I have a mania. Like most people, I have certain strange ideas and impulses, chief among mine are an overwhelming need to accumulate, categorize and publish online volunteer lawyer support materials and news.
My problem is deeply seated, and is aggravated by my environment. My work involves supporting pro civil bono programs and the people who manage those pro bono programs. The federal Legal Services Corporation has some rules that guide much of the support work I do as well as the intricacies of pro bono service delivery, and as they say, “you have to dance with them that brought ya’.”
The aforementioned rules dictate that we pro bono coordinators actually equip our volunteer lawyers with resources to get the job done. The nerve! Well anyway, the LSC federal regulation is a bit more precise. I set out below an excerpt of the regulation because it’s therapeutic for me to see this in writing as often as possible:
(d) Systems designed to provide direct services to eligible clients by private attorneys on either a pro bono or reduced fee basis, shall include at a minimum, the following components:
(1) Intake and case acceptance procedures consistent with the recipient’s established priorities in meeting the legal needs of eligible clients;
(2) Case assignments which ensure the referral of cases according to the nature of the legal problems involved and the skills, expertise, and substantive experience of the participating attorney;
(3) Case oversight and follow-up procedures to ensure the timely disposition of cases to achieve, if possible, the result desired by the client and the efficient and economical utilization of recipient resources; and
(4) Access by private attorneys to LSC recipient resources (emphasis added), including those of LSC national and state support centers, that provide back-up on substantive and procedural issues of the law. 45 CFR Section 1614.3 (d).
As you might imagine, technology can help with each of the above enumerated components of the pro bono delivery system, especially so with regard to resources for private attorneys, many of whom have little knowledge of poverty law and some of whom may need a little refresher on people skills when it comes to working with low-income or marginalized people who have critical legal needs.
Paradoxically, quality also contributes to my malaise. All of the programs I work with across Georgia and many in other parts of the country produce quality legal material because they are quality programs. Whether it’s a legal aid program or a stand-alone pro bono program, its lawyers have quite a collection of unique substantive law and legal information materials on hand after years of business.
I become feverish when I sense a quality document or pleading or legal information brochure is locked up behind an office door. My temperature soars when I learn that these wonderfully helpful materials may be shipped via snail mail or e-mail dozens or hundreds of times each year from one individual lawyer to another, that is, if the materials are shared at all. I feel ill when I think about a volunteer lawyer working on a pro bono file at night who is unable to get a question answered, when all the while she could have accessed the support materials online 24/7. And you know what happens? That file goes back to the bottom of the pile.
My mind reels! There are dozens upon dozens of public interest lawyers here in Georgia, each of whom has a storehouse of legal content that, if shared with other lawyers, could make a tremendous impact on poverty law.
A silo: It’s where grain– food for life– is kept. It’s also where, too often, we squirrel away critical legal information that can help save someone’s home or keep a young child in school.
Free the captive forms! I’m sorry.
There is an answer and it’s a mouse click away: a website where lawyers of all stripes can share legal content with each other to help one other serve low-income clients. It is a radical concept, and Pro Bono Net has helped us take it from concept to reality.
So, I spend hours each evening scouring for web content for our volunteer lawyer support website. Each morning I wake up, and before I have my coffee, I have made a mental list of lawyers I need to contact to see if they will let me help them create a law-related video or podcast or even a voice-over Powerpoint. On the express bus ride into the city, I’m on my laptop surfing the internet for law-related events in Georgia that might be helpful to a pro bono-leaning lawyer. By evening, I’m back at home and on the computer trying to figure out a way to get all of our programs thinking more strategically about using technology to promote and support pro bono services.
So, what’s a pro bono guy (or gal) to do when work and life become unbearable, when you feel you’re overwhelmed by the need to recast, repurpose, reinvent any small scrap of legal information and put it on the web? To whom do I turn when I feel I’d sell a kidney for a divorce pleadings packet? What do you do when have visions and dreams of pro bono riches for anyone who comes calling but no sleep? Seek help.
My name is Mike Monahan, and I am a pro bono content junkie.
There! I said it.
A cure is possible. So, won’t you please give today? Go to www.GeorgiaAdvocates.org/GOJC/Library and click on “Add a Resource.” Thank you.