OneJustice Blog

Bring life-changing legal help to Californians in need.

Virtual pro bono: from theory to reality

We’ve been talking about virtual pro bono for years

It’s time to move from theory to reality!

Jenna Finkle, Pro Bono Justice Program Associate at OneJustice

Jenna Finkle, Pro Bono Justice Program Associate at OneJustice

Last month over 125 people gathered at the two Regional Pro Bono Meetings to discuss hot topics in pro bono in California and plan for continuing to expand pro bono services throughout the state.  Thank you to everyone who participated in these great conversations in Los Angeles (October 2nd) and San Francisco (October 28th)!

Both of the meetings had sessions that continued our community’s discussion about how to more strategically use technology to connect Californians facing pressing legal problems with pro bono resources in the private sector.  Thank you to the Pro Bono Project’s Virtual Legal Services Program for appearing – virtually – at both meetings to share their successful model.  This model is highly replicable – and we’re excited about the opportunities that exist to move this topic forward in a big way over the coming year.

Today’s guest blogger, our very own Jenna Finkle, reflects both on her work coordinating the Regional Meetings and her participation in our own virtual pro bono clinic earlier this year.  Thanks Jenna!

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Guest Blogger: Jenna Finkle, Pro Bono Justice Program Associate

NorCal Pro Bono Regional Meeting

Over 80 participants attended the Northern California Pro Bono Meeting – we almost couldn’t fit them into one photo!

As OneJustice’s Pro Bono Justice Program Associate, I help coordinate and administer OneJustice’s support work and pro bono convenings throughout California. During the two regional Pro Bono Meetings in October, I had the opportunity to meet in person many of the pro bono stakeholders I have been communicating with via email, phone, and webinar from my office in San Francisco.

Both of these daylong conferences included a robust discussion about how to make pro bono virtual by connecting three essential ingredients through video and online chat: the clients, the volunteers, and the legal services experts to supervise.

Virtual Pro Bono Session

Cameron Day of the Pro Bono Project of Silicon Valley appeared virtually at the Southern California Pro Bono Meeting to demo their virtual pro bono services.

Watching these two groups dig into the idea of virtual pro bono during the sessions, I immediately thought about my experience working on OneJustice’s first virtual clinic in April, 2014. The Justice Bus Project brought 15 University of San Francisco School of  Law students to a DACA clinic in Humboldt in March, 2013. Due to limited resources in 2014, the Justice Bus Project was unable to return to Humboldt County to provide desperately needed immigration services. However, students from Humboldt State’s student group, F.R.E.E. (Find Resources and Empowerment through Education), reached out to OneJustice and prompted our partnership and coordination of our first ever virtual clinic to help immigrants in Humboldt County gain access to free DACA and immigration assistance.

The dedication of this student group astounded me. They were already a group seen in their community as an organizing node and resource. Their advocacy helped provide free legal services that were desperately needed. In preparation for this clinic, they coordinated DACA information sessions and found a space for the clinic, and F.R.E.E. members served as interpreters and doubled as technological navigators for clients during their appointments. They were ultimately able to successfully bring DACA & immigration assistance to 15 members of their community.

Ann, clinic volunteer at the April 2014 virtual clinic.

Volunteers in San Francisco connected virtually with immigrant youth in Humboldt County during the April 2014 virtual pro bono clinic.

These community members were served by seven University of San Francisco School of Law students working under the expert supervision of attorneys from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center. These students came into USF’s library on a Saturday, despite schoolwork, jobs, and their many other obligations, to provide much-needed services to folks up in Humboldt. The enthusiasm OneJustice saw from our community partners, volunteers, and clients clearly demonstrated the importance of bringing desperately needed legal services to rural and isolated communities.

In my 10 months at OneJustice, I have seen amazing collaborations across geographic areas and services, from community organizers to law schools to pro bono legal service providers. The folks present at the SoCal and NorCal Regional Meetings are key players in the many statewide efforts to build connections and provide services to help low-income, under-served Californians navigate a complex legal system. I was inspired at the Regional Meetings to see stakeholders’ dedication to create innovative ways to use technology to increase access to free legal assistance in rural areas.

I am excited that there will be new virtual pro bono pilot projects in the next year, and I look forward to bringing stakeholders back together to share best practices development and new ideas at the 2015 Pro Bono Conference, to be held in the fall of 2015 in Los Angeles.

Mark your calendars now for the California Pro Bono Conference – Fall 2015 (more details to come soon).  Our big dream?  That next year’s conversation will include a TON of new virtual pro bono pilots developed over the next 12 months!

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