Pro Bono

Want to provide COVID-19 pro bono help? Try this new portal launched by ABA and Paladin

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Screenshot of the pro bono portal.

Lawyers who want to provide pro bono help to people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and other disasters can sign up at a new pro bono portal launched Thursday.

The portal, available at this link, will list pro bono opportunities for those who want to help people impacted by COVID-19, tornadoes in Tennessee and earthquakes in San Juan, Puerto Rico, according to an ABA press release. When future disasters happen, pro bono opportunities will be listed in the portal.

The portal is a project of the Disaster Legal Services Program of the ABA Young Lawyers Division, which was assisted by justice technology company Paladin.

The site already has been populated with “evergreen” pro bono opportunities for each state and U.S. territory, according to Amanda Brown, vice director of the ABA Young Lawyers Division’s Disaster Legal Services Program. She spoke with the ABA Journal by email.

“Please be patient!” Brown advises lawyers who want to help. “In times of crisis, people are eager to support the cause right away. 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 in the public conscience.”

Pro bono opportunities are available in a number of subject matter areas, Brown says. They include housing, employment, bankruptcy, consumer law, family law and public benefits.

Lawyers can filter opportunities by practice area, community, type of engagement and the ability to work remotely. Volunteers will be matched to legal service organizations, and cases will be distributed as needed by those groups.

The Disaster Legal Services Program coordinates legal services to low-income victims of disasters with the help of volunteer lawyers, state bar associations and local legal aid offices. The program is operated in conjunction with the Federal Emergency Management Agency after a disaster declaration, although it ramped up work on COVID-19 legal help in the absence of a declaration.

The program has already released a national hotline number for people needing legal services related to COVID-19.

The toll-free hotline number, provided by RingCentral Inc., is 888-743-5749. Callers needing legal help will be directed to participating state hotlines, which will be able to post pro bono opportunities to the portal.

Brown has been working on the portal for about three weeks with Linda Anderson Stanley, the director of disaster legal services for the ABA Young Lawyers Division.

The portal “is very much a rapid response to the times,” Brown says. “Nonetheless, it has been an aspirational goal of the program for a couple of years now. We are grateful to Paladin for their support and are looking forward to making this a permanent fixture for our program.”

In the past, disaster victims were connected with pro bono lawyers through online forms, spreadsheets and phone calls across jurisdictions. The portal will more effectively deploy volunteer attorneys after disasters.

ABA President Judy Perry Martinez praised the development in the press release.

“The COVID-19 public health crisis has made the need for a nationwide Disaster Legal Services pro bono portal more apparent than ever,” Martinez said. “Streamlining our volunteer recruitment and referral process means connecting those in need following a disaster to volunteer attorneys as quickly as possible.”

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