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Kristen Blankley: New Opportunities for Pro Bono in a Pandemic

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From TFOI Kristen Blankley:

COVID-19 has created additional need for legal services in many areas, including housing, consumer law, employment law, probate, family law, domestic violence advocacy, criminal law, among others. We all have substantive and process expertise in different areas, which means that we should have a great ability to fulfill our aspirational (or, in some states, mandatory) pro bono requirements under Model Rule of Professional Conduct 6.1.

Nearly 15 years ago, Sarah Cole and I described one of the benefits of online mediation as “Mediation Without Boundaries.” Sarah Rudolph Cole & Kristen M. Blankley, Online Mediation: Where We Have Been, Where We Are Now, And Where We Should Be, 38 Tol. L. Rev. 193, 205 (2006).  I’m embarrassed to say that it took a pandemic for me to take my own words seriously.

Since March, I’ve actively sought out opportunities to mediate online across the State of Nebraska as a pro bono mediator.  Although early court cases were deferred, courts are back in session virtually and in person, which means that more and more cases require mediation.  As a Parenting Act Mediator, Neb. Rev. Code 43-2938, I am qualified to mediate anywhere in the State – not just physical locations that are convenient to me.

All six of the Nebraska community mediation centers made significant changes to the delivery of mediation services, and many of the centers began using Zoom to mediate online.  Not everyone on the rosters felt comfortable mediating online for various reasons, and the centers lost some valuable capacity.

Because I was already familiar with Zoom from teaching, I joined the rosters of many of these centers across the state and began mediating pro bono in counties I’ve never even driven through.  I like to believe that I’m providing access to justice to those in rural counties and other underserved areas.  Plus, I’m enjoying my time mediating!

While my pro bono work involves increased mediation work in rural counties across Nebraska, need exists everywhere.  For many of you, the need might be greatest in city centers or among disadvantaged population groups.  I’m hopeful that many of you are also using this time to reach out to provide access to much needed services, whether those are legal or mediation services.

In the comments, add your own experiences!  I’m hoping we can accumulate a rich list of pro bono opportunities across the county and maybe even the globe!

                        author

John Lande

John Lande is the Isidor Loeb Professor Emeritus at the University of Missouri School of Law and former director of its LLM Program in Dispute Resolution.  He received his J.D. from Hastings College of Law and Ph.D in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  He began mediating professionally in 1982 in California.… MORE >

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