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

Pro Bono Net y el Programa de Servicios Legales por Desastre de la División de Jóvenes Abogados (Young Lawyers Division, YLD por sus siglas en  inglés) del Colegio de Abogados de Estados Unidos (American Bar Association, ABA por sus siglas en inglés) se complacen en anunciar la versión en español de FEMAAppeals.org, un programa interactivo que permite a los sobrevivientes de desastres crear una carta de apelación a la Agencia Federal para el Manejo de Emergencias (FEMA, por sus siglas en inglés) si se les ha denegado la asistencia o si quisieran apelar la asistencia otorgada. El programa se puede encontrar aquí.

La frecuencia, la intensidad y las consecuencias de los desastres climáticos siguen afectando a las comunidades de todo el país, y la Oficina Nacional de Administración Oceánica y Atmosférica vuelve a predecir una temporada de huracanes superior a la normal para 2022. Como hemos aprendido de las respuestas a desastres anteriores, las personas sobrevivientes que hablan idiomas distintos del inglés se enfrentan a más obstáculos a la hora de recibir información esencial de las autoridades o de acceder a la asistencia en caso de desastre.

Cuando en 2021 el huracán Ida impactó comunidades a lo largo de la costa Este de los Estados Unidos, los funcionarios de Nueva York pidieron que se mejoraran las medidas de acceso lingüístico para poder alertar a las personas que hablan otros idiomas distintos del inglés y el español. Tras el paso del huracán Florence por Carolina del Norte en 2018, más de 150 000 personas que hablan un idioma distinto al inglés vivían en zonas afectadas por el desastre. Justo un año antes, la respuesta a los huracanes Harvey, Irma, María y los incendios forestales de California trajo aparejada una serie de problemas de acceso al idioma  que fueron bien documentados por los grupos que se encontraban trabajando en el lugar.

Uno de los principales programas federales de asistencia para ayudar a los sobrevivientes después de un gran desastre es el que ofrece FEMA. Las personas pueden solicitar la ayuda federal en caso de desastre y, si se les niega la ayuda o se les concede menos de lo que necesitan para cubrir los daños, los sobrevivientes pueden apelar la decisión de FEMA. Muchos sobrevivientes presentan su solicitud a FEMA, pero a menudo se la rechazan por razones que pueden explicarse a través de una carta de apelación con documentación adicional.

Este programa interactivo fue creado por Pro Bono Net con tecnología de LawHelp Interactive y permite a los sobrevivientes crear y generar una carta de apelación que pueden imprimir o descargar para presentarla directamente ante FEMA. Se desarrolló inicialmente en colaboración con el Centro de Justicia del Colegio de Abogados de la Ciudad de Nueva York tras la supertormenta Sandy en 2012 y ha ayudado a más de 14, 000 sobrevivientes afectados por varios desastres. También se ha actualizado a lo largo del tiempo para reflejar los cambios en el proceso de solicitud y apelación de FEMA como en 2021, que se incorporaron preguntas que abordan las necesidades de los sobrevivientes con discapacidades. Estas actualizaciones llegan en un momento en que las agencias federales, incluyendo a FEMA, están reconsiderando sus políticas y prácticas para eliminar los obstáculos que históricamente han impedido a las personas acceder a la asistencia federal en caso de desastre.

“Los servicios accesibles son un componente fundamental para una recuperación equitativa en caso de desastre”, dijo Linda Anderson Stanley, asesora especial del Programa de Servicios Legales por Desastre de la División de Jóvenes Abogados del Colegio de Abogados de Estados Unidos. “Las actualizaciones de esta herramienta llegan en un momento clave, ya que estamos en plena temporada de huracanes en el Atlántico. Tenemos la suerte de colaborar con Pro Bono Net en este proyecto tan importante”.

“Nos complace trabajar con el Programa de Servicios Legales por Desastre de la División de Jóvenes Abogados del Colegio de Abogados de Estados Unidos para hacer disponible nuestra herramienta a las personas sobrevivientes que hablan español”, comentó Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz, gerenta de iniciativas estratégicas y pro bono de Pro Bono Net. “Dado que el español es el segundo idioma más hablado en Estados Unidos, se trata de un paso importante hacia una respuesta más equitativa tras los desastres. Esperamos llegar así a más personas que buscan asistencia federal para recuperarse de un desastre”.

Los sobrevivientes pueden acceder a la versión en español del programa interactivo para apelaciones ante FEMA haciendo clic aquí: https://lawhelpinteractive.org/Interview/GenerateInterview/8187/engine 

Un agradecimiento especial a Servicios Legales de Puerto Rico, Morrison & Foerster, el Colegio de Abogados de Louisiana, el Centro Jurídico para Inmigrantes de Nuevo México y Nicole del Rio (ex miembro del Programa de Servicios Legales por Desastre de la División de Jóvenes Abogados del Colegio de Abogados de Estados Unidos) por sus valiosos comentarios como parte del proceso de revisión.


