In-House Hot Topic: Technology

Computers_chips_circuitsWhile some in-house attendees at this year’s PBI Annual Conference talked about recognition during the In-House Track Hot Topics Session, another group focused on technology’s existing and potential impact on pro bono.  David March, senior counsel at Target Corporation**, led representatives from seven legal departments in a thoughtful discussion of the topic, which emphasized that technology, when applied properly, can assist remote clients and improve the effectiveness of pro bono efforts.  Those points and the challenges associated with using technology for pro bono are summarized below.

Delivery of Pro Bono Services
One of the greatest challenges to improving access to justice is connecting those who are in need of legal services with those willing to help while simultaneously increasing the efficiency of pro bono legal services.  Participants discussed new applications recently developed that have the potential to reach more clients, especially those in rural areas, and to increase the effectiveness of pro bono assistance.  Examples include mobile applications and on-line case management and referral systems to connect volunteers with clients in need of assistance, software programs that assist users completing complex legal forms, and online portals that enable direct representation.  The group agreed that technology’s application is a growing and exciting development for pro bono.

Improving Internal Organization, Training, and Analysis
In addition to reaching a broader set of clients, technology can dramatically impact the internal systems of the pro bono program.  The legal departments represented discussed the benefits of utilizing existing software to improve the internal management of their pro bono programs.  One application involves aggregating pro bono opportunities and announcements on an intranet that securely allows department-wide access.  Doing so often brings about benefits, including:

  • simplified communications
  • readily accessible information
  • data collection on pro bono efforts
  • streamlined project management
  • recognition of pro bono accomplishments

A number of the departments utilize technology to reach their members across offices and increase the efficiency of their efforts.  They do so by conducting interactive training webinars that can be accessed on-demand via the company’s intranet, sometimes for CLE credit.

Challenges of Technology
Besides the common technophobe’s frustration, participants mentioned complications when integrating technology and pro bono. While technology continues to permeate society, many underserved individuals do not have access to certain applications or hardware.  With that in mind, use of technology for pro bono often requires simpler adaptations that clients can more universally access such as video messaging clinics. Simpler yet, some departments secure a convenient location for clients (e.g. community centers, churches, schools) that is already equipped with technology that clients may access.  And sometimes solutions combine technology and in-person meetings, where a lawyer travels to clients and then uses a computer to involve other lawyers.

Finally, participants commented on the potential ethical concerns, in particular with regard to managing conflicts and maintaining confidentiality.  All agreed these are important considerations but recognized that departments use varying systems to manage ethical concerns.

Lasting Thoughts
Whether through online clinics or web portals, many legal departments and their pro bono partners use technology to streamline pro bono services.  Given the desperate need for legal services throughout the world, there are tremendous opportunities for departments to use technology to enhance pro bono assistance.

To discuss how your department can find a successful way to integrate technology into pro bono efforts, contact CPBO Director Eve Runyon.

** denotes a Signatory to the Corporate Pro Bono ChallengeSM