Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz is Pro Bono Net’s Pro Bono & Strategic Initiatives Manager. She coordinates, develops, and grows state and national digital projects that strengthen the work of legal advocates and pro bono attorneys helping individuals with their legal problems. Jeanne manages Remote Legal Connect, a new technology tool that facilitates remote pro bono projects, virtual consultations, and document sharing between legal aid, volunteer attorneys, and pro bono clients.  In 2021, Jeanne received the On the Rise 40 Top Young Lawyers award for her work in disaster relief and leadership in the American Bar Association.


After two years of virtual programming due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Innovations in Technology Conference was back in person this year with approximately 600 participants. The conference, hosted by the Legal Services Corporation, was held from January 19-21, 2023, in Phoenix, Arizona. The event convenes technologists, legal aid advocates, court personnel, law school professors, pro bono coordinators, and other professionals to learn about technology projects and tools that advance access to justice. The last ITC in person occurred in January 2020 in Portland, Oregon. Many in the community remembered it as the last conference they attended before Covid-19 caused shutdowns across the country. Here are four takeaways from my attendance at the conference this year. I also asked my colleagues to share their thoughts with me, which I’ve incorporated into this post. 

1. Most of this year’s sessions fell under the information technology / internal operations conference track.

Information technology or internal operations may seem an obvious theme given the conference is about technology, but it was interesting to compare that to last year’s themes. Conference sessions fall under multiple tracks, but this year, 37% of the sessions were about or included a component of “Information Technology / Internal Operations.” Other popular topics this year included sessions on self-help projects, websites and online tools, technology for advocates, and data. Contrary to this year, 2022’s most popular conference tracks were “Websites/ Online Tools” and “Self-Represented Litigants/ Self-Help.” In 2021 and 2022, ITC had a conference track for COVID-19 Response and Recovery, which this year did not include.* 

2. A special shout-out to regulatory reform and human-centered design

My colleague, Sam Harden, and Program Manager at Pro Bono Net mentioned he appreciated the positive discussion around regulatory reform, which LSC’s President, Ronald S. Flagg, set the tone for at the opening session. After attendees gathered for hot coffee and breakfast, Flagg welcomed everyone and talked about LSC’s latest Justice Gap Report, published in 2022. The study, consistent with LSC’s past three justice gap reports, found that low-income Americans sought legal help for only 19% of their collective civil legal problems in the past year. The report also showed that low-income Americans will approach LSC-funded legal aid organizations every year for help with an estimated 1.9 million civil legal problems that are eligible for assistance. However, those who approach LSC-funded organizations will only receive enough legal support to resolve their issue about 56% of the time. Flagg said that regulatory reform is one of the areas of the legal profession that is reducing the justice gap. For example, last fall, Stanford Law School’s Deborah L. Rhode Center on the Legal Profession published “Legal Innovation After Reform: Evidence from Regulatory Change” to examine the regulatory reforms and innovations in Utah and Arizona. Two of the report’s co-authors highlight some of their findings here to show the positive impact of regulatory reform (e.g., addressing the unauthorized practice of law ethics rules appears to benefit low-income individuals navigating legal issues) and made an urgent call for innovation as a way to address the country’s access-to-justice crisis. For those who couldn’t attend and are interested in the discussions about regulatory change, the “Leveraging Regulatory Reform to Advance Access to Justice” session was live-streamed on Facebook and can be found here. Liz Keith, our Program Director, and Rodrigo Camarena, Director of Justicia Lab, also recently wrote about this and other innovations taking place to expand access to justice (see 3 tangible ways to ensure low-income Americans get the legal help they need). 

Flagg then welcomed Everett Harper, CEO and Co-Founder of Truss, a human-centered software development company. Harper walked us through his journey at Truss and reminded us of the superpower behind technology. He shared his experience working on www.Healthcare.gov and encouraged attendees to consider a few questions about human-centered design and technology: 

  • How do we create systems to enable more feedback? 
  • What is the feasibility of solving the problem we have identified? 
  • Do we really understand the problem? 

Feedback, sustainability, and scaling were all themes during the keynote. What can we learn from the products we design and the projects we implement over time? What patterns can we identify and learn from? Are there better ways to incorporate those lessons to make a case for regulatory reform?

3. Accessibility, technology + disasters(?), making change fun, and virtual reality

I attended ten sessions and learned something new from all of them. However, a few also stood out to me. The accessibility panel, “Ensuring Accessibility in Legal Technology: How it Enhances and Expands Your Reach,” was great. Panelists explained that without accessibility, there’s truly no access to the tools we build, and also spoke about website accessibility in times of climate disasters, like expanding this online guided interview to include disability accommodation questions from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), an online tool that helps people with disabilities to be emergency ready, and videos like this one to make legal rights information available in sign language. The “Unpacking the Intersectionality of Race, Language, and Poverty in Navigating the Digital Divide” session also touched on accessibility, and speakers made a convincing point about the importance of using data to address the needs of people who speak other languages. One of the speakers pointed out that although LSC’s Justice Gap Report was impactful and has the potential for a wide range of policy implications, it did not provide any analysis based on language usage in the United States. A proposed solution to make data accessible is to make language preference data from LSC grantees searchable by state and nationwide (separate by spoken/signed and written). Joshua Medina, Pro Bono Net’s new Legal User Experience Designer, said he also enjoyed the community’s investment and conversations about the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data and also in developing accessible technology for communities marginalized by the legal system.

