For countless numbers of low-income Americans, the COVID-19 crisis is causing significant and unanticipated legal consequences, including unlawful evictions, lost wages and benefits, and other legal issues. Launching today is a first-of-its-kind, nationwide Disaster Relief Pro Bono Portal to help connect those individuals to pro bono legal assistance.
The portal was jointly developed by the Disaster Legal Services Program of the American Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division, which operates through a memorandum of understanding between the ABA YLD and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and and Paladin, a legal technology company whose platform enables law firms, legal departments and other organizations to staff, manage and track their pro bono work.
Two other legal technology companies provided funding for development of the portal: Clio, the developer of cloud-based law practice management technology, and LegalZoom, the company that provides affordable, online legal services to millions of people nationwide.
In addition, the Legal Services Corporation, the largest funder of civil legal aid programs for low-income Americans, is inviting its grantees to use the new portal as a means of posting cases and projects for which volunteer legal professionals are needed.
Database of Pro Bono Opportunities
The portal provides a centralized, sortable database that will list opportunities to serve those impacted by COVID-19, as well as other disasters, including the tornadoes in Tennessee and earthquakes in San Juan.
It is launching today with more than 100 opportunities in the system and more will continue to be added as new initiatives come online and legal services organizations join the platform.
Participation in the portal is free and open to any attorney in the United States, regardless of ABA membership.
“Until now, pro bono efforts have been ad hoc and manual – organized through online forms, spreadsheets, and phone calls across jurisdictions – which is not scalable or effective during times of crisis,” Kristen Sonday, Paladin’s cofounder and COO, said in an email to me.
Through the portal, volunteer attorneys will be able to filter opportunities by practice area, communities to serve, type of engagement, and the ability to work remotely. State hotline hosts and legal services organizations will be able to post opportunities to the portal as they come in to increase their volunteer pools.
By creating consistency in opportunity intake, the ABA and Paladin say, they will be able to gather important data around needs, volunteer interests, and ultimately, pro bono connections to inform better volunteer matching.
“The COVID-19 public health crisis has made the need for a nationwide Disaster Legal Services pro bono portal more apparent than ever,” ABA President Judy Perry Martinez said in a statement. “Streamlining our volunteer recruitment and referral process means connecting those in need following a disaster to volunteer attorneys as quickly as possible.”
Lawyers who are willing to provide pro bono legal services can sign up and view cases at https://aba.joinpaladin.com/. Individuals who are looking for disaster-related legal assistance can connect to their state hotlines by calling the DLS Program’s national toll-free hotline at 888-743-5749.
“We cannot think of a better way to leverage Paladin’s technology than to connect those in need with pro bono attorneys during this crucial time,” Sonday said. “People are already navigating significant health and economic challenges, and finding legal help shouldn’t be another burden.”
Similar Portal Launched in New York
Earlier this week, in a similar partnership, Paladin and Clio teamed with the New York State Bar Association to launch a website, www.nysba.org/legalhelp, that provides resources for filing an unemployment claim and that matched attorneys – free of charge – with those whose claims are unsuccessful.
Once complete, the NYSBA will use the intake information to match the individual with pro bono attorneys onboarded and made available through Paladin’s online portal.
Pro bono attorneys will be given free access to Clio’s case management software to manage the appeal process.
Working with Clio and Paladin, the NYSBA created and launched the site in just a week.
Opportunities listed in the NYSBA portal will also appear in the nationwide portal.