The Florida Bar Foundation, which administers the state's IOLTA program, launched its Pro Bono Partnerships Program in the fall of 2015. Its new director, Ericka Garcia, immediately began working on discovery with pro bono organizations, committees, and roundtable groups all over the state. Just as a trial lawyer would do extensive research and depositions before striding into a courtroom, Garcia gathered evidence and interviewed dozens of people before developing her strategy for reinventing and reinvigorating pro bono in Florida, which was essentially her charge.
Brainstorming the Need for One-Stop Shopping
In addition to The Florida Bar's Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services, several circuit pro bono committees, and local pro bono programs, Garcia spent time with a group mostly made up of pro bono attorneys from large firms that came to be known as the "Miami Pro Bono Ambassadors." The ambassadors were led by then American Bar Association President Elect and Greenberg Traurig Co-President Hilarie Bass, as well as U.S. District Court Judge Patricia A. Seitz. In September 2016, the group convened a brainstorming session of Miami pro bono influencers.
The focus quickly became how to develop a centralized, easily accessible repository of specific pro bono opportunities from which busy lawyers could choose matters that suited their skills and interests. With about fifteen legal aid and pro bono programs in Miami-Dade County alone, plus statewide and national organizations offering opportunities, would-be pro bono attorneys had no one place to find a client whose problem they felt prepared to address. Instead, the group noted, lawyers often found themselves on the receiving end of calls or emails about cases various organizations were looking to place but that might not be a good fit for one reason or another.
The group's proposed solution was to build a website that would post available cases from multiple pro bono programs without creating extra work for overburdened program staff. It sounded easy enough to Garcia, until she started contacting tech companies who said the technology didn't exist. Not to be deterred, Garcia continued asking questions and finally found answers when she connected with SavvySuit, an Orlando legal tech company founded by two former legal aid attorneys and based at the University of Central Florida's Business Incubation Program.
From Prototype to Pilot
The foundation hired SavvySuit in October 2016 to develop a prototype for a website to be known as FloridaProBonoMatters.org, which was ready within four weeks. The prototype went through extensive review by the Miami Pro Bono Ambassadors, who readily embraced the user-designed process and provided feedback that enabled the foundation and SavvySuit to refine the site and give it the look it has today.
Because Miami-Dade has so many pro bono programs and about twenty-one percent of the state's attorney population, as well as the commitment of the ambassadors group, the foundation decided to pilot FloridaProBonoMatters.org there in February 2017 to work out any kinks in the system before attempting a larger rollout.
Securing Necessary Buy-in from IOLTA Grantees
Before launching the pilot, the foundation, which provides grants to about thirty civil legal aid and pro bono programs statewide, invited all of the Miami-Dade pro bono programs to provide feedback at a meeting. Some had doubts about the potential efficacy of the site, but the ambassadors clearly articulated why they needed the site and continued to address the legal aid and pro bono organizations' concerns after the meeting. The foundation allowed the ambassadors and pro bono programs to work through this process together and only participated when invited. Because the pro bono attorneys interact on a daily basis with the programs, they had a level of trust that encouraged the programs to try the new website.
The foundation and SavvySuit then worked to onboard organizations one by one to test the technology. By April of 2017, the vast majority of pro bono programs in Miami had joined the website. By June, the results were so positive that the foundation decided to roll out the website statewide.
Making it Easy for Both Grantees and Non-grantees to Use
The foundation worked initially with grantees to get cases posted to the new site and later expanded to organizations that were not its grantees. The foundation's grantees are able to post cases directly through LegalServer, a case management system the foundation had previously helped them adopt as a way of standardizing data collection and reporting. To address the needs of non-grantees not on LegalServer, SavvySuit created an Opportunity Manager function to enable them to post cases from outside the case management system, making it possible for essentially any approved organization to post cases.
