In addition to providing a list of available cases, websites and case management systems (CMS) should provide volunteer attorneys with the opportunity to accept and work on cases online. Providing volunteers with the opportunity to work on pro bono cases without visiting a legal aid office removes geographic barriers and allows lawyers to manage their pro bono hours according to their own schedules.
Case Study: Virginia’s JusticeServer
JusticeServer, a new online case management system, includes a pro bono portal that allows volunteer attorneys to accept and work on pro bono cases online. The system is part of a collaborative effort to increase pro bono participation by allowing volunteers to take pro bono cases without physically visiting legal aid offices.
The collaboration began at the Virginia Chief Justice’s Pro Bono Summit in 2010, when Capital One’s general counsel, John G. Finneran, Jr., pledged to donate resources from Capital One to help develop the system. Staff from Capital One’s IT department collaborated with staff from the Greater Richmond Bar Foundation, Central Virginia Legal Aid Society, and the Legal Aid Justice Center.
The core team spent a year analyzing intake, case placement, and case management in Virginia’s legal aid offices to develop the requirements for a new system. The final product is an entirely new online case management system, with a built-in system for pro bono referrals. It is built on the online customer relationship management software Salesforce, modified to meet the specific needs of a legal aid office.
The Pro Bono Portal
An essential component of JusticeServer is the Pro Bono Portal, which allows private attorneys to register to volunteer and to find pro bono cases from any organizations using JusticeServer as their case management system.
During registration, volunteers create a profile which specifies the types of pro bono cases they are interested in. Volunteers can choose from thirteen substantive areas, which were selected for pro bono work because they tend to be limited in scope and meet areas of high demand for clients.
After volunteers register and are approved by the participating organizations, they are able to see a list of available cases that match their jurisdiction and practice areas, called “Cases of Interest.”
The “Cases of Interest” list allows volunteers to view summary and demographic information for each case. Volunteers can remove cases from their “Cases of Interest” list, or move them to their own “Cases I am Considering” list to put cases on hold while they check for conflicts. After moving a case to “Cases I’m Considering,” volunteers can either accept or reject the case.
After accepting a case, attorneys continue to work through the pro bono portal to manage information related to the case. The portal provides options for editing case details, attaching documents, adding co-counsel, requesting help from a law student, and closing a case.
The new system has the potential to ease the caseloads of overburdened legal aid organizations by making it easier for pro bono attorneys to accept and work on cases.
As of January 2014, the Legal Aid Justice Center, Central Virginia Legal Aid Society, and Greater Richmond Bar Foundation are using JusticeServer as their sole case management system. Between the three organizations, JusticeServer is currently managing 9,800 cases, including over 2,000 cases for volunteer attorneys.
JusticeServer was developed in collaboration between the Greater Richmond Bar Foundation (GRBF), the Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC), and Central Virginia Legal Aid Society (CVLAS).
Some case management systems already have the capacity to grant volunteer attorneys restricted access to cases. These systems have pro bono portals, which provide the attorney with limited access to the case management system so that they can access their cases and the general resources of the CMS, like document management and form generation.
Providing volunteers with access to cases may require special configuration of a case management system. The Legal Services National Technology Assistance Project (LSNTAP) maintains a list of systems with the capacity for volunteer attorney management.