The Oklahoma Bar Foundation (OBF) is excited to announce the launch of the statewide Pro Bono Opportunities Portal by one of its Grantees, the Oklahoma Access to Justice Foundation. The portal, launched on June 1, 2020, connects volunteer lawyers and law students with opportunities to serve their communities through local legal services organizations (LSOs). The Portal is funded through an OBF grant and a matching grant from the George Kaiser Family Foundation.
The goal of the portal is to serve as the pro bono hub for Oklahoma non-profits who provide and facilitate legal assistance for clients in need. In the US, nearly 50% of those who try to access pro bono legal help are turned away due to lack of funding and resources. Now, in the face of economic disruption from the pandemic, legal needs are skyrocketing above normal levels. The OBF recently conducted a survey of its Grantees and learned that legal services from pro bono lawyers is an overwhelming need for Oklahoma non-profits. This made the decision to fund the project an easy one for the OBF Board of Trustees.
“The Oklahoma Bar Foundation is committed to ensuring access to the justice system for all Oklahomans, and we support non-profits across the state in that mission. Our grant recipients consistently tell us that pro bono assistance is crucial to making our goal a reality, and requests for legal services have surged with the recent pandemic. We enthusiastically participated in this exciting project knowing that increased pro bono engagement will greatly benefit Oklahomans in need of critical legal services,” said Renee DeMoss, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Bar Foundation.
The project is managed by the Oklahoma Access to Justice Foundation, which supports the priorities of the Oklahoma Access to Justice Commission, including encouraging and expanding pro bono activities with the private bar. The portal centralizes and streamlines pro bono opportunities in a real-time, state-wide database that’s free for all Oklahoma attorneys and law students to use. Its platform makes it easy for lawyers to search, learn about and volunteer for matters suitable to their interests and skills, and connects them directly with LSOs to get started. The tool also empowers LSOs to manage and track pro bono interests and engagement in real time. Oklahoma LSOs can post their opportunities to a nationwide, ABA-led disaster Relief Pro Bono Portal to extend reach for COVID-19 specific pro bono work. The portal is powered by the justice tech company, Paladin, who has helped other states and cities like Chicago set up dynamic portals to match attorneys with pro bono needs.
In just the first 30 days, the Oklahoma site received 63 opportunities from 10 LSOs. The site also received its first testimonial from Sara Bobbit, an employee of Catholic Charities, who obtained a new intern from using the portal. Bobbit says, “The intern that just started came with excellent recommendations and seems great so far. I don’t think she would have found her way to us if not for this site! I also just had an attorney reach out to see if he could volunteer with us. He wasn’t the best fit for our needs but could be great somewhere else, so it was nice to be able to refer him to the site.”
Oklahoma attorneys interested in pro bono work can browse the needs of local non-profits on the site www.okprobono.org and express interest in projects. “Think of it as a virtual coffeehouse bulletin board. Lawyers can search for opportunities based on time commitment, areas of practice and remote opportunities. Our biggest need right now is for more volunteers to express interest in projects listed on the portal,” says Katie Dilks, Oklahoma Access to Justice Foundation Executive Director.
Oklahoma non-profits interested in posting pro bono opportunities on the site should contact Katie Dilks at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about the process and brief training requirements.