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Partnering with Online DIY Services: The Plusses and Perils

When the Trump Administration published its executive orders regarding immigrants and refugees in January, attorneys became first responders, fanning out to the nation's airports to triage the legal needs of those ensnared in the travel ban. Shortly thereafter, the American Bar Association set up the website to help coordinate pro bono service offers from the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Enterprising attorneys built, a site that tracks and registers immigrants' travel information and connects them with volunteer attorneys at their local airport if need be.

"These types of efforts are great examples of what lawyers can do with technology," said Chase Hertel, director of business development & partnerships at Chicago-based Road to Status (, a website that provides document-assembly-style federal forms and attorney referrals for immigrants. "Technology can be used to triage the legal needs of clients, connect with clients where they are - at the airport, or on the internet - deliver services in unique ways, and, most importantly, bridge the legal services gap."

Companies like Road to Status, which in July announced a partnership with Illinois Legal Aid Online, offer this promise to immigrants and attorneys. Some in the Illinois legal community are skeptical they can deliver and raise ethical concerns. But others see more benefits than drawbacks for both the immigrants who use them and attorneys who contract with them to take on limited scope cases.

"When you hear these statistics, you see the sum of people affected," Hertel said. While organizations like Illinois Legal Aid Online and Instituto del Progreso Latino in Chicago's heavily Mexican Pilsen neighborhood do their best, "These great organizations and others are barely able to touch the needs of the marketplace," he said. "This is an opportunity for young lawyers to learn how to serve clients, and for solos and small law firms to serve immigrants and help the folks that have helped make our country so great."

Find out more about whether and how lawyers can partner with online DIY services in the September Illinois Bar Journal.

Posted on August 24, 2017 by Mark S. Mathewson
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