Acerca de Pro Bono Net

Pro Bono Net es una organización sin fines de lucro, líder en la ampliación del acceso a la justicia, que transforma el modo en que la ayuda legal llega a las personas con bajos ingresos a través de la colaboración y la tecnología innovadora. Para obtener más información sobre los programas de Pro Bono Net, haga clic aquí. Para obtener más información sobre las iniciativas de recuperación en caso de desastre de Pro Bono Net, haga clic aquí.

Acerca del Programa de Servicios Jurídicos en Caso de Desastre de la División de Jóvenes Abogados del Colegio de Abogados de Estados Unidos 

A través del Programa de Servicios Legales por Desastre, la División de Jóvenes Abogados del Colegio de Abogados de Estados Unidos y la Agencia Federal de Manejo de Emergencias ofrecen asistencia legal temporal inmediata y gratuita para los sobrevivientes de desastres. Desde septiembre de 2007, la División de Jóvenes Abogados del Colegio de Abogados de Estados Unidos ha respondido a más de 200 desastres en todo Estados Unidos. Para obtener más información sobre el programa, haga clic aquí.

Revamped site features expanded referral tools and Legal Help Guides on essential topics

Pro Bono Net is pleased to announce the launch of the redesigned and expanded LawHelp.org, the national gateway to nonprofit legal aid resources and referrals in the U.S. This inviting and inclusive redesign allows users to more easily find and access help for fundamental legal  needs.

LawHelp.org was created to help people without lawyers understand their rights, make informed decisions, and connect to help in their local community. This national platform provides referrals to trusted civil legal aid resources in every U.S. state and territory, including a network of 20 statewide legal information portals developed using the LawHelp platform. 

LawHelp.org features basic Legal Help Guides that answer common questions about navigating the legal system and finding free and low cost legal help. The Guides also help people understand their rights and options on pressing national issues such as eviction, reproductive health care rights, and COVID-19. 

The redesigned LawHelp also offers links to helpful legal tools, including: 

  • A national Legal Help Finder for nonprofit civil legal aid and immigration legal services providers across the country. 
  • LawHelp Interactive: A platform that provides free online legal forms with easy-to-follow instructions that empower individuals without a lawyer to create legal documents on their own.
  • Immigration Legal Help: A portal that connects people to help for immigration legal issues, including an affordable path to citizenship.
  • Disaster Legal Help: A resource that connects people impacted by climate-related emergencies to legal support and self-advocacy tools, including for FEMA applications and appeals.

“Millions of people start their search for legal help online, but finding trustworthy information and nonprofit legal services can be hard on the Internet,” said Liz Keith, Program Director at Pro Bono Net. “The new LawHelp.org combines basic legal rights guides with better referral tools to connect people to trusted, community-based help for issues such as family safety, food security, housing stability, and recovery from climate-driven disasters.”

The national LawHelp redesign was developed in collaboration with Pro Bono Net’s design partner, Ideal Design Co, and comes on the heels of a recent redesign of the state LawHelp platform. “The new LawHelp.org was designed the same way we redesigned the state LawHelp platform, employing a human-centered design process with an emphasis on mobile optimization,” said Ariadne Brazo, Product Manager at Pro Bono Net. “From the illustrations, to the map layout, to the way we display our Legal Help Guides, we focused on ensuring users can find a calming yet informative hub of information to help with their legal situation.”

The Spanish language version of LawHelp.org will relaunch this fall. 

Please visit LawHelp.org for more information, or contact Liz Keith, Pro Bono Net’s State and National Programs Director, at lkeith@probono.net.   

To read our three-part blog series on the redesign of the state LawHelp platform, visit: Designing and Testing the New LawHelp

For more information on Pro Bono Net and our programs, visit: https://www.probono.net/programs/

Pro Bono Net, in partnership with LawNY and with funding from the Legal Services Corporation, is excited to announce the relaunch of LawHelpNY.org in the open source framework, Drupal. The LawHelpNY rebuild project is set to launch on July 27, 2022.

Pro Bono Net engaged a design agency to complete a human-centered design review process to evaluate and incorporate the lived experiences and perspectives of the people that LawHelpNY serves. The results of the process provided us with design and technical recommendations for a reimagined, elevated user experience. The new site reflects our vision of creating a mobile-first, inclusive, and easily accessible experience for LawHelpNY users to quickly find the help they need. In addition, the new LawhelpNY.org is defined by streamlined workflows that enable content creators and managers to keep information current and accessible.

