In the Beginning...Well, actually, back in the 1990s, when the Massachusetts legal aid programs were developing a statewide plan for using technology to enhance the delivery of legal assistance to the poor, they envisioned three websites: MassLegalServices.org to support legal aid advocates; MassLegalHelp to provide understandable legal information to the public; and MassProBono to support private attorneys, law students and others in their pro bono efforts.
MassLegalServices was created over a decade ago and now has more than 16,000 resources in its vast library. MassLegalHelp soon followed and now hosts an extensive collection of legal self-help and informational materials written in plain English and translated into multiple other languages. But for years MassProBono remained an unrealized idea.
That changed in 2010 when the pro bono coordinators of legal aid programs across the state started meeting regularly to discuss common issues and concerns. These discussions rekindled interest in a statewide pro bono website, and planning for MassProBono began.
With the support of pro bono programs throughout Massachusetts, state and local bar associations, law schools, the courts, the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission, and other interested groups, the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association applied for and received a Technology Initiative Grant (TIG) from the federal Legal Services Corporation, the largest funder of civil legal aid in the country.
To develop the website, VLP contracted with Pro Bono Net, a nonprofit that hosts legal aid and pro bono websites throughout the U.S. and Canada, and the Massachusetts Legal Aid Websites Project, which is housed at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and coordinates MassLegalServices and MassLegalHelp.
To create the Pro Bono Opportunities Guide, MassProBono partnered with the Massachusetts Bar Association which had built an extensive statewide listing of pro bono opportunities. The Pro Bono Opportunities Guide on this website builds on the MBA's pro bono catalogue and incorporates the interactive functions of the Pro Bono Net platform to create a robust new tool to facilitate pro bono matching.
With the launch of MassProBono, the original vision has been fulfilled. The three statewide websites offer a network of resources for legal aid and nonprofit advocates, the private bar, law student and others engaged in pro bono, self-represented litigants, and members of the public seeking legal information.