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Capital One’s Justice Server program links pro bono lawyers to clients

Scott Oostdyk and Harry M. "Pete" Johnson III, co-chairs of VBA Pro Bono Committee (photo by Marilyn Shaw/The Virginia Bar Association)

Lawyers and information-technology experts at Capital One are teaming up with private and public sector lawyers to streamline the administration of pro bono legal work in Virginia.

Lawyers who do pro bono work find that one of the best ways to reach clients is to work through state and local legal aid organizations. Legal aid offices have the expertise to screen clients, define legal issues and match volunteer lawyers with clients who need services.

Administering a system to link private lawyers with pro bono clients can be a hassle. Not so for people who know how to deal with data.

Two years ago, at the April 2010 Pro Bono Summit convened by then-Chief Justice Leroy Rountree Hassell Sr., Capital One General Counsel John G. Finneran Jr. made a pledge to tackle the tech side of delivering pro bono legal services. He and members of a task force who worked on the project gathered last week at the Capitol One campus in Richmond to celebrate the debut of Justice Server.

Justice Server is a new online case-management system that will allow lawyers in private practice to work with pro bono client files loaded directly to their desktops by legal aid organizations, with all the necessary security precautions to protect the referring organizations and the lawyer’s pro bono and retained clients.

The Justice Server prototype was launched last week, with 10 Richmond law firms queuing up to take cases under the new system, which will tackle a backlog of uncontested divorce cases. The first-phase firms are Hunton & Williams, LeClairRyan, McGuireWoods, Sands Anderson, Spotts Fain, Thompson McMullan, Troutman Sanders, Williams Mullen, Hirschler Fleischer and Goodman Allen & Filetti.

Capital One projects Justice Server will allow for nearly 1,500 case referrals to pro bono attorneys during the next 12 months, and waiting time for case placement will fall by 35 percent.

The task force was quick to identify a technology focus as the way “take some of the load that was just crushing legal aid,” Finneran told the audience at the Jan. 12 program. Task force members joined Capital One staff from a variety of bar groups: the Virginia Bar Association’s Pro Bono Committee, the Greater Richmond Bar Foundation, Central Virginia Legal Aid Society Inc., the Legal Aid Justice Center and Richmond Firms in Service.

The need for better software quickly became a rallying point for the task force, according to Scott Oostdyk, who co-chairs the VBA Pro Bono Committee with Harry M. Johnson III.

For lawyers who have struggled with the current case-management system, Justice Server is like trading in the pitiful plastic knife you get at a picnic for a big hunting knife, with a 10-inch stainless steel blade, according to task force member Alex Gulotta, who is with the Legal Aid Justice Center.

Legal aid groups are the “key portal” for the working poor, elderly, disabled and veterans in need of services, said Stephen Dickinson of the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society, but they are bracing for dramatic staff reductions after a reported 20 percent reduction in federal funds.

“We need to leverage our resources to manage the increased amount of outsourced work,” Dickenson said.

Justice Server aims to improve client service by letting the pro bono lawyer log into a web-based portal and select cases that match her interests and expertise. She will spend her time working directly with the client, according to Capital One’s Bill Burnet. Logging into their case files from their own desktop lets lawyers manage their pro bono hours according to their own schedules.

Equally important are the cost savings for legal aid operations. Gulotta said the current case management system costs $35 per user, per month, “for our little plastic knife,” to maintain that system and back it up.
The new service is projected to cost only $24 per user, per year. It will “save $10,000 to $15,000 a year in ongoing maintenance costs,” Gulotta said.

Going forward, the case management system will be administered by the Greater Richmond Bar Foundation, which links nonprofit organizations that need legal services with corporate and commercial lawyers. GRBF “will be the group that defines the roll-out” of Justice Server to the rest of the state, according to Brian Marron, president of the GRBF.

With a new system “everybody’s afraid,” said Capital One’s Andy Schwarz. This one “will make your life easier,” he told the audience of lawyers, and asked them to “help us recruit people, put the word out.” As with any new system, there may be bumps or roadblocks, but Capital One is committed. “We will deliver this system.”

Capital One is working with salesforce.com, developer of cloud-based customer contact software, who is donating the application portal and licenses and offering a deep discount on additional services. Capital One’s other tech partner, cloud computing expert Etherios, will help customize the software for the legal marketplace. The technology is scalable, allowing the Justice Server case management system to be birthed in Richmond, then adopted throughout the commonwealth and in other states.

The public-private partnership plans for full launch, now that it has reached its fundraising goal of $100,000. Capital One has pledged $25,000, and McGuire Woods, LeClairRyan, Hunton & Williams and Troutman Sanders each have offered an additional $25,000. Spotts Fain and Williiams Mullen are the latest law firms to sign on with donations.

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli congratulated team members on the new case-management system, which will make it possible for a “lawyer in Richmond to help a client in Richlands, and an attorney in Arlington to help folks in Abingdon.”

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