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July 6, 2007

Proposal: A National (or International?) Pro Bono Clearinghouse

Occasionally, I receive inquiries asking for pro bono advice on legal matters. Given my teaching and scholarly duties, I'm not well-positioned to offer such advice. When appropriate, I steer the inquirers to our legal clinics. For most cases, however, it would be better if I could suggest some kind of pro bono clearinghouse that would take care of the inquiry. One model might be Amazon's MTurk--where people offer and seek services. Such a service would list categories (intellectual property, human rights, children's rights, women's rights, antidiscrimination, community service, etc.), and both suppliers and demanders could make themselves known--perhaps even anonomously on the public site. Perhaps such clearinghouses already exist. A quick web search reveals local clearinghouses offered by the Richmond and NY bars, but not a national database of the type I'm envisioning here. Perhaps AALS or the ABA might offer such a service? Anupam Chander

July 6, 2007 in Legal profession realities and developments | Permalink


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Founded in 1998 with a grant from the Open Society Institute, Pro Bono Net has developed a broad base of support from foundations, law firms, corporate sponsors and nonprofit partners alike, to build web platforms that offer powerful and sophisticated online tools to pro bono and legal aid advocates, and to provide critical legal information and assistance directly to the public.

Posted by: John Mayer | Jul 6, 2007 10:07:35 PM

If the idea is actually to attach students as legal advice-givers (supervised, of course), there are a few precedents to look at. One is the law librarians' network, which operates a lot like you describe through live chats. I believe this network is manned at almost all hours, with the librarians "on call" shifting west as the day progresses. Another was an attempt here in Massachusetts to provide advice and counsel via text-chatting (LiveJustice.org). This effort ultimately tripped up on inadequate technology (both in the infrastructure and the clients' lack thereof), but I believe the model can be replicated with today's technology, and with a more mainstream (less poor) clientele.

Note that ProBono.net provides the infrastructure for about half of the states' civil legal aid programs' public websites. Kaivo does another third, and the rest are roll-your-own (like mine, MassLegalHelp.org). As these website consider integrating the A2J self-help tool (a2jauthor.org), there will be increasing need for attorneys and students to create self-help materials which, while not exactly responsive to the original post, addresses an adjacent need.

Posted by: Gene Koo | Jul 9, 2007 3:30:57 PM

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