Celebrating our 15th Anniversary

VOLUME 12 ISSUE 1February 2015
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Celebrating our 15th Anniversary

This year, Pro Bono Net celebrates the 15th anniversary of the launch of our first site, probono.net. We've come a long way since those early days and over the coming year we hope to share with you a snapshot of our history. Below, we feature our first few years, which include the launch of probono.net and LawHelp as well as our post 9/11 work, a pivotal moment for our then relatively new organization.
 
1999, Pro Bono Net launched our first www.probono.net site for pro bono attorneys in New York.  It offered information about pro bono opportunities, a resource library, training calendar, e-mail tools and more. The first two practice areas were Asylum and Family Justice.  

Following on the early success of probono.net, we partnered with the Minnesota State Bar Association and Minnesota Legal Services Coalition to create our first statewide initiative in July 2000probono.net/mn. Today, the site, now known as ProJusticeMN.org, has over 2,200 members.

Two more regional initiatives followed in the fall of 2000probono.net/NY expanded upstate to Rochester, New York and, in partnership with the Volunteer Legal Services Program of the Bar Association of San Francisco, probono.net/sf was launched.   In Rochester, public interest organizations and a matched law firm hosted each of these practice areas and performed tasks such as updating the news and calendar pages, listing new cases that needed attorneys, and screening area members.  The San Francisco site provided support for pro bono attorneys in four practice areas: Eviction Defense, Family Justice, Homelessness/Immigration, and Business Law. In addition, the San Francisco site contained extensive social service referral information, to allow practitioners to help clients with related social service referrals and provide more holistic assistance.  Both of these sites remain active today.

The start of the new millennium also marked the creation of LawHelp.org.  PBN partnered with legal aid, pro bono, and bar organizations in New York City to create the first statewide LawHelp.org site, www.LawHelpNY.org, which offers legal aid referrals, know your rights and court information and self-help tools for the public.

The early success of probono.net and LawHelp.org was noted by the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) and in 2001 LSC established a program to make grant money available for the development of similar statewide websites in all 50 states.  This funding was vital to the future national expansions of probono.net and LawHelp.org.

In 2001, Pro Bono Net created the LawHelp Circuit Rider program to support legal aid partners throughout the country in developing and marketing their statewide websites and sharing best practices.  In the early days of website initiatives in the field, the Circuit Rider program was crucial to helping states get their sites off the ground and establishing Pro Bono Net as a new leader in developing and sustaining technology innovations.

In the wake of the 9/11 tragedy, Pro Bono Net created a virtual hub to coordinate and mobilize volunteer lawyers seeking to help those affected by events (www.probono.net/ny/september11).  September 11th was a formative moment for Pro Bono Net as the legal community realized the power of building an online network to distribute information and facilitate communication with volunteers. This marked the start of our work in the crisis response field.
 
Coming up in our next newsletter, Pro Bono Net takes on online document assembly with the launch of LawHelp Interactive.  Stay tuned to our blog, Connecting Justice Communities, for monthly posts on our anniversary year.

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