Our Work


An Undercover Volunteer Spotlight

By Samantha Kyrkostas on July 07, 2016

For years, we've honored the many, many people who help Illinois Legal Aid Online keep its legal resources up to date and accurate for the 3+ million users who turn to us for help. You've seen their names on rosters and contributor lists. You may have even run into them at a Volunteer Appreciation Event or two. But they aren't the only ones who have lent their blood, sweat and tears to our cause.

At ILAO, we rely on technology to help us deliver the best available resources to those most in need of legal help. The new IllinoisLegalAid.org, launched on August 1, 2016, is more user-friendly and responsive than every before thanks not only those who have volunteered their legal knowledge but also those who have offered up their technology expertise. You don't often see and hear from these volunteers, but the quality of a user's experience is directly corrolated to their efforts. ILAO is proud to be a tech resources to many of our legal aid partners in Illinois. But it is not a role that we would be able to do if we didn't have help.

Today we are blowing the cover on some of the star volunteers in our technology support network at Olenick, a software testing and project-management shop here in Chicago. We want you to know who they because they helped to make the new IllinoisLegalAid.org a reality.

So, without further ado, welcome to our inaugural Undercover Volunteer Spotlight interview with Bill Mertes, Vice President at Olenick. We talked with Bill a few weeks ago why he chose to dedicate hundreds of hours of pro bono software testing to ILAO last year:

  1. Tell us a little bit about your experience with Chicago’s legal tech world?

WKM: My legal tech career in Chicago began in 1988 in a major Chicago law firm’s IT organization. In my 22 years there, I became connected to many other local legal tech professionals through my participation in the International Legal Technology Association. I joined Olenick in 2009 and started its Legal Vertical team.

  1. How did you learn about ILAO?

WKM: In my time at the law firm, at one point I worked for Dave Hambourger, who is on ILAO’s Board of Directors. I’ve kept contact with Dave, and he reached out to Olenick when ILAO needed some testing assistance.

  1. What projects has Olenick worked on for ILAO?

WKM: We primarily have been performing functional testing for ILAO’s new web site. This consists of writing the test cases, executing tests of new features, and performing regression testing as new versions are released. We have also done some test automation work, and expect to be testing the web site on mobile devices shortly. This testing is important, as you want to identify and correct defects in the software before they are deployed to real people with real needs.

  1. What types of services does Olenick offer clients?

WKM: Our core competencies are in the software testing and quality assurance space. We are the only Quality Assurance consultancy with a dedicated legal practice. We are very strong at helping law firms establish a QA function (where it previously may not have existed), and supplying testing services for projects and on-going operations. We are also very strong in the utility and financial services industries. Our QA services extend to building quality within the software deployment process and desktop engineering.

  1. Why does Olenick choose to devote their time to pro bono projects?

WKM: As a veteran owned company, our leadership recognizes the importance of service to build a better community. The resources we provide for this work are doing it while transitioning between client billable engagements, which for a company our size (300 people) we always have some resource on the bench. The ILAO work helps keep our people’s skills honed, and gives them something worthwhile and valuable to do while waiting for their next billable assignment. They very much enjoy this.

  1. Do you see a business value to helping nonprofits build better technology?

WKM: ILAO receives great contributions from Chicago area legal firms, many of whom are Olenick’s clients. We make it a priority to support and care about the things our clients care about. Also, it’s great business to keep your people happy and productive (see previous answer).

  1. Why do you think ILAO’s work to use technology to increase access to the legal system is important?

WKM: After being in legal for almost 30 years, it’s easy to see why an “outsider” sees the legal system as a very scary place, doubly so if one doesn’t have the means to hire the best representation. Technology is not scary (anymore), and applying technology in this manner makes it possible for anyone to get past the fears and get competent representation, thus making the legal system work fairly for all parties.