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44th Street Notes


The Uses of Technology


Jun 1999

The Association has recently undertaken a number of initiatives to meet the challenges, and realize the potential, of the continuing revolution in information technology. I want to tell you about the most significant of those initiatives and how they will assist us in improving the number and quality of the Association・s services to our members and to the public.

Let me start with the least visible and least glamorous, but in many ways perhaps the most valuable, of the steps we are taking. The Association currently has four separate information systems--they are not connected--and the membership information is incomplete and sometimes outdated. We have committed significant resources to installation of an integrated membership database, utilizing a leading software application for associations called iMIS. We are also installing new financial record-keeping and accounting software, which will enable the Treasurer・s Office to prepare budgets more expeditiously and keep track of expenses more effectively.

New Membership Service Department

A new membership service department, using the iMIS software, will be able to track member and non-member participation in Association programs. It will be easier for members to pay their dues, for non-members to join the Association, and for both members and non-members to register for committee and CLE programs and to purchase instructional materials. All of this can be accomplished online. More comprehensive information about member interests, areas of practice and program attendance will enable the CitiBar Center for Continuing Legal Education to target its marketing of CLE offerings and will permit similarly targeted advertising of committee-sponsored programs. Members will be able to keep track of courses taken and CLE credits earned.

In 1996 the Association established a web site, www.abcny.org, which contains comprehensive information about Association activities and other subjects of interest to our members, including news updates, calendars of events, employment listings, the full text of significant committee reports and a complete catalogue of CLE course offerings. The long term goals of the web site include establishing a complete, searchable database of committee reports, making the library accessible online, and permitting members to update their membership information. The web site has recently been redesigned to facilitate navigation, and usage has doubled since the site was created.

The Association・s initial venture into the brave new world of information technology was the establishment in April 1994 of the Technology Center, where members could familiarize themselves with the latest advances in computer hardware and software. Five years later, we are installing six PCs in the main library reading room; they will be networked with another group of twelve PCs in the Technology Center. The PCs will provide access to the Internet, a substantial number of CD-ROMs and the latest versions of popular word-processing and practice management software. The Library Committee is in the midst of a comprehensive review of the library・s operations and usage. Even before the completion of that review, the library will soon implement Internet access to its online catalogue.

Facilitating Services to the Poor

Advances in information technology are also being used within the Association and elsewhere to facilitate and expedite the provision of legal services to the poor. With support from the Open Society Institute Program on Law and Society, Michael Hertz, a Latham & Watkins partner on leave from his firm, has created ProBono.Net, a web site designed to create an online community of pro bono programs and volunteers in a number of practice areas. Each area is hosted by a legal services organization and a law firm and includes a list of new cases needing volunteers, daily news, a calendar of training sessions, a message board and an online library of training materials and legal work product, such as briefs. Two practice area web sites (asylum and family justice) have already been established, and two others (disability and community development) are currently planned. The Pro Bono Opportunities guide published by the Association is linked to ProBono.Net. A number of Association committees and the City Bar Fund・s Board have hosted presentations to broaden awareness of ProBono.Net.

Internet-Based Referral System

The City Bar Fund, in collaboration with several legal services organizations, is developing LAWHELP, an Internet-based referral system that can be used by both legal and social services providers to expedite referrals of low-income people needing legal assistance. A legal services organization will be able to access the database to refer clients who live outside its catchment area or who seek services of a type that it does not provide. Social services organizations, courts, and administrative agencies will similarly have access to an accurate and comprehensive resource to make appropriate referrals, a resource that is particularly useful in a city with as many legal services providers as New York City has.

We do not embrace technology for its own sake, but rather as a powerful tool that can be--and is being--put to effective use by the Association to provide new services and improve existing services to our members and others.

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