I thought there was much to learn from panelists’ experiences on accessibility and climate disaster responses. Unless there is an accessibility plan in place, there is often not a lot of time to think about the consequences and impact on communities that may need to access information and services in other ways. This led me to another thought: how can we better use technology in disaster preparedness or response to the rising impact of disasters across the country? In less than four weeks since we welcomed the new year, the federal government has already made four major disaster declarations. This doesn’t count the many regions still recovering from last year’s disasters. The conference also happened when places such as Georgia, Alabama, California, and Washington were beginning to grapple with the effects of severe weather. Most ITC sessions catered to a broad audience and spanned a wide range of topics, but with the increasing rate of more powerful and frequent disasters impacting our communities, I hope we can advocate for disaster-specific discussions about how technology can improve efficiency and organizational resilience to address the legal needs of disaster survivors.

I also enjoyed the “Making Change Successful and FUN” session by Lakeshore Legal Aid (MI) and TechBridge. Speakers talked about how they navigated the design, training, and implementation of a new case management system while making it fun. The session was full of practical strategies, chart and sheet templates they used to organize the transition to the new system, and even examples of haikus written by staff saying goodbye to the old system. 

Another colleague, Alison Corn, and Legal Solutions Designer at Pro Bono Net shared that one of her favorite sessions was “The Courtroom as a Metaverse Node: Using Cross-Field Collaboration to Innovate Using 360 Video and Virtual Reality (VR).” When I asked her if she could share a takeaway from the session, she said, “VR isn’t just the newest tech experience in the space, but it’s also an incredibly robust tool that we can leverage to create idealized legal spaces that lessen retraumatization for litigants.” She provided an example of how Youtopian, a human-centered AI XR global innovation company, determined through usability testing that using mountains was extremely triggering for the veterans because of their military experiences. As a result, they removed the mountains to create a more idealized space. Alison concluded,  “if we could use this same approach in creating legal spaces, I see such huge potential in lessening the retraumatization so many vulnerable litigants face every single day in the courtroom.”

4. Pro Bono Net’s Representation and Social Gatherings at the Conference 

Pro Bono Net staff also presented on increasing access to legal help online, API-driven integrations in the civil justice sector, emerging usability research, and strategies to improve the discoverability of online legal rights content. In addition, our new Director of Business Development, Megan Vizzini, staffed the exhibit table, and we had an opportunity to share more about our programs, answer questions from visitors, and stamp passports for LSC’s Passport Contest (the winner received free registration for the next conference in Charlotte, North Carolina). I also asked Megan about her experience and she said she appreciated the exhibitor location was in a high-traffic location compared to other conferences she had been to where the exhibitors were on a side hallway. Megan also pointed out that it was great to see existing Pro Bono Net partners and prospective partners.

She said, “We had the opportunity to have many engaging conversations around current projects, future collaborations and discussions around what’s next in the space. The Pro Bono Net social event on Thursday night was especially memorable!” This social event was possible thanks to the conference’s Whova application. It was easy to organize an informal meet-up for partners and anyone who wanted to join and learn about what’s new at Pro Bono Net. 

More pictures from ITC:

Pro Bono Net’s Program Manager, Sam Harden, presenting on strategies to improve the discoverability of online legal rights content. 

Session: “Googling Justice: SEO, Schema Markup, and other Strategies to Connect the Public with Legal Help Online

Liz Keith, Program Director at Pro Bono Net, presenting on usability testing findings and how we can make our products more welcoming and inclusive.

Session: “But Does it Help?: Actionable and Meaningful Insights from Recent Usability Research” 

Pro Bono Net’s exhibit table. Attendees also had access to coffee and snacks throughout the day.

*Based on the conference’s Whova App agenda. Last year’s track analysis was based on the online schedule for ITC 2022.

Funding and partnership to advance digital infrastructure supporting the immigrants rights movement for the Houston metropolitan area

Last week, Justicia Lab, the nonprofit innovation incubator for technology solutions supporting the immigrant rights movement, announced a new $1 million grant from the Houston Endowment. Justicia Lab, a program of Pro Bono Net, creates digital tools that advance immigrant justice through collaboration and helps immigrants to navigate the legal system and their rights within it. This new funding from the Houston Endowment marks the largest single contribution in the initiative’s 15 year history and an important milestone in the national immigrant and refugee grantmaking landscape by directly investing in the development of nonprofit public interest technology.

