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The Case for Pro Bono: Fostering Justice for Change

Jaclyn Sattler

“We must have lawyers who appreciate and have obtained a special set of skills and expertise that can be beneficial to help people access justice.” Tiffany Graves, Pro Bono Counsel at Bradley

Tiffany Graves, pro bono attorney at Bradley Arant Boult Cummings, eloquently said this on a recent episode of Stellar Women—and we wholeheartedly agree. But there's a misconception that pro bono work is only available for attorneys. In truth, offering services without charge to support the public good is a noble effort that can—and should—be encouraged across every industry where it's applicable.

In the e-discovery industry, professionals of many specialties are well positioned to do just that—and your efforts to embark on this effort could make all the difference in another person’s pursuit of justice.

As Tiffany went on to share in that podcast, pro bono work alleviates cost for those most in need of the critical, but often prohibitively expensive, services that can guide them through the legal system. For many nonprofit organizations, it all comes down to budget as they fight to provide sufficient counsel to their clients. If there aren’t enough funds, matters just don’t move.

Outside of the human capital and traditional legal fees associated with taking a legal case from start to finish, we've learned that technology is one of the largest drivers of this barrier to access.

“For years, the Georgia Innocence Project has wanted to use e-discovery software to extract and analyze data from our client files, but as a nonprofit, we were deterred by the cost,” Matt Holbrook, the project’s operations director, recently shared. What’s more, even those organizations who have overcome the onerous document preparation process for litigation have recently been met with court delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At an individual level, the result is that “Thousands of criminal cases have built up in Cook County [Chicago] over the past 15 months, as the county's massive court system has been all but shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. That means thousands of people locked up in jail, on electronic monitoring, or out on bond have essentially had their cases on hold,” writes Patrick Smith from NPR. As of February 2021, Time magazine reported that hundreds of thousands of cases were cancelled or scaled back, including 49,000 in New York City alone—most often disadvantaging low-income participants.

More globally, there is so much need—and interest—from organizations like the Georgia Innocence Project to take on complex, document-heavy litigation. But it’s expensive work, and sometimes that cost barrier seems insurmountable.

Fortunately, the e-discovery community is ready and able to help these groups leverage technology to change this.

Amplifying the Work Being Done in Our Communities

One of our favorite things to see in the legal community is organizations being passionate about using their voice to promote change—even if they don’t work in a traditional law firm or policy-making setting.

In 2020, we announced Justice for Change—a program with the mission of empowering legal teams to tackle social and racial justice issues by providing the technology needed to organize data, discover the truth, and act on it. As we’ve managed the program over the last year, we’ve been thrilled to see just how many folks in our community are jumping at the chance to pitch in and support nonprofits and community initiatives to make the legal system more navigable for all.

For example, nonprofits like the Promise of Justice Initiative have been working to create change in the criminal legal system through policy advocacy, litigation, local organizing, and direct individual support. Seeing their incredible work to promote rehabilitation and healing in their communities, many volunteers from all walks of life were quick to get involved.

Recently, Promise of Justice had “just filed a large class action lawsuit in federal court with hundreds of class members all over the state of Louisiana,” Rebecca Ramaswamy, staff attorney for the group, recently told us. “We were expecting the state to produce hundreds of thousands of documents and a program like Justice for Change allows us to have access to the same high-quality technological tools as a large law firm, so that we can provide high quality representation to our pro bono clients.”

The work Rebecca’s team is doing not only inspired our team, but others in our e-discovery community—including Page One Legal, who raised their hand to support.

“Here at Page One, we believe that caring is sharing, and we want our community to feel like they’re being heard,” Kaneetha Holmes reflected. “There is no injustice that is too small or too large. We want everybody to know that their voice is being heard and to assist in any way that we can for our community.”

The People Who Drive Justice for Change’s Growth

What have we learned from facilitating partnerships like these through Justice for Change? Whether they’re working part-time, full-time, or all the time on a worthy case, the people most impact the results. As we stood up the Justice for Change program, we were intentional with who became involved. We brought in people from cross-functional teams, different backgrounds, and different levels and types of expertise. We knew that collaboration and diversity of thought were key to making the program a success.

Of course, Justice for Change notably starts with the attorneys, organizers, and advocates promoting social and racial justice on the front lines. We’ve been honored to meet individuals from around the globe who work and live within the communities we are hoping to serve.

Once those advocates connect with Relativity’s team, our review committee—comprised of Relativians from various disciplines and geographies—assesses their application to understand how e-discovery technology can support their needs, learn about the topics that are critical to their communities, and get smart on each case to better facilitate check-ins with grantees on a frequent basis.

Then, we connect these advocates with partners from the broader e-discovery community—either a law firm or service provider. From there, project managers and paralegals take the lead to ensure successful onboardings, promote strong case management, and foster meaningful relationships that allow grantees to lean on the e-discovery community for support and expertise throughout their case.

“Array has made our commitment to the Justice for Change program a priority within our organization. Not only do we value hiring professionals from diverse backgrounds, but we also bring that commitment to diversity to the clients we choose,” said Julia Helmer, director of client solutions at Array, when asked why the initiative has been meaningful to her team. “Justice for Change allows us to make legal technology accessible to organizations that would otherwise be excluded from this necessary step in the litigation process, and helps to level the playing field for people who don’t ordinarily have the means or opportunity to use this technology on their own.”

Page One and Array aren’t our only supporters—and at every level of each of our volunteer partners, individual efforts from their team members have brought the Justice for Change program to life.

With their help, we’ve been able to support efforts to overturn wrongful convictions in the United States; advocate for the Torres Strait, Aboriginal, and Indigenous communities in Australia; and plenty of causes in between.

How to Get Involved

It takes just one passionate voice, from any skillset or discipline, to drive impactful change—and there are experts from many backgrounds helping to make Justice for Change a success, not just partner-level attorneys. If you’re looking to get involved and make a difference, doing so at the individual level is an impactful place to start—and can help inspire action up the chain, too.

Not sure how you can help? Here are three ideas to help you get started:

#1: Start the conversation.

No change can be made unless people are aware of the need for it. Share this article (or another, like this) with your social community or discuss your pro bono interests and activities at the next networking event. Normalizing these efforts can make a big difference in how frequently they’re pursued by professionals in the field.

#2: Build community relationships.

Until we talked to nonprofit leaders, we did not understand that cost barriers to technology were so acutely preventing advocacy organizations from having a larger impact. Those conversations are how Justice for Change got its start. The best way to kick off any pro bono program is to engage with teams doing this work in the field, working together to identify where they most want support and ideate on how your unique skills can be of service.

#3: Encourage your company to take action.

Find out what social impact or pro bono programming your company offers, and get involved. Volunteering your time and expertise, or matching financial support, can go a long way with nonprofit organizations. If you want to leverage your e-discovery knowledge, we encourage you or your company to get involved in Relativity’s Justice for Change program. We also welcome organizations with qualifying legal cases to submit an application to be matched with a law firm or service provider who can offer access to RelativityOne at no cost. If your company would like to provide hosting, administrative, or project management support, please reach out to our team at socialimpact@relativity.com.

Learn More about Relativity's Justice for Change Program


Jaclyn is a senior associate in growth strategy at Relativity.