In many ways, 2005 was a year of new directions for Pro Bono Net. Over the past 12 months, PBN has seen a change in leadership, our network has explored promising new ways to serve low income and other vulnerable communities, and we have successfully brought new partners to the table to help ensure our work’s long-term sustainability.
Earlier this fall, Pro Bono Net’s Executive Director and co-founder, Michael Hertz, stepped down from his day-to-day role to become the Chief Knowledge Officer at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP in London. Michael’s leadership and creativity over the past seven years have helped to transform PBN from a cutting-edge experiment to an indispensable resource for tens of thousands of public interest lawyers and clients across the country. We will miss having Michael with us in the office every day, but are grateful for his many contributions and look forward to continuing working with him as a Board member as he pursues an exciting new career path.
A significant aspect of Michael’s legacy is our strategic pursuit of new collaborations and technology innovations to increase our community’s capacity to help those most in need. In 2005, these collaborations included the launch of “Live Help” pilot projects in Montana and Iowa, enabling consumers seeking online legal help to receive assistance from virtual navigators via chat and telephone; the introduction of web-based tools to broadcast video trainings over the www.probono.net platform; and PBN’s leadership role in the national legal community’s rapid response to Hurricane Katrina.
But in spite of these advances, bridging the gap between the legal needs of the poor and the availability of legal services remains an on-going challenge. Tight budgets and shrinking funding make meeting these needs even more difficult, and necessitate seeking new venues for support.
With that in mind, and with invaluable support from our whole board, Pro Bono Net has dedicated considerable time over the past year to pursuing untapped sources of support. As a result of these efforts, our network will begin 2006 with several exciting new partnerships that will significantly increase our capacity and ensure the long-term sustainability of the system we have all worked so hard to build.
The first of these partnerships is with The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has awarded Pro Bono Net $1 million over the next three years. The grant will fund the development of new earned income ventures designed to create long-term, financial support for all of our programs, and to build even stronger ties between the private law firm and public interest sector. Several other exciting partnerships have been brokered through our Corporate Sponsorship Program, which garners support from leaders in the legal technology field who support PBN’s access to justice mission.
As always, challenges lie ahead. But we begin 2006 well prepared to meet them thanks to forward-thinking leadership and tremendous new sources of support.
On behalf of everyone at Pro Bono Net, we wish you a wonderful holiday season and a peaceful, happy New Year.