Justicia Lab will apply the funds toward improving and integrating digital infrastructure so that immigrants in the Houston metro area can better access justice within a fast-changing legal system. The goal of the partnership is to co-create and pilot a first of its kind comprehensive universal intake and case referral platform to support recent arrivals, refugees and asylum seekers, existing residents including those with DACA status, and those who have been in the United States for many years and are seeking citizenship. This free and accessible tool will integrate and improve existing Justicia Lab and Pro Bono Net platforms that help people understand their eligibility for immigration relief (Immi), complete immigration forms and apply for naturalization (Citizenshipworks), and connect them to in-person and virtual legal assistance (Immigration Law Help, Immigration Advocates Network, and Remote Legal Connect). 

“The creation of a unified tool that can help streamline and simplify the delivery of legal assistance for both immigrants and their advocates has long been a North Star for the immigrants’ rights movement,” said Justicia Lab Director Rodrigo Camarena. “We are so grateful to Houston Endowment for their support and partnership on this issue – it’s an ambitious commitment to making a significant positive impact in the lives of thousands of Houstonians that will also help us build a stronger national immigrants’ rights infrastructure.”

As a border region and major metropolitan area as well as being the most diverse city in the US, Houston has been the epicenter of national conversations around issues in immigrant support. From aiding unaccompanied minors, assisting asylum seekers, or supporting the arrival of Afghan evacuees, Houston’s immigration legal service providers have had to quickly mobilize and coordinate resources to tackle new and difficult challenges. The pandemic has exacerbated these challenges, highlighting the need for local advocates to have a strong tech infrastructure that enhances coordination and expands legal resources, including access to national pro bono legal assistance.

“Houston’s greatest asset is its immense diversity, and we are deeply committed to ensuring that new Houstonians move along the pathway to citizenship,” said Ann Stern, president and CEO of Houston Endowment. “Justicia Lab’s innovative approach provides a unique and distinctive way to serve residents in this way which will, in turn, strengthen our region.”

Justicia Lab will work with its new partners to co-design and pilot the tool with initial use in the Houston metro area, with plans to later scale the tool nationally. Expected Houston partners for the pilot include the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative (HILSC), Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston Houston, Galveston-Houston Immigrant Representation Project (GHIRP), YMCA of Greater Houston, Boat People SOS (BPSOS), and Bonding Against Adversity.

“This tool could be a game-changer for immigrants seeking to learn more about potential immigration relief available to them and to access immigration legal services through a streamlined referral portal,” said Zenobia Lai, Executive Director of the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative (HILSC). “This tool will minimize the trauma experienced by immigrants in having to recount their experience repeatedly as they seek assistance from different legal services providers. We are excited to partner with Justicia Lab to bring technology to improve access to justice for immigrants.”

Once piloted later this year, the platform will equip immigrants and their advocates, community navigators, and legal staff with plain-language, translated, multimedia educational resources to provide them with more information on their status and U.S. immigration law. This next generation of tools and resources will provide the technological infrastructure to connect immigrants and to a legal support system of community based organizations, legal service providers, and pro bono attorneys.

_______________

About Justicia Lab

Justicia Lab is Pro Bono Net’s immigrant justice technology lab, and a nonprofit legal tech initiative whose mission is to transform immigrant justice through collaboration, creativity, and technology. We work hand in hand with immigrants and their advocates to identify common challenges and incubate scalable digital tools to advance help immigrants navigate our immigration system, find workplace justice, and more. Justicia Lab has developed over a dozen immigrant justice legal tools to scale and support the work of advocates and bridge the justice gap, helping over 500,000 people find critical immigration information and relief. 

About Pro Bono Net

Pro Bono Net is a national nonprofit leader in building technology and collaborations that increase access to justice. From connecting attorneys to those most in need to creating legal tools to help individuals advocate for themselves, Pro Bono Net makes the law work for the many and not the few. 

About Houston Endowment

Houston Endowment is a private foundation that partners with others to achieve a vibrant and inclusive region where all residents can thrive. We advance equity of opportunity through deep commitments to PreK-12 public education and civic engagement; support cultural assets that engage and connect us; and drive sustainable change across our region. 

Pro Bono Net will be well represented at the 2023 Innovations in Technology Conference (ITC) this week, and we hope to see you there! The conference takes place January 19-21, 2023 in Phoenix and is hosted by the Legal Services Corporation. ITC brings together more than 600 legal aid advocates, court personnel, technologists and other professionals exploring new ways of using technology to expand access to justice.

Pro Bono Net is a national nonprofit leader in increasing access to justice through innovative uses of technology and collaboration. For more than twenty years, we’ve worked hand in hand with partners in the legal aid sector and access to justice movement to tackle big problems and bring new technology and resources to where they’re needed the most.

