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Best Practice: Providing Volunteers with Access to Case Management Systems

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

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.

Benefits of Allowing Volunteers to Access Cases Online
  • Streamlines the referral processes. The typical process to refer a case for pro bono representation can be laborious and time-intensive for legal aid staff. Allowing volunteers to find and work on cases online streamlines the process.     
  • Simplifies reporting.  If volunteer attorneys have access to the case management system, they can record case notes and time records directly without separately reporting to the pro bono coordinator. 
  • Removes geographic barriers.  Volunteers with online access to cases can do the majority of their work from their office, making it easier for volunteers from urban areas to represent clients in rural areas.
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.

Developing JusticeServer

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.

Substantive Areas in Volunteer Profile
Justice Server Volunteer Profile

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.” 

"Cases of Interest" List
JusticeServer "Cases of Interest" List

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.

JusticeServer’s Impact

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).

Case Management Systems that Provide Access to Cases

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