ABA online database links attorneys to pro bono needs

The American Bar Association is unveiling a new online portal designed to better connect pro bono attorneys with individuals and families who need free legal services because of the national COVID-19 emergency.

Lawyers across the country will be able to log on to the Disaster Relief Pro Bono Portal, then search the database to find cases available in their home states. They’ll be able to filter volunteer opportunities by such parameters as location and practice area so they can pick the case they feel best able to handle.

The lawyers will be expected to provide full representation to the clients. The portal is not an online forum with attorneys only providing answers to the questions posted by individuals.

After the coronavirus emergency has passed, the portal will be used whenever a natural disaster occurs.

Amanda Brown, vice director of the ABA Young Lawyer Division’s Disaster Legal Services Program, said the portal has long been an aspirational goal to marshal pro bono attorneys following a tornado, flood, hurricane or other kind of natural catastrophe. The effort took on greater urgency with the outbreak of the pandemic.

Developed by Paladin, a justice tech company specializing in pro bono software, the web portal is described as streamlining the process of matching volunteer attorneys with clients needing representation following a natural disaster. Traditionally, linking lawyers to cases was ad hoc, relying on forms, spreadsheets and phone calls.

Many attorneys would express an interest in volunteering, Brown said. However, the pool of volunteers would shrink, in part, because some of the lawyers felt they did not have the expertise required by the cases that were offered.

“For pro bono engagement and getting people to take cases, I think this is going to be huge,” Brown said of the portal.

The Legal Services Corporation, of which Indiana Legal Services is a grantee, will be activating its network and posting the volunteer opportunities. Also, LegalZoom and Clio have provided funding for the endeavor.

Brown reminded attorneys to be patient and remember that legal needs will continue arising from the coronavirus for a very long time.

“In times of crisis, people are eager to support the cause right away,” Brown said. “While some legal needs that surface in times of disaster are emergent, many issues take weeks or months to manifest. Legal service organizations on the ground are working hard day and night to triage and meet the demands placed on them, and they’ll need your support long after COVID-19 is (no longer) in the ‘public conscience.’”

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