I have previously blogged about projects under the US's LSC (Legal Services Corporation) Technology Initiative Grants (TIG), for example Legal Aid websites, documentation assembly, technology to promote pro bono work, and others. Having followed the trends and been involved with several TIG conferences, now that the current US administration has defunded the TIG (and much of the LSC), I thought it might be a good idea to consolidate some of the better and more successful projects out of the TIG throughout its lifespan. This can help practitioners in developing countries conceptualize technology strategies for access to justice through technology.
The program has played a critical role in the development of legal services websites in almost all of the states. These websites, nearly all of which were developed with LSC support, provide information such as the locations of LSC-funded programs and their offices, guidance on pro bono and volunteer opportunities for the private bar, and a broad range of self-help legal resources for low-income people. Many utilize live chat functionality, which allows users to interact with legal services staff or volunteers to find the resources they need. Almost all sites in the network are mobile compatible, and many use online videos to help users understand legal content. LawHelp.org connects users to the statewide website network. Examples of leading statewide websites supported through the LSC TIG program include:
LawHelp Interactive (LHI) uses technology to improve the legal form and document preparation process for low-income people and the attorneys who assist them. Using web-based interviews, LHI presents users with a series of questions about a particular legal issue. By collecting the information in a logical and organized way, the answers enable users to create high-quality court forms and other legal documents on their own. Used in over 40 states, this technology has helped legal aid advocates, pro bono lawyers, and self-represented litigants create over 3.2 million legal documents since 2006. In 2016 alone, 529,000 documents were assembled using LHI. Top states in assemblies are New York, California, Michigan, Illinois, and Minnesota.
LawHelp Interactive is available through many of the statewide legal aid websites. Pro Bono Net, a nonprofit based in New York, works closely with LSC grantees to manage the platform.
Using Technology to Support Pro Bono
Legal Aid organizations and other grantees are using technology to manage pro bono initiatives more effectively. Recent pro bono focused TIGs include:
- Legal Aid of West Virginia developed a pro bono portal that hosts web-based interactive trainings and other practice resources. These resources include videos, document assembly forms, client interview guides, and tip sheets. The portal also allows private attorneys to sign up electronically for pro bono cases and quickly begin helping clients in need.
- The Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association, in partnership with the Massachusetts Bar Association and other state and national pro bono organizations, launched the TIG-funded MassProBono website, a portal that enhances the delivery of pro bono legal services to people of limited means in Massachusetts. The site supports and encourages pro bono work, matching volunteers across the state with a wide variety of opportunities that fit their interests, location, and schedules. The centerpiece of the site, the Pro Bono Opportunities Guide, builds on the Boston Bar Association’s pro bono catalog and incorporates interactive functions to create a robust new tool to promote pro bono engagement. In 2015, TIG funded a follow-up project to enhance mobile access to pro bono resources across the MassProBono site, including piloting new approaches to delivering substantive practice resources through mobile devices.
- The first statewide pro bono mobile application. Illinois Pro Bono provides Illinois attorneys and other legal professionals with a volunteer opportunity search tool, a calendar of upcoming events, and instructional legal content. The app is available for both iOS and Android.
Enhancing the Legal Services Gateway with Online Intake
Online intake allows these individuals to apply for assistance at any time through the web. Online intake systems are also integrated into programs’ case management systems, which saves time and reduces mistakes by allowing intake staff to simply verify user information instead of inputting it manually into a client database. TIG has funded about 32 initiatives to provide online intake solutions for prospective clients. Beyond an online application, newer projects offer extensive web-based triage that guides users to the most appropriate resource or provider based on their circumstances.
Online intake systems have resulted in significant time and resource savings. By converting a data collection function to a data confirmation function, Legal Aid Of Western Ohio determined that it saved approximately 10 - 15 minutes of staff time per application acceptance. That amounts to a savings of about 1.0 – 1.5 intake staff FTE’s per year, allowing resources to be allocated more effectively in the program. Additionally, by offering a platform where applicants can utilize a smart system to be guided through the steps of inputting all the necessary issue and eligibility information, increased efficiency is realized through a decrease in the number of times an applicant must be re-contacted to complete the application process.
Helping Military Members, Veterans, and Their Families
StatesideLegal.org, since 2009, is a free resource for members of the military, veterans, their families, and advocates. StatesideLegal.org helps this community access benefits, find free legal help, and better understand relevant legal issues. Users can access StatesideLegal's extensive library of original content, including interactive forms, videos, and legal analysis. Recent additions to the site include a "Women Who Serve" section focused on legal issues facing women veterans and an interactive legal needs check-up tool that provides personalized legal information and referrals for service members and veterans. In 2016, more than 500,000 unique visitors and more than 1 million page views of the site were tracked, drawn from all 50 states and many countries around the world. Over 55% of visitors used the site from a mobile device.
(Adapted from Legal Services Corporation under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License)