Law firm's tech venture aims to help Ukrainian immigrants
- Law Firms
- Wilson Sonsini unit launches free tool to help 75,000 Ukrainians
- Goal is to bridge the access-to-justice gap
March 31 - There’s a persistent contradiction at the heart of civil legal services: Many people who need lawyers the most – those facing debt collection, eviction or foreclosure actions, or who are seeking asylum – can afford them the least.
Pro bono is an obvious way to assist, but the demand for free legal services is invariably greater than the supply of flesh-and-blood lawyers willing to help.
Automated legal services provider SixFifty, a subsidiary of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, has stepped in to help fill the gap. On Thursday, the company unveiled its latest pro bono offering, a free, automated tool to help an estimated 75,000 Ukrainians currently in the United States on visas apply to remain here legally due to the conflict with Russia.
“Going home isn’t an option for Ukrainians right now,” said SixFifty CEO Kimball Dean Parker, who told me that “without a doubt, it’s our most complicated pro bono effort.”
The company’s prior pro bono offerings include tools that have helped more than 20,000 people stave off eviction or foreclosure during the pandemic, he said.
To be clear, SixFifty (named after Wilson Sonsini’s Palo Alto address, 650 Page Mill Road) isn’t a nonprofit. The company uses its document automation technology to create customized contracts, policies, notices, demand letters and such for more than 1,000 businesses including Nissan Motor Co, Ing Group and Zippo Manufacturing Co.
But it also mirrors traditional law firms by providing pro bono assistance alongside its for-profit undertakings.
SixFifty’s new asylum tool is currently available in both English and Ukrainian. Parker said they hope to add translations into Spanish and other languages down the road.
Its online form is not unlike Turbo Tax, where a complex process is broken down into a series of user-friendly questions pertaining to either asylum or Temporary Protected Status. (Asylum can offer a path to permanent citizenship, while Temporary Protected Status, which flows from a special designation by the secretary of Homeland Security, provides a shorter-term shield from removal, along with work authorization.)
Based on the person’s responses, SixFifty’s system fills out the application documents and then emails a copy of the completed form to the user, along with instructions on how to proceed.
The asylum and Temporary Protected Status forms “are some of the most complicated I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Parker, who started his legal career at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan’s Silicon Valley office and joined SixFifty in late 2018.
Members of the American Immigration Lawyers Association advised SixFifty to make sure it got the finer points of the law right, he added.
While the asylum tool is designed to be accessible to everyone, SixFifty recommends that people use it in conjunction with an attorney.
Bonus: Those who do hire lawyers can expect a faster, easier process as a result.
“We are currently being flooded with requests from various Ukrainian communities seeking legal help,” said Jeffrey O'Brien, founding partner at Berkeley, California-based O’Brien Immigration, in a news release. “Using SixFifty’s tools will allow us to help Ukrainians apply more efficiently.”
SixFifty is holding a webinar on April 6, 2022, at 1 p.m. ET about how attorneys can use the tool to help Ukrainians. Anyone who would like to attend can register using this link.
Luke Liss, Wilson Sonsini’s pro bono partner, added that lawyers at his firm are eager to volunteer their assistance.
"We hope to help many more individuals stay in the United States in the coming months than would otherwise be possible,” he said.
Parker speaks of the potential for technology to increase access to justice with an almost evangelical zeal.
“There’s the ability to do so much good” by building software that can “help people facing some of the worst situations in their lives, whether it's losing their home or their country being invaded,” he said.
Law firms, for all their good intentions, have traditionally been limited to offering pro bono representation on a case-by-case basis, he said. “We knew technology could scale up the services.”
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