This year, we are presenting or moderating sessions related to increasing access to legal help online, API-driven integrations in the civil justice sector, emerging usability research, and strategies to increase the discoverability of online legal rights content. See below for where you can find us, or stop by our booth in the exhibitors area!

For details on the many other excellent sessions offered at ITC 2023,  please visit LSC’s ITC website. You can also follow ITC online via #LSCITC or LSC’s Facebook page, where several sessions will be livestreamed.

Friday, January 20, 2023

12:00 PM – 1:15 PM
Legal Information Website Affinity Group

  • Liz Keith, State and National Program Director, Pro Bono Net 
  • Margaret Hagan, Executive Director, Legal Design Lab at Stanford University
  • Angela Tripp, Director, Michigan Legal Help Program

1:45 PM – 3:00 PM
From Niche to Necessity: Making the Most of APIs in the Civil Justice Ecosystems

But Does it Help?: Actionable and Meaningful Insights from Recent Usability Research

  • Liz Keith, Liz Keith, State and National Program Director, Pro Bono Net 
  • Eric Vang, Senior Technology Attorney, Alaska Legal Services Corporation
  • Sarah Mauet, UX4Justice Director and Professor of Practice, Innovation for Justice, University of Arizona College of Law & University of Utah School of Business

3:45 PM – 5:00 PM
Googling Justice: SEO, Schema Markup, and other Strategies to Connect the Public with Legal Help Online

In addition to Pro Bono Net ITC panelists, other team members attending include:  Business Development Director Megan Vizzini, Justicia Lab Director Rodrigo Camarena, Pro Bono & Strategic Initiatives Manager Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz, Legal Solutions Designer Alison Corn and Legal User Experience Designer Josh Medina.

Pro Bono Net’s Pro Bono & Strategic Initiatives Manager, Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz, is representing Pro Bono Net in the Leadership Fellows New York Program this fall. The New York Community Trust and the Austin W. Marxe School of Public and International Affairs at Baruch College established the program in 2015. 

Leadership Fellows New York is the premier professional development opportunity for mid-career nonprofit practitioners in the metropolitan New York City region. The fellowship program seeks to build the leadership skills and knowledge of nonprofit leaders advancing social justice missions in New York and beyond. You can learn more here

During the program, fellows participate in class sessions relevant to the administration and growth of nonprofit organizations. Fellows also work on a “change project” with a mentor. Jeanne’s change project focuses on measuring impact, and her mentor is Joseph E. Luesse, founding partner and CEO at 8RES, a Research, Evaluation, and Strategy consulting firm. 

Pro Bono Net thanks the New York Community Trust and the Austin W. Marxe School of Public and International Affairs at Baruch College for their work and support of New York City’s nonprofit leaders. To see a list of the Fall 2022 fellows cohort, click here.

In 2005, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC) approached Pro Bono Net for advice on how CLINIC could improve its technology, training and communications infrastructure to improve its network’s capacity to scale services in the event of a mass legalization program. Soon, with financial support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the JEHT Foundation, we invited the Advocates for Human Rights, the Immigration Legal Resources Center and seven other nonprofit leaders in the immigrants’ rights sector to join us in creating an entity to improve the sector’s strategic use of technology to respond, share knowledge, collaborate, and directly support millions of immigrants nationwide. Thus began Pro Bono Net’s immigrant justice initiative, known as the Immigration Advocates Network (IAN).

Nearly fifteen years after that first conversation and more than 500,000 people impacted later, we’re so excited to announce that the Pro Bono Net initiative known as the Immigrant Advocates Network will now be known as Justicia Lab, Pro Bono Net’s incubator for immigrant justice technology. 

The new name reflects our team’s commitment to innovation and the communities that we serve. And it points to a new era for the organization as the leading nonprofit innovation incubator for immigrant justice technology and an expanded role developing digital tools to help immigrants navigate our immigration system, find workplace justice, and more.

In a moment where our democracy and institutions have never been more fragile, this theme across Pro Bono Net and Justicia Lab’s work of leveraging technology and collaboration to expand access to justice for our most vulnerable communities couldn’t be more important. Whether it’s a young mother experiencing domestic violence and using LawHelp Interactive to obtain an order of protection against their abuser, a low-income family in Georgia using GeorgiaLegalAid.org to stay housed in the face of an unlawful eviction, or a construction worker in New York state having the tools to fight back again stolen wages with Justicia Lab’s tool ¡Reclamo!, our work and partnerships bring life-changing relief to hundreds of thousands of people around the country.

For us, access to justice means not just having good and fair laws, but making sure that those laws are understandable and accessible to those with the fewest resources. It means creating tools that lead to legal empowerment rather than distrust, that build a culture of community-driven legal care and rebalance the scales of justice to make our legal system fairer for everyone, especially those historically excluded from it.. 

In our view true social innovation doesn’t come from disruption for the sake of disruption, it comes from co-designing and building new resources and partnerships that can amplify, scale and support the most impactful solution we already have – the advocates, organizers and volunteers on the ground who are already working to address injustice. 

With so much at stake right now, Pro Bono Net and Justicia Lab are doubling down on our mission to be an anchor for developing public, not for profit, and safe digital legal solutions, regardless of what direction politics and governance in this country goes. We will continue to be a steady and committed legal and technology partner to legal aid organizations, community nonprofits, social justice groups, and others, and to work together to build programs and campaigns that address the root causes of inequality. Because people in this country deserve resources that will help them understand their rights, feel safe and supported, and make their voice heard when their home, family or livelihood is at stake.

We will continue to build solutions that address longstanding trust and access issues including keeping our resources free for the public to use, using plain language and embedding language justice, and prioritizing data privacy.  

We look forward to strengthening existing initiatives and tools and building new ones and to continue to ensure technology is an equalizing force in justice movements and not a tool that exacerbates power imbalances. Thank you for your continued partnership and support.

Since 1992, the Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program (TVC) has helped more than 69,000 veterans with their legal issues, as well as trained more than 6,000 volunteers to assist them with their legal issues. TVC has been using the pro bono.net platform for over a decade to provide services for veterans and support volunteers, and collaborated with Pro bono Net to launch a fully redesigned site in May. Vetsprobono.org is a key resource for veterans looking to get legal assistance in upgrading their discharge status, becoming a naturalized citizen, or filing an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. The site also serves volunteers looking for information, or wanting to sign up to take a pro bono case.

Our website is an invaluable resource for both our volunteer attorneys as well as veterans and their loved ones. Our goal with the new design was to create a website that is easy to navigate for people who are visiting for a variety of reasons.” – Cate Jackson, Communications & Outreach Manager at The Veterans Consortium

In 2021 the Vets Pro Bono site averaged over 50,000 users. In the previous design, the site had organically grown multiple user paths that, over time, didn’t correspond to easy user journeys. As part of the redesign the TVC team worked with PBN to re-think what paths would more easily get users to resources that would serve their needs. 

For veterans, the Vets Pro Bono site now provides a clear pathway for them to address the common issues they face via a banner on the homepage, as well as a veterans-specific page. On the issue-specific pages, Vets Pro Bono has customized pathways for veterans to either apply for services or get more information on that specific issue. 

For advocates and attorneys, the new site now offers distinct pathways to materials and pro bono cases categorized by common types of cases. Using issue-specific pages, the TVC team can organize materials for volunteers, as well as provide case-type-specific pathways to the members-only site tools. The new design works to visually guide users through these pathways with clear visual elements such as large buttons and accordions.

One of the highest-use features of the site has been the probono.net platform’s cases tool, a way for Vets Pro Bono to list available pro bono cases that site members can request. The issue-specific pages now provide paths to views of the cases tool that are pre-filtered by area of law. 

The new design was created by Kristen Argenio of Ideal Design Co, who has designed other Pro Bono Net sites such as TenantHelpNY.org and JusticeImpactNetwork.org. 

Interested in learning more about TVC’s work and how to get involved? Visit TVC’s resources for volunteer attorneys and supporters

The landing page for justice-impacted users.

Deciding who to test

Usability testing, which I’ve written about in the past, is exactly what it sounds like: it is testing the usability of a product. The industry standard is to test ~5 people per user group, per device. Since we were testing two user groups and designing for both desktop and mobile, that added up to 20 tests!

  • Mobile — 5 justice-impacted, 5 students
  • Desktop — 5 justice-impacted, 5 students

Recruitment and digital technology comfort levels

The first step is recruitment. Once we identified where we would send out the call, we developed a sign up form that was part form/part survey. We collected their contact information but also asked a few questions. The most important question we asked was about comfort with digital technology. We found that justice-impacted testers had a very wide range of comfort with digital technology where some users had very low comfort and others had very high comfort. Students reported a much more consistent range.

The higher the bar, the higher the differential between comfort levels among users surveyed.

Community-led usability testing moderators

While developing this testing structure with our partner organization, the Justice Impact Alliance, they proposed an intriguing idea that aligned with PBN’s efforts to increase participatory design in our field. Because the Justice Impact Alliance staff have developed strong relationships with the justice-impacted people they serve and the students that volunteer with them, they wondered if they themselves should moderate the tests rather than Pro Bono Net. Their plan was to have several moderators conduct a handful. Normally, I’d advise against using numerous moderators, simply for reasons of consistency. By having several moderators you risk inconsistency in what moderators focus on and find compelling, what follow up questions they ask, etc.

Challenges of external moderators

This route did pose several significant challenges.

