Lawyers in Miami-Dade County who want to volunteer their services now have an easy way to find just the right case through an interactive website being developed by The Florida Bar Foundation.
“This system puts pro bono attorneys in the driver’s seat, giving them a userfriendly way to filter and search for cases that suit their interests,” said Ericka Garcia, the Bar Foundation’s statewide director of Pro Bono Partnerships. “Pro bono attorneys I’ve met with from across the state over the last year have all been telling me this is exactly the tool they want. It enables them to see in real time what pro bono cases are available and creates efficiencies for both the attorney and the legal aid organization.”
Florida Pro Bono Matters is being piloted right now with Legal Services of Greater Miami, Americans for Immigrant Justice and CABA Pro Bono Legal Services. All are displaying the cases for which they are seeking pro bono attorneys. It will soon involve virtually all of the state’s pro bono programs for civil legal aid.
Hilarie Bass, American Bar Association president-elect and co-president of the international law firm Greenberg Traurig, spearheaded planning meetings with Miami-Dade legal aid organizations, more than 10 of which will participate in the pilot project.
“With a limited amount of legal aid funding available, it is critical that The Florida Bar Foundation and local legal aid organizations find more efficient and effective ways to deliver pro bono services,” Bass said. “Technology like this interactive pro bono website will help more Floridians gain access to justice. The key is making it easier for pro bono attorneys to see the need and answer the call for help.”
FloridaProBonoMatters.org, which can also be accessed through FloridaProBono.org, serves as a marketing tool for specific pro bono cases. Lawyers can filter available cases by practice area, location and participating organization, and with the click of a button they can register their interest in taking on a particular case.
It is designed to allow any organization that wants to advertise pro bono opportunities – whether a law school, law firm or legal aid organization – to display specific cases. Developed by Wiedza Creations LLC, a company based within the University of Central Florida’s Business Incubation Program, the site can easily be expanded to include additional organizations. The Foundation will take it statewide over the next six months.
U.S. District Court Judge Patricia A. Seitz, who led the planning meetings along with Bass, said she has seen firsthand through her work as a federal judge the multiple issues faced by those recently released from prison.
“I have long thought it would be wonderful if there were a direct and easy way to share with lawyers the life-impacting legal needs facing these individuals who lack the means and knowledge to hire a lawyer,” Seitz said. “This site makes it possible to do that. I am optimistic that it can make a difference, not just for ex-offenders but for all disadvantaged people in our community.”
Eli Mattern of Wiedza Creations LLC knows full well the benefit to the attorney, as she and her business partner James Haggard are both experienced legal aid attorneys in addition to being the cofounders of the legal tech start-up.
“This website takes away a common fear among attorneys, which is that legal aid may send them a pro bono case that they aren’t comfortable handling,” Mattern said. “By letting the pro bono attorney choose the case, we’re prioritizing the pro bono attorney’s time and input in a way the legal aid system hasn’t been able to do before. To do this, we used cutting-edge technology to curate the cases, so that we can display them on any website that wants to advertise pro bono opportunities. We want to make it easy to find a case and help a person with his or her legal issue.”