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New Pro Bono Network to Match Vets with Lawyers

Nov. 10, 2016, 11:59 PM

By Stephen Siciliano, Special to Big Law Business

For veterans who have defended the rule of law in combat overseas, only to confront limited access to justice at home, Jones Day and the American Bar Association are working on a remedy.

They call it VetLex, a digital network that will link veterans and their organizations with pro-bono and low-bono lawyers across the country. In addition to helping out with claims with the Veterans Administration, it aims to create a referral service that will offer veterans legal assistance with landlord-tenant disputes, employment issues, family law matters and advice for business start-ups.

On Friday, Jones Day has invited corporate clients to symposiums at 18 of its offices, where it will lay out the legal issues that veterans face and how lawyers can participate in VetLex. The actual program launches in the spring of 2017.

Laura Ellsworth, partner-in-charge of global community service initiatives at Jones Day, said it’s her job to identify problems in the communities where the firm has offices.

“We were directed to roll up our sleeves and actually try to solve those problems,” she said. “My team and I determined that the need for veterans legal services was paramount.”

The Jones Day Foundation, a charitable non-profit funded by Jones Day lawyers and staff,provided the ABA with a $250,000 grant to develop an electronic platform to drive the project.

The idea is simple. Vets looking for legal help can visit a website, key in their legal needs and obtain matches of lawyers from around the country. Attorneys looking to do pro bono work would find clients by signing on with the service, according to Ellsworth.

The ABA and Jones Day are still working out their respective roles in realizing the project, although it is expected the former will administrate the long-term initiative, according to a statement from the organizations.

Once rolled out, it will be the first centralized, nationwide network dedicated to legal service referrals for veterans, the statement said.

Initially, the project will have between five and 20 pilot locations around the country where the electronic platform will be put to the test.

“Some will be at Jones Day offices,” she explained, “but others will be at organizations already working with veterans. We want to knit the disparate services nationwide into a unified network.”

Those veterans assistance outfits will be able to access other benefits from the network such as brief banks and chat rooms.

Training and certification will take place through a CLE credit program developed by Jones Day and offered at all of its U.S. offices.

“It’s going to revolutionize the way we deliver pro bono resources to veterans,” said Ellsworth.

To date, the firm said it dedicated $1 million worth of lawyer-time to the effort. Those hours included working with the ABA on an electronic platform to host the initiative, project development, creation of the training program, outreach to veterans groups in multiple communities, technical and legal research.

The Jones Day offices hosting symposiums on Veterans Day include Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus, Detroit, Dallas, Houston, Irvine, Calif., Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, Pittsburgh, San Diego, San Francisco, Silicon Valley and Washington D.C.

Attorneys interested in participating should sign up for notifications about the program’s progress at http://vetlex.org/.

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