Through LawHelpNY.org, we provide individuals with know-your-rights resources, self-help tools, court information, and attorney referral information. LawHelpNY also provides rapid access to resources for intake workers, hotline staff, and community organizations. Additionally, LawHelpNY’s referral directory is now available via API to make it accessible on other websites that individuals visit for legal help.

A central goal of LawHelpNY is to serve as an essential hub of important legal information and resources that maximize the ability of legal service providers to connect with people in need. LawHelpNY’s role as a necessary element of wrap-around legal services enhances access to these critical resources for the general public and reduces the likelihood of unintended duplication of efforts among the statewide legal services community. 

Veronica Dunlap, Director of New York Programs at Pro Bono Net, is leading the team on the relaunch of LawHelpNY.org. She shared, “[W]e are excited to show our legal service partners and the New Yorkers who rely on LawHelpNY that we have heard their feedback and will deliver  a more intuitive, streamlined experience that takes into account the culturally unique community of New York State. We are grateful for their input and support.”

Learn more about the LawHelpNY Advisory Committee Organizations:

For more information, comments, or questions about LawHelpNY.org, please contact Veronica Dunlap, New York Program Director at Pro Bono Net, at vdunlap@probono.net.

Welcome to Part III of our three-part series on our design process of the LawHelp Refresh design.

In Part II we discussed how we structured usability testing and how we recruited participants. If you haven’t yet, check out Part I and Part II. This week we will look into our results including both what went well and what failed. Finally I will share our next steps and another exciting upcoming project on LawHelp.

Again I want to offer a special thanks to Lagniappe Law Lab who maintains the content on LouisianaLawHelp.org. They also provided a lot of helpful feedback on the design and its usability. You can check out the new LawHelp Refresh design on sites like GeorgiaLegalAid.orgWashingtonLawHelp.org, and LawHelp.org/HI among many others.

Part III

It was inevitable that we would run into numerous issues when testing such a large-scale redesign. We did indeed surface a list of reiterations to carry out but the overall user experience proved to be much more successful than I had anticipated. When I test designs, I go into usability testing eager to surface the problems. Being proven wrong is super valuable and saves you lots of time and resources. This left me rather surprised that so much of our goals proved successful in this beta site.

The full analysis was quite long (18 pages long) and so I’ll spare you all the finer details and share these highlights from our results:

  1. Intended user pathways
  2. Graphic design engagement
  3. Information hierarchy
  4. Labeling confusion
  5. Other issues

Intended user pathways

The most encouraging finding was that all users successfully followed the pathways we had intended. No users got lost trying to navigate through the site. The multiple pathways we included to important destinations were utilized well and we never ran into a situation where a user was stumped and would just abandon the site. This was consistent with the mobile experience too.

The way most LawHelp sites are structured aims to point users to three main areas to find solutions to their legal issues:

  1. Resource articles and tools — These are organized on the homepage into various legal topics and often include interview tools and links to legal forms.
  2. Legal aid referrals — Our Directory tool organizes a listing of civil legal aid organizations in that state that users can contact to get free representation and consultation.
  3. Search — A typical keyword search tool to surface site-wide results.

Although this strategy varies across our network of state partners, there is a general theme that goes something like this:

First, try to help users find answers themselves through resources and tools. These are articles, links to external content, and tools such as interviews or legal form generation.

Second, when a user needs more than written information and needs to take the step to talk to a human, help them find an appropriate organization to refer them to.

Third, when they haven’t found their answer, surface relevant information based on keyword search. Keyword search is particularly useful when the user has a very specific need.

AlabamaLawHelp.org’s improved homepage design. When users hover over a topic card, it becomes highlighted.

In the old LawHelp design, these user pathways were not always distinct. Some users didn’t even realize there was a search bar, others leaned heavily on the search bar because they found navigating the site wasn’t very easy. The legal topics on the homepage weren’t formatted as cleanly as they could be and didn’t encourage engagement.

Check out this screenshot of the old design on LouisianaLawHelp.org. You’ll notice the overreliance on text, the alignment issues on legal topics, and just in general how nothing screams “click me!”

The old LawHelp design

With the new design, we successfully struck a balance where users seemed to first want to interact with the legal topics and surf the resources under those topics. After reading up on their issue, they went to find a lawyer or organization to speak to. Finally, if they felt they couldn’t find their answer, they utilized the Search bar to enter keywords.

This exactly how we wanted it to go which was exciting! Since we launched the new site, our Google Analytics seems to back this up where legal topