
§  Preparing for Difficult Staffing Decisions
§  Negotiating with Commercial Landlords
§  Accessing and Complying with COVID-19 Relief Programs
Nonprofits who submit questions will receive a written response from an experienced pro bono attorney typically within 5-7 business days."


Online forms to request pro bono assistance

An online intake form can save an organization important staff time.  It can be generic or attempt to assist an applicant for services identify what their legal issue is.  In many cases, multiple intake forms may appear, each tailored to a particular legal issue.

Pennsylvania Bar Association Pro Bono Program Legal Assistance Request Form Their form allows indicating one of seven major areas of "legal concern" as well as "Other"

Northeast Legal Aid (Massachusetts) has a complex form with sixteen areas of legal concern besides "Other"

Tubman (Minneapolis, MN) "We started a simple online form for assistance with Orders for Protection that are sent directly to our advocacy team."

Dallas Bar Association (Texas) in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic maintains a "Police, Fire, and Medical Personnel Planning Forms" section which presents brief videos on Medical Power of Attorney, Directive to Physicians/Living Will, HIPAA Authorization for Release of Protected Health Information, Statutory Durable Power of Attorney, Declaration of Guardian If Later Need Arises, Declaration of Guardian for Children forms.

The section also provides links to register for e-clinics in these areas as well as listing email addresses for pro bono Notaries.

Recruiting volunteers

Recruiting volunteers

Recruiting attorney volunteers

Every organization that wants to recruit pro bono volunteers has some means for volunteers to reach them, even if it is only a phone number or email link.  But one of the key strategies for recruitment is to reduce friction for the volunteer.  Websites allow packaging pro bono opportunities in an attractive fashion as well as showcasing the types of support a volunteer can expect from the organization.  Some organizations go just a bit farther to bring in their volunteers by giving them more options or modes to approach pro bono work:

Public Advocates (California) a friendly volunteer information page that presents many options to participate in pro bono work including:  "legislative and administrative research and policy analysis," "development of materials and training for community education projects" and "civil rights impact litigation from development through discovery, trial and appeal."

Bay Area Legal Services (Florida) in addition to the usual listing of available cases, also presents training opportunities, the "disaster relief team," and their FACE project "Florida Attorneys Counseling on Evictions." To further entice volunteers, their Programs & Projects page lists 30 pro bono projects for just about any type of attorney.

Oklahoma Access to Justice Pro Bono Opportunity Portal Oklahoma Access to Justice Foundation and Paladin provide a pro bono volunteer site that allows users to filter results by 16 areas of law and 11 different client demographics. 

Pro Bono Texas:  Pro Bono Opportunity Portal a site created by the State Bar of Texas and Paladin allows a volunteer to filter for 17 areas of law and 14 client demographhics.

ABA Disaster Relief Pro Bono Portal  a site created by the American Bar Association and Paladin is focused on disaster pro bono opportunities nationwide and includes a section on useful resources.

Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI) (Illinois) links to a state instance of ABA Free Legal Answers but with a focused COVID-19 task force as well as a unique "Illinois Free Legal Answers for Civil Appeals" project.


Toolkits and Self-Help

Toolkits and Self-Help

Self Help Tools and Toolkits

 Despite LSC's resources and robust pro bono legal help throughout the legal community there will be a substantial percentage of people who won't be able to get the help that they need.  Websites help this demographic by providing self-help resources organized around legal issues with documents and YouTube videos to help explain them.

The website (Tennessee) has many YouTube videos focused on these areas:   

·         Are Bill Collectors Bothering You?
·         Before You Move into a New Property
·         Divorce
·         Foreclosure
·         Legal Wellness Checkup
·         Orders of Protection
·         Power of Attorney for Care of a Minor Child
·         Senior Legal Issues
·         Sued?
·         What to Expect in General Sessions (Civil Court/Day in Court)

Illinois Legal Aid  has a chat function as well as a good search interface.

Illinois Legal Aid Online (Illinois) has a chat function as well as many well-organized informational sections:

·         Business & Work
·         Citizens & Immigration
·         Courts & Hearings
·         Crime & Traffic
·         Family & Safety
·         Health & Benefits
·         House & Apartment
·         Money & Debt
·         School & Education

The Justice Center (Colorado Springs, CO) has a Tenant's Toolkit which includes Housing Videos, Forms & Documents and a link to their Housing Ambassador Program  

Northeast Justice Center (Massachusetts) has self-help tools, essentially a page of links useful to the public on Immigration, Housing, Public Benefits and Elder Issues.

Northeast Legal Aid (Massachusetts) has more self-help tools: Public Benefits, Consumer/Tax, Domestic Violence, Family Law, Housing, and Record Sealing

Pine Tree Legal (Maine) has self-help pages for Custody & Family, Divorce, Domestic Violence, Farmworkers, Going to Court, Health and Public Benefits, Homeownership and Foreclosure, Money, Taxes & Debt, Native American, Rental Housing, Sexual Assault & Abuse, Work & School and Veterans.

A special resource linked from Pine Tree is Families Change: Guide to Separation & Divorce which addresses parents, teens and children's issues. The site "offers you valuable tips and general information about dealing with family break ups. It does not offer legal advice. Each person’s family is different. For this reason this site does not replace the specialized guidance of lawyers, family counselors and other professionals."

Video resources

Developing a set of videos mounted in an organization's YouTube channel or locally on the website is a low-cost way of providing legal information.

Justice & Diversity Center of the Bar Association of San Francisco

Their Low Income Taxpayer Clinic contains a "Watch Tim's Tax Tips" has several useful videos on a variety of taxation subjects.

The Justice Center (Colorado Springs, CO) has a Tenant's Toolkit which includes Housing Videos.

The website (Tennessee) has many YouTube videos focused on these areas:   

·         Are Bill Collectors Bothering You?
·         Before You Move into a New Property
·         Divorce
·         Foreclosure
·         Legal Wellness Checkup
·         Orders of Protection
·         Power of Attorney for Care of a Minor Child
·         Senior Legal Issues
·         Sued?
·         What to Expect in General Sessions (Civil Court/Day in Court) 
Video Resources

Video Resources