  • Context building: None of the moderators we trained had any experience in web design up to this point. Most had participated in our user persona workshops but that’s about it. Their understanding of web design principles was very fresh and so context building was key.
  • Limited time and availability: Our moderators are community leaders who work with a variety of people that demands a lot of their time and focus. This meant that although they were willing and eager to participate, they had many other responsibilities on their mind and so the amount of training we did had to be incisively impactful and highly efficient.
  • Difficulty of user research: I have written before about how conducting user research isn’t as inaccessible as people think. I stick to that sentiment but having said that, it’s important to remember that many people do this as a full time job and undergo a ton of training to build this skill. It’s impossible to train people in all of those nuances with just some materials and a one hour workshop. We had to pick the most important parts to train on.
  • Consistency of documentation: Although we knew we wouldn’t get the same level of note taking and annotation, we still wanted to try our best to achieve some level of consistency across our moderators. We wanted them to use the same script, use the same follow-up questioning patterns, and make similarly detailed notes on their impressions of the tests they conducted.

Training materials

With all of those challenges in mind, we went about identifying what solutions we could offer. We agreed that a combination of training materials and a training session would be best. We scheduled an hour-long workshop with our moderators, developed materials, and sent them out beforehand so they could review them and come with questions.

  • Moderator guide: This was a single document they could bookmark and keep as their compass to navigate this entire process. It starts with links to the script, the beta site, and the example tests. This included information about usability testing is and is not. It included information about how a test will go, what equipment they and the participants need, troubleshooting screenshares, best practices, etc.

Part of the Moderator Guide we prepared for our external moderators.

  • Design intent: In the guide we included a reminder of how we designed the site, what our intentions and hypotheses were. This is crucial! Moderators must know the design well and know the intentions behind it.
  • Training deck: After the training session was over, we sent them both the recording of the session and the slide deck itself.
  • Example tests: We then linked them to recording clips of previous usability tests. Those were accompanied with notes on what to learn from those clips. We titled them with names like “Good introduction” and “Bad introduction.” Those included examples of my own mistakes. This was not only to teach our moderators but also so they could see how I myself mess up too and hopefully alleviate any pressure they may have been feeling.

Training session

The actual training session started with a design review. Again, it’s so important that your moderators know the design through and through. Without that context, they will not glean many insights from the user’s experience. For example, if they don’t realize that there is an entire section of the site that users are missing, they won’t be able to report back that their users totally skipped over this crucial feature.

  • Ask the user to narrate their thought process as much as possible.
  • Avoid the urge to give them hints and allow them to get lost (this can be especially tempting when you know the user outside of this setting).
  • Listen as much as possible, only speak in order to get the user to speak.
  • Study the design before testing.
  • Take notes but pay attention to the session. Expect to re-watch the recording and take thorough notes then that way you aren’t pulled out of the session.
  • Write down your main impressions immediately after the session, that’s when it is most fresh in your mind.
  • Never send them a link to pages you want them to get to, instruct them using the website so that you can see how easily they can find things.
  • Know your script well, you will have to jump around depending on where the user goes.
  • Loosen up! Don’t take this too seriously and build some comfort with your participant.

What we learned

In the end we learned a lot from this process. We did indeed get a variety of insights that we may not have gotten doing this on our own. Here is what we learned.

We had good moderators

Our moderators were fantastic. I can’t say enough about how grateful we are for all of their time and effort. They showed up to the trainings, took it seriously, asked good questions, and then conducted some really effective tests. For just a few hours of training, I am really impressed with the outcomes. This goes to show both how far some strategic training can go but also how useful it can be to have community leaders involved in testing. What they may have lacked in user research experience, they made up for in intuitive understanding of their participants’ experiences.

Candid feedback

We found that some participants did seem to offer candid feedback that possibly they may not have given if they felt us tech professionals were too far removed from their real-life experiences. It’s impossible to know for sure but I think it’s a fair assumption. In other studies I do think we have gotten candid feedback by building rapport with the user and telling them explicitly, “You can’t hurt my feelings on this design. If you hate it, I love hearing that so I know how to make it better.” However, being a part of the community you are studying just naturally carries some built-in rapport.

Training materials and sessions were key

We found that the training materials we gave were critical to the success of the study. We tried our best not to overdo it and I do think we struck a good balance there. If we were able to do two training sessions, I would have included some role playing where we act out a mock session live. Reviewing videos is helpful but actually trying it out and getting over some of the apprehension is very helpful.

Documentation issues

Documentation was tricky. We found out too late that the Zoom accounts being used had blocked permissions making it difficult for us to access the recordings. It proved tricky to explain to our moderators how to download them and then upload them to our Drive. This slowed things down a lot. In the future, I would have advocated to make everyone use a Zoom account under our own team.

Note taking is too time consuming

Additionally, getting our moderators to put in notes was very challenging and for good reason. Taking the time to write down all of those notes into a document is not easy when you have a whole other job on your plate. It came down to me watching every recording (which you should do anyways) and taking my own notes down too. We could have seen this coming and in the end, I think it was unavoidable. Factor this into your timeline.