The foundation decided to "turn on" cities, or regions, one at a time. The first launch after the Miami-Dade pilot was in Orlando on June 13, 2017, where the pro bono programs were brought on board during a half-day training. It included a session on marketing cases led by Whitney Untiedt, director of pro bono initiatives and a partner in Akerman LLP's Miami office. Untiedt taught attendees how to write a compelling and concise summary of an available case that would fit neatly on one of the website's "case cards," a compact visual display of the most pertinent information.
The half-day training was immediately followed by a reception to which pro bono attorneys from the local community were invited to learn about the website and celebrate pro bono work. By inviting local pro bono influencers, the foundation expanded the pool of pro bono ambassadors in the area, who in turn championed the site and spread the word among their local legal community. Similar trainings and receptions were held in West Palm Beach and Tampa. When the North Florida training had to be cancelled due to Hurricane Irma in September, the organizations were brought on board remotely. Untiedt's marketing training was recorded and posted online. In addition, FloridaProBonoMatters.org was featured at Jacksonville Area Legal Aid's annual gala, where Florida Chief Justice Jorge Labarga spoke at length about it to an audience of several hundred attorneys and judges.
As the website has been implemented statewide, the foundation has provided technical and marketing support. This has strengthened trust and partnerships with its grantees, who recognize how invested the foundation is in solving access to justice issues through innovation. As other technology solutions have been proposed, the foundation has been able to provide better feedback because of the additional knowledge its staff has gained through the development of FloridaProBonoMatters.org.
New Features Added
FloridaProBonoMatters.org continues to evolve based on user-centered design and ongoing feedback. An organic search feature suggested by users replaced a set of three filters for sorting cases. Cases are also now color coded by legal practice area.
Making the site "fun" and "cool" has been key, according to lawyers who have submitted feedback forms. By replying almost instantly to their comments and adopting many of their suggestions, the foundation has been able to keep users engaged.
In early 2018, the foundation launched a chat bot, which allows attorneys to create a profile through a few simple texts and receive alerts when a case meets their criteria. This feature launched with a new concierge service, which provides pro bono attorneys in need of help a way to connect with the foundation's Pro Bono Partnerships team easily. These new features put the project into uncharted territory, with staff pivoting to respond to and engage with users. But, this is consistent with the user-designed process, which has been highly successful so far.
As of February 1, 2018, more than two hundred interest forms had been submitted to the site by attorneys. Cases active in the system have tripled in the past six months, and counties with active cases have doubled. More than two dozen legal aid and pro bono programs have posted cases in thirty-two legal practice areas.
Marketing the Website
While FloridaProBonoMatters.org is a powerful tool for promoting pro bono work among attorneys who may have never done it before, it could not have succeeded without a targeted marketing plan. Social media has been a critical element of that plan. Younger attorneys are excited about FloridaProBonoMatters.org because it involves new technology that allows them to determine the when, where, and how, as well as what type of pro bono work they will do. Social media reinforces this excitement, which has been exponentially multiplied through the foundation's coordinated effort with grantees and The Florida Bar.
FloridaProBonoMatters.org was the focus of the foundation's social media campaign for National Celebrate Pro Bono Week in 2017. In that one week, the #FLProBonoMatters hashtag was seen more than 831,860 times by a possible 157,169 Twitter users. The "Florida Pro Bono Matters" page was the most visited page on the foundation's website, with a forty percent increase in new visitors.
News releases and articles in The Florida Bar News, local voluntary bar association newsletters, and other publications have been, and continue to be, another essential part of the foundation's outreach effort. Because of the novelty of FloridaProBonoMatters.org, the foundation was even able to generate a front-page article in the Orlando Sentinel about the website, which raised awareness well beyond the legal community.
The Florida Bar Foundation's experience in developing, implementing, and marketing FloridaProBonoMatters.org is a prime example of how IOLTA programs can play a key role in promoting pro bono in technologically innovative ways. For more information about this unique website, contact Ericka Garcia, Director of Pro Bono Partnerships, The Florida Bar Foundation at (407) 960-7000 or email@example.com.