A Pro Bono Project Fit for a Library

Pamela Lipscomb is the Manager of Reference Services at Arent Fox LLP in Washington, DC.

In 1972, the nonprofit National Health Law Program started publishing An Advocate’s Guide to the Medicaid Program. What started out as an in-house project has developed into a comprehensive publication depended on by lawyers, journalists, researchers and community organizations. It was formally published in 1991 and has since been updated twice. When it came time to publish the fourth edition, NHeLP not only wanted to include the recent health reform legislation, but it also wanted to broaden the presence of the Advocate’s Guide to include a web-based product.

Our law firm has been involved with NHeLP for many years, with one of our attorneys serving on the Board. We have done a variety of pro bono projects for them, but in my tenure, this is the first opportunity in which the library has been able to play such a hands-on role in the process. As a private law librarian, to be involved in the publishing of a book, especially for such a great cause, was a real treat.

One of the editors contacted the head of our library, Robert Dickey, to examine how he, as a librarian and potential customer, would want to access this information. They discussed print versus online, pricing structures and other means of accessibility. Mr. Dickey promoted the idea of a web-based product, which could be updated more regularly than the print. He also noted that it could be adapted for mobile devices, allowing the Advocate’s Guide to be accessible wherever and whenever customers needed it.

As the Advocate’s Guide neared publication, one of final touches involved checking all the citations for accuracy. A group of our paralegals volunteered to cite check the publication. Many of the citations were straight-forward, but as the deadline loomed, the library staff was called upon to help track down the more difficult items. We worked hand in hand with the paralegals to get official titles, correct editions, and pin cites so the publication would be as accurate as possible.

When we received notice that the fourth edition of the Advocate’s Guide to the Medicaid Program is now available, we had a sense of pride in knowing that we helped make it happen.

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