Skill building and the empowerment of the collective

I want to end on one of my favorite parts of this experiment which is that we all got to grow our skill sets. On our end, we got to learn a lot about how to train moderators, how to make this skill more accessible, and how to step back and let go of control. On our partner’s end, they got to learn a new research skill. Besides having new tools in our toolboxes, we all got to learn something new. Just the act of trying something new and learning from it is an empowering experience. I care about my work but I also care about being more human and facilitating experiences that help us get in touch with ourselves and what we can achieve as a collective.


This blog was originally published by Ariadne Brazo on Medium. You can view the original post, here. To read Designing for Very Different Users — Justice Impact Network (Part I), click here

Earlier this year we at Pro Bono Net launched JusticeImpactNetwork.org , a project of the Justice Impact Alliance co-designed with Pro Bono Net. The Justice Impact Network brings together justice-impacted individuals and families, students, and advocates to help impacted individuals and families find and utilize the resources they need to navigate the system, access the full power of the law, and unlock justice.

The homepage of JusticeImpactNetwork.org

  1. Justice-impacted individuals: People who have been impacted by the justice system either directly themselves or indirectly as a family member or friend. This includes being arrested, awaiting trial, or being currently or formerly incarcerated.
  2. Students: Graduates and undergraduates studying a range of legal-related areas.
  3. Advocates: Legal professionals such as paralegals and attorneys.

Who are our users?

The first step to designing for this project was to workshop what kinds of users we were building for in the first place. At the outset, we had a good idea that this would include multiple user groups but it wasn’t entirely clear yet just how many user types there were and how we should organize them into umbrella groups.

  • Demographics: What’s relevant to knowing the basic demographics of our users? Age, location, occupation, ethnicity, income background, etc. It’s easy to get hung up here on minor details. The goal is a broad understanding of what kind of demographics you are serving, not a singular and highly detailed person.
  • History and story: What led them to this point in their life? What has been their experience with the justice system? What is motivating them right now? This is all about origin stories and knowing the state your user is in today as they become introduced to your product.
  • Role: What role do they play? Who do they serve and does anyone serve them? Who do they work with? The concept of a role needs to be flexible. For attorneys this is more straightforward but for impacted individuals it’s more complex. For the directly impacted individuals, the question of role is more about who they work with and who they have access to. For the families/friends of impacted people, it’s more about how they offer support and who they work with.
  • Mindsets and behaviors: What emotions is this person experiencing? How do they approach the situation? Are they emotionally heightened and stressed? Are they calm? Are the advocates overloaded with work and if so, what are the consequences of that? This section is critical when it comes to designing the user experience (or “UX”, this is the overall vibe of the site). Knowing what emotions you are dealing with will help you design an experience to balance that out.
  • Pain points and barriers: What roadblocks do they face? Where do they get stuck and blocked? What’s frustrating? What problems, and even solutions, have they already identified? Here we start with the presenting problems and then dig deeper to get at the root. Think of a plant, what’s above ground is the presenting problem, the obvious and apparent issues. Below ground is a root system that represents the deeper diagnosis of the pain point and barrier.
  • Comfort with digital technology: How comfortable are your users with apps, websites, computers, smartphones, tablets, kiosks, etc? What devices do they have access to? At this point in the process, you are just guessing. Once you begin signing real-life users up for interviews or testing, you can include this as a survey question on the signup form. Use a numerical scale to track this 1–10. A 10 being technically fluent and 1 being totally unsure how to use the tool.
  • Value of our product: What can we offer? How would our users see us as helpful? Think big and then drill down from there. This is about casting a wide net of possible value propositions that you can continue to refine and reiterate on. The final set of value propositions will be much more narrow which is good. You can’t do it all so do a few things well and build from there over time.

An example Miro board from the user persona workshops.

What are the existing workflows?

The next step was to identify the existing workflows of our various user groups. We created a flow chart template, using Miro.com, where our workshop participants could fill in sticky notes of what actions occur in their work. We used this to cover user groups but also to dig into the work of an actual team doing work to support justice-impacted individuals, the Jailhouse Lawyers Initiative (JLI) led by founder and legal empowerment leader Jhody Polk.

An example user workflow chart using characters from The Office as an example.

Finalizing our target personas

Once we had an idea of who our users were, their various related current workflows, and the roles our partner organization played, we took all of that information and developed some personas and stories to present to our designer.

In Part II…

We then went through the design process, iterating over and over to get the workflows to fit these three very different user groups. We developed a working beta site of the design and began preparing for usability testing. That’s next in Part II.


This blog was originally published by Ariadne Brazo on Medium. You can view the original post, here.

Immigration Advocates Network (IAN), a Pro Bono Net project, is excited to launch the 2022 edition of “Remote Legal Support: A Post-Pandemic Guide to Nonprofit and Pro Bono Innovation.” The guide features profiles of nonprofit legal organizations that are leveraging technology and working remotely with volunteers and the community. It includes findings from IAN’s 2021 national survey on strategies, tools, and challenges for immigration legal service delivery during the pandemic. 

