Pro Bono News

Technology as the Ultimate Pro Bono Tool

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Technology as the Ultimate Pro Bono Tool

"While recent events have stirred many to support social justice reforms, Claudia Johnson L’97 has long considered that her life’s work: helping the marginalized gain equal access to the justice system has remained a common denominator throughout her career.

Lessons she learned as a legal aid hotline manager several years ago launched a career at LawHelp Interactive, where, with the help of technology, Johnson gets everyday Americans the legal aid they need and deserve.

“I’m not a technophile, I’m a lawyer,” she said. “But give me a tool that will make a difference, and I will adopt and use it and exploit it to fight poverty.”

Johnson had already been involved in pro bono work in San Francisco when she joined, in 2004, Bay Area Legal Aid (BALA), a consolidation of 7 nonprofits into one overarching organization. She served as the Managing Attorney for its civil legal advice hotline. Johnson was tasked with creating the Legal Aid Line (LAL) from scratch. Her first decision was to design it with multilingual capacity, skill routing, and then hiring and training a team of lawyers to directly answer legal queries on the hotline and devising new protocols for handling and managing those calls.

Johnson was thrilled to take on the mission. “This is not just handling cases every day, this is really working up a nervous system to figure out where deep pockets of disparity, oppression and inequality are in large geographical and populated areas and figuring out how to move those needed resources across the Bay area with the local managing attorneys,” she said.

The Legal Aid Line allowed BALA to detect problems that affected underserved groups sooner and address them before they impacted a large number of families. For example, her team discovered an Oakland landlord trying to improperly oust a group of Cantonese and Mandarin-speaking tenants after their tax subsidies ended. Another spate of calls exposed police officers engaged in racial harassment in a suburb in Contra Costa County..."

Continue reading