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A Web site launched this month makes it quick and easy for busy attorneys to volunteer for pro bono work. Its proprietors say you can visit http://www.probono.net/SF whenever you want — no pressure, no excuses. “We want people to get in the habit of thinking of us when they have the time and inclination to do a pro bono case,” says Tanya Neiman, director of the Volunteer Legal Services Program at the Bar Association of San Francisco. Recent studies show that lawyers are slipping in their pro bono commitments as pressure has increased to bill more hours at their firms. “More than ever, we must make pro bono work efficient and accessible for Bay Area lawyers,” Neiman says. Attorneys can sign up for four major practice areas sponsored by VLSP: family law, community development and nonprofit law, housing or homeless advocacy. In each practice area, volunteers can find brief summaries of each case, plus support resources — sample pleadings, research, training manuals, mentor advice, even audio and visual aids. A bulletin board for each practice area enables folks to ask questions and post the latest developments in the law. Neiman says she hopes the site will encourage transactional attorneys, who traditionally have the most difficult time finding pro bono cases that fit their skills and schedules. She says they can go to the nonprofit law section to help people with bank loans, leases or contract issues. Or for attorneys who want to try something new, there are online training classes on how to handle a family law or homeless case. For many years Neiman says she was dreaming of a Web site “to help poor people use the justice system.” But it was too expensive, she says. Sponsorship has come from The Open Society Institute, and nine private firms. The site is modeled after a prototype developed in 1998 for the New York City area by attorneys Michael Hertz and Mark O’Brien. Sister sites have rolled out in upstate New York and Minnesota. “This will become an institution,” Neiman says. “We want it to become a community gathering place.”

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