Brown Award Nominees
1. COVID H.E.L.P. Illinois (Housing & Economic Loss Prevention) at covidhelpillinois.org
COVID HELP Illinois offers a bold new vision for expanding the availability of legal information and assistance to those in need, in a way that responds to a crisis and has implications for reshaping the legal aid delivery system in the coming years. COVID HELP is a free, online, 24-7 tool, for people in Illinois, who are facing housing, employment, and other economic problems because of COVID-19. COVID HELP is a joint project of CARPLS Legal Aid and other Illinois legal aid agencies that understand the cascade of legal problems the pandemic has unleashed on Illinois families. COVID HELP has virtual legal assistants in the areas of: Consumer (including bankruptcy), Employment, Unemployment, Housing (including eviction and foreclosure), and Probate (estate planning and guardianships). There is no roadblock for low-income individuals attempting to get free legal help, as COVID HELP does not verify income for services. Our group anticipates that when many of Illinois’ moratoria end, communities will be left reeling without the help of a trusted resource. While the laws would differ from state to state, by changing the chat questions and answer logic, the purpose and design can easily be replicated with a dedicated group of legal aid professionals.
2. DC Refers
Thousands of moderate-income District of Columbia residents need legal services but are caught in a justice gap – they do not qualify for free legal aid but cannot afford market rates. DC Refers was launched to bridge this justice gap by connecting people of modest means who are in need of legal assistance with experienced lawyers and mediators who are willing to provide high-quality affordable services. Since our founding in 2017, the DC Refers online directory has connected over 700 people with brief advice and provided full legal representation to more than 200 people. More than 30 lawyers and mediators tap the spirit of giving by offering discounted rates to people who otherwise would have nowhere to turn for help because they earn too much to qualify for free legal help and too little to hire a lawyer. Prospective clients use the DC Refers website, answering a number of questions in the process, to be connected to a lawyer in their area of need. The requests are then sent to the lawyers, who have expertise is a broad range of legal practice areas. Clients may choose to contact the lawyers themselves or have the lawyers reach out to them. Soon, DC Refers will launch a mediator portal, bringing affordable ADR resources to people of modest means.
Documate is a no-code platform for creating legal web applications. Document automation has been around for decades, but Documate is focused on a broader category - the productization of law to serve more of the public. Documate's clients build legal products (like a "TurboTax for law) to generate document-generators and expert systems. Through Documate, legal aid organizations and lawyers can collaborate with clients and (if desired) generate revenue through new legal service delivery models. More importantly, Documate empowers the lawyer to do it on their own without the help of a software developer. The platform has the power of functions like loops, complex calculations, and nested logic to your heart’s desire - with the ease and UX of a modern, no-code platform. It also allows lawyers to embed videos, audio, and pass data into and out of other systems.
4. Texas Opportunity & Justice Incubator (TOJI)
Texas is a uniquely vast and diverse state, ranking second in the country in geographical area and population. While size alone presents significant challenges to meeting Texas’ growing demand for affordable legal services, there are also cultural, linguistic, and regional complexities. As a legal incubator, the Texas Opportunity & Justice Incubator (TOJI) improves access to legal services in three ways: (1) training attorneys to build sustainable, solo law firms; (2) providing a supportive community in which attorneys develop business-savvy approaches to serving low-income and modest-income communities; and (3) collecting and evaluating data on the sustainability and effectiveness of these methods in order to share knowledge and resources with other champions of access to justice. Since late 2019, TOJI has operated as a virtual program. Reimagining TOJI as a digital community expanded its reach within Texas, both in terms of the attorneys reached and the clients those attorneys serve. TOJI lawyers have served clients in 121 of Texas' 254 counties. The impact of their service is measured in millions of dollars saved and thousands of clients served. TOJI’s virtual delivery contributes significantly to the sustainability of the program and is a key factor in others’ ability to replicate the model.
5. The Justice Legal Center at the Center for Family Justice, Inc.
In February 2017, The Center for Family Justice (CFJ) launched the Justice Legal Center (JLC), Connecticut’s first legal incubator. This innovative program has helped to bridge the justice gap for victims of domestic and sexual violence and human trafficking, while giving invaluable experience to attorneys committed to social justice. The JLC and its team have played a significant role in helping CFJs’ clients access legal services they desperately need for often complicated matters related to child custody, restraining orders and immigration. In Connecticut, where funding shortages mean only 18 percent of those qualified for legal aid attorneys actually receive these services, the JLC has helped CFJ provide legal counsel to a significant and growing number of clients. Retaining JLC attorneys has spared CFJ’s already traumatized clients the stress of self-representation in serious legal matters which impacted their personal safety and wellbeing. In turn, the JLC has helped connect attorneys launching private practices with office space, paying clients, vital experience and critical mentorship from community-based attorneys who enthusiastically contribute their time, support and expertise to the incubator. The program’s low overhead has resulted in an easily duplicated model for other nonprofits committed to serving trauma victims.