Technology grant will create statewide pro bono website

Issue December 2011

The Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association will create a statewide pro bono website with a $68,000 Legal Services Corp. grant that was endorsed by the Massachusetts Bar Association.

The VLP will use the Technology Initiative Grant, which runs from January 2012 through June 2013, to expand the availability of quality pro bono representation for low-income Massachusetts residents by creating a website that increases the efficiency and productivity of pro bono programs and helps match up clients with volunteer attorneys.

The immediate goal is to create a robust, sustainable and widely used statewide website that increases the overall efficiency and productivity of pro bono programs and facilitates pro bono participation by the private bar. The ultimate purpose of the project is to leverage technology to expand the availability of quality pro bono representation for low-income clients in Massachusetts.

"Busy attorneys want and will appreciate this one-stop, coordinated approach to pro bono," Denise Squillante wrote to the Washington, D.C.-based LSC when she was MBA president in 2010. She noted the MBA's "unqualified support" for the project, saying that the online resource would help connect lawyers with clients badly in need of help. The grant application had been endorsed by the MBA's House of Delegates in 2009 
and 2010.

The VLP's application states that the effort has the support of all of the Massachusetts legal aid programs (including both LSC-funded and non-LSC funded programs), the courts and other legal organizations.

The courts had already expanded its efforts to improve access to justice and were enthusiastic about the proposal. In particular, project noted that the new website has been embraced by the Access to Justice (A2J) Commission, which is led by Supreme Judicial Court Justice Ralph Gants and attorney David Rosenberg, as well as by Housing Court Judge Dina E. Fein, the special advisor to the Trial Court for Access to Justice 

The application also included a section devoted to the potential for collaboration with the MBA, both through its Community Services Dept. and its Access to Justice Section Council. Specifically, there was interest in jointly developing an online pro bono opportunities guide to enhance the MBA's existing and "extensive" pro bono opportunities listings