Early in the pandemic, service providers were forced to become experts at working with clients and the community remotely. “We wanted to take a closer look at organizations that not only were adapting well to remote services, but were also integrating pro bono lawyers into their model.” says Pat Malone, Associate Director at IAN. “The partner profiles offer wisdom and perspective. Our hope is that the information shared in this guide will help other non-profit organizations meet the challenges.

International Rescue Committee (IRC) Deputy Director of Immigration, Amber Mull and her team have contributed to the guide since the first edition, published in March of 2020.  Mull said, “The RLS guide is a great tool for organizations interested in starting, expanding, or improving remote legal services. The information from practitioners on what has and what hasn’t worked well is incredibly valuable in an environment where in-person services may be limited and innovation can be costly.  Remote services offer a great opportunity to reach new geographic areas and to streamline services for those who have digital literacy and access.” Mull added, “It can be challenging for those who are not comfortable with or have access to technology. Learning how to support people where they are and offering options has been critical to ensuring more people can access services.”  

Access the new guide on the Immigration Advocates Network at https://www.immigrationadvocates.org/remotelegal/   

Pro Bono Net and the American Bar Association (ABA) Young Lawyers Division (YLD)  Disaster Legal Services Program are pleased to announce the Spanish version of a self-help disaster recovery tool (www.FEMAAppeals.org) that allows disaster survivors to create an appeal letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The tool, “Carta de apelación a la Agencia Federal de Manejo de Emergencias (FEMA, por sus siglas en inglés),” can be found here. Frequently Asked Questions about the FEMA appeals process can be found here

The frequency, intensity, and aftermath of climate disasters continue to impact communities across the country, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration once again predicts an above-normal hurricane season for 2022. As we have learned from past disaster responses, survivors who speak languages other than English face more barriers in receiving critical information from authorities or accessing disaster assistance that can help them recover and rebuild. 

When Hurricane Ida devastated communities in 2021 across the eastern coast, officials in New York called for improved language access measures to alert individuals who spoke languages other than English and Spanish. After Hurricane Florence hit North Carolina in 2018, over 150,000 individuals who speak a language other than English lived in disaster-impacted areas. Just a year before, the response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and the California wildfires brought a number of language access issues that were well-documented by groups on the ground. 

One of the main federal assistance programs to aid survivors after a major disaster comes from FEMA. Individuals can apply for federal disaster assistance, and if they are denied assistance or awarded less than they need to cover for damages, survivors can appeal FEMA’s determination. Many survivors apply to FEMA but are often denied for reasons that can be explained through an appeal letter with additional documentation. 

Pro Bono Net’s FEMA appeals interactive interview, powered by LawHelp Interactive, enables survivors to create and generate an appeal letter they can print or download to file directly with FEMA. It was initially developed with the City Bar Justice Center in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and has helped over 14,000 survivors impacted by multiple major disasters. It has also been updated over time to reflect changes in the application and appeals process, including in 2021 to incorporate questions that address the needs of survivors with disabilities. These updates come at a time when federal agencies, including FEMA, are reexamining their policies and practices to eliminate barriers that have historically prevented people from accessing federal disaster assistance. 

“Language access is a critical component of equitable disaster recovery,” said Linda Anderson Stanley, Special Advisor of the ABA YLD DLS program. “The additions to this tool come at a key time as the Atlantic hurricane season is upon us. We are lucky to work with Pro Bono Net on such an important project.” 

“We are pleased to work with the ABA YLD Disaster Legal Services Program to make our tool accessible to Spanish-speaking survivors,” said Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz, Pro Bono & Strategic Initiatives Manager at Pro Bono Net. “With Spanish being the second most spoken language in the U.S., this is an important step toward more equitable responses after disasters. We hope to reach more people seeking federal assistance to recover.”

Survivors can access the Spanish version of the FEMA appeals interactive interview by clicking here: https://lawhelpinteractive.org/Interview/GenerateInterview/8187/engine  

To see this post in Spanish, please click here. Para ver este comunicado en español, por favor oprima aquí.

Special thanks to Servicios Legales de Puerto Rico (Legal Services of Puerto Rico), Morrison & Foerster, the Louisiana State Bar Association, the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center, and Nicole del Rio (former member of the ABA-YLD Disaster Legal Services) for their invaluable feedback as part of the review and testing process. 


About Pro Bono Net 

Pro Bono Net is a nonprofit leader in increasing access to justice, transforming the way legal help reaches the underserved through innovative technology and collaboration. To learn more about Pro Bono Net’s programs, click here. For more information about Pro Bono Net’s disaster recovery efforts, click here

About the ABA Young Lawyers Division Disaster Legal Services Program 

Through the Disaster Legal Services Program, the ABA Young Lawyers Division (YLD) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency provide immediate temporary legal assistance to disaster survivors at no charge. Since September 2007, the ABA YLD has responded to over 200 major disasters across the U.S. To learn more about the program, please click here