Earlier this month, The Chicago Bar Foundation (CBF) and the legal tech platform Paladin announced the launch of a new online Illinois Pro Bono Opportunity Guide. The guide is a response to our growing digital society, where the next generation of lawyers is more likely to scroll through pro bono opportunities on their phones than in a printable PDF.
“The CBF has recognized that an online tool that leverages this content and expertise could really increase efficiency and accessibility,” said Bob Glaves, Executive Director of the CBF. “We are thrilled that the new partnership with Paladin will make that possible.”
We spoke with Samira A. Nazem, Director of Pro Bono & Court Advocacy at the CBF, and Kristen Sonday, Co-Founder and COO of Paladin, about the statewide guide and navigation tips for lawyers on the go.
This interview has been edited for brevity.
2Civility: The CBF has released a popular print pro bono guide for years. How is the online guide different?
Samira: We’ve done a print guide for over 25 years, but the pro bono landscape has evolved over time. We saw a real need for a centralized hub for attorneys looking to do pro bono. The sheer number of pro bono opportunities can be overwhelming, and they come and go over time. We’ve repackaged what’s in our print guide in a way that will enable users to easily sort through current pro bono opportunities and identify an opportunity that fits their interests and needs.
The online guide can be updated in real time and is mobile responsive. We think this will be particularly appealing to younger lawyers who are looking for mobile solutions. Now, with both the print and online guides, we’re able to reach attorneys on multiple levels.
2Civility: Why did the CBF and Paladin choose to partner on this platform?
Kristen: The CBF is renowned for its pro bono expertise, community leadership, and dedication to innovation. Digitizing their Illinois Pro Bono Opportunity Guide seemed like a natural next step, and we were thrilled to work with their team to develop the portal together.
Samira: By joining our pro bono content with Paladin’s technology platform, we’re able to cast a wider net and share these opportunities with a larger audience. We’ve worked closely with Paladin for over a year, collecting and organizing content and doing focus groups and user testing to determine how to make this resource as impactful and helpful as possible.
2Civility: How will the online guide make it easier for lawyers to identify pro bono opportunities?
Kristen: The online guide allows attorneys to filter pro bono opportunities by practice area, communities served, and types of engagement. They can also seamlessly connect directly with referring organizations through the portal to get started.
Samira: I’m a firm believer that there is a pro bono opportunity that’s right for everyone. If you don’t have the proper training, a legal aid organization can provide it. If you don’t have much time, there are flexible opportunities that can be done in a matter of hours around your schedule. If you can’t find what you’re looking for with the online guide, users can always reach out to CBF and we’ll help you find an opportunity.
It’s important to remember that this is version 1.0. It isn’t a perfect tool. We are eager to hear from users, and already have several tweaks we’d like to make. We hope to better integrate with law firms and legal aid organizations down the road to offer real-time signups for trainings and clinics, etc.
2Civility: Are the number of hours and information on malpractice insurance included?
Samira: Lawyers can sort opportunities by time commitment, making it easier to find help desks and clinics that can be done in shorter shifts. The vast majority of the opportunities offer malpractice insurance because almost 98 percent are partnerships with legal aid organizations. Users can click on an opportunity and find those details in the narrative. We hope to add a line for malpractice insurance to make it more explicit. We’ve also tried to flag opportunities that require special expertise or resources and may not be appropriate for everyone.
2Civility: Do you plan to expand the guide, especially for those outside of Cook County?
Kristen: The guide currently includes opportunities both within and outside Cook Country, and there are a number of ways we can expand our offerings in the future. Outside of CBF, Paladin also works with law firms, in-house teams, and law schools to streamline their pro bono programs, and we’re excited to develop next-generation tools that unite and empower the community.
Samira: This is designed to be a statewide resource. While many legal aid organizations are based in Chicago, we have reached out to legal aid and pro bono programs across the state. There is a filter that will screen for statewide pro bono opportunities outside of Chicago, and we’ve flagged opportunities that can be done remotely from anywhere. Many organizations are thinking more about how they can use technology to increase their pro bono work.
We’d love feedback from users across the state on ways that we can make this tool as useful as possible. Please reach out to us directly with any opportunities we’ve missed.
To share feedback on the Illinois Pro Bono Opportunity Guide, reach out to Samira via email.
For more on Kristen, check out her presentation The Changing Face of Legal Entrepreneurship from our The Future Is Now 2.018 conference.