New York Court System Lauded for Innovation in Pro Bono Project

One in three women. In 2015, the statistics for domestic violence are still too high. It’s an issue that’s near and dear to the heart of Judge Fern Fisher, director of New York State Court's Access to Justice Program, whose mother was a victim of abuse.

Fisher, along with members of Pro Bono Net and the New York State Unified Court System, gathered on Aug. 11 to receive the Innovation Award for Most Innovative Use of Technology in a Pro Bono Project. The award from Legaltech News recognizes the agencies’ work in launching a statewide initiative that reduces barriers for people seeking protection from abuse.

The Advocate Family Offense Petition Program provides trained domestic violence advocates throughout New York with access to an online document assembly interview to help litigants complete petitions. The petition information is then electronically transferred into the Family Court’s Universal Case Management System (UCMS).
Following a successful pilot in Bronx Family Court, the Advocate Family Offense Petition Program was launched statewide in early 2014.

Through the groups’ collaboration, the justice system has been made more accessible for unrepresented litigants who are seeking critical support under the most difficult of circumstances. 

“I hope in my lifetime, the statistic I started out with, that it will be decreased by at least two-thirds before I retire…that every woman and every man that suffers from domestic violence has a way of addressing this problem,” Fisher said.

According to Mark O’Brien, executive director of Pro Bono Net, thousands of Family Offense Petitions are filed in New York State Courts each year by individuals requesting orders of protection.
“The project demonstrates how technology can increase access to justice, streamline court processes, and create a better experience for litigants,” O’Brien wrote in his nomination of the New York State Unified Court System.

The numbers illustrate the impact the program has had already. By the end of last year, Family Offense Petitions had been electronically filed with Family Courts in 45 of New York’s 62 counties. A total of 5,091 petitions were filed and docketed in 2014, and over 7,500 since the project began in late 2013.
By June 2014, court system staff had also conducted trainings for Family Court personnel and a total of 129 domestic violence agencies throughout New York.

The program, which has also improved courthouse efficiency, is available to legal services organizations and domestic violence agencies approved by the courts. Access is provided through free membership in Pro Bono Net’s password-protected Family Justice/DV practice area.

“The electronic transfer of data directly into the Family Court’s case management system eliminates hours of data entry time for court clerks and reduces the wait time for litigants,” O’Brien added.

The program leverages the national HotDocs online document assembly-hosting infrastructure provided for the legal aid and court community by Pro Bono Net’s LawHelp Interactive. The HotDocs interviews were developed by the New York Court’s Access to Justice Program, and the electronic filing feature was enabled through a joint project of Pro Bono Net and the court’s division of technology.

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Read more about the award presentation on the New York State Courts Access to Justice Program website and on Pro Bono Net's blog, Connecting Justice Communities: NY Courts Honored with LTN Innovation Award for the Most Innovative Use of Technology in a Pro Bono Project


  • Family/DV
  • Legal Services
  • Technology