The coronavirus pandemic has laid low a lot of Americans, more than 62,000 of whom have already died since the beginning of March and 30 million more who are now out of work owing to the resultant shutdown of most businesses and public gathering places.
The ensuant crisis it has created is so massive that any type of coordinated effort is a challenge to pull together. Fortunately, that hasn't stopped the American Bar Association and a justice tech company called Paladin that we introduced to readers last year. On the contrary, the SaaS startup -- which helps legal teams sign up for pro bono opportunities, then makes their work and its impact easier to track -- has teamed up with the ABA to help lawyers find pro bono opportunities specifically to help people affected by the coronavirus pandemic and other natural disasters.
It's a way to accelerate work that the ABA has been doing for the last 13 years through its Young Lawyers Division’s Disaster Legal Services Program -- because time, right now, is of the essence.
We were in touch yesterday with Paladin co-founder Kristen Sonday to learn more about the new portal, which helps lawyers filter opportunities by practice area, communities to serve, type of engagement and the ability to work remotely. We asked how it might better hep attorneys and those in need of their services to connect faster.
TC: How did this project come together? Who brought in whom to do what?
KS: The Paladin team saw a similar response to COVID-19 as previous legal emergencies in how volunteer attorneys were being recruited, which is mostly through online forms and spreadsheets [and] manual and ad hoc.
We had already built a version of a centralized opportunity guide for the Chicago Bar Foundation, and this seemed like a great opportunity to leverage that technology to help legal services organizations across the country recruit and manage disaster response volunteers seamlessly.
TC: Two other companies are involved here: LegalZoom and Clio. What role are they playing?
We approached LegalZoom and Clio to get involved given their reach on both the client and solo/small firm sides. They're covering the costs of researching and developing this online resource, and we’re excited about the partnership because both organizations are well-known for their commitment to using technology to increase access to justice and improve legal services, [and] filter opportunities by practice area, communities to serve, type of engagement and the ability to work remotely.
TC: Who are some of the people, or businesses, you see this helping right now? What are some common cases?
KS: Vulnerable individuals are experiencing a range of legal issues at unprecedented levels. Common cases include individuals filing for unemployment benefits; navigating housing issues and unlawful evictions; victims of domestic violence who have sheltered-in-place with an abuser; nonprofits and small businesses navigating canceled contracts; and delays in court proceedings affecting thousands of Americans.
TC: And how did you put together this database?
KS: Paladin partnered its technology with the ABA DLS’s network to provide a centralized portal for state hotlines and disaster-related opportunities from legal services organizations across the country. All Legal Services Corporation grantees are able to post on the platform, and we look forward to seeing more organizations participating every day.
TC: Were there privacy concerns that needed to be addressed first?
KS: Opportunities have confidential information removed prior to posting, and attorneys are typically only provided confidential case information after they've been vetted by the referring organization.
TC: How do attorneys make themselves available on this portal?
KS: They sign up for specific pro bono opportunities that align with their interests and experience. Once they submit a form outlining their background to the referring organization, that organization will screen them and pair them with the most appropriate pro bono client.
TC: Are you generating any revenue from this project?
KS: Our mission is to increase access to justice by supporting pro bono legal services, so this project seemed like the perfect way to leverage Paladin’s expertise and increase impact. There is no cost for attorneys to use, nor cost to the legal services organizations posting opportunities. It is a great way to raise awareness of Paladin’s work more broadly.
Lawyers who are willing to provide pro bono legal services can sign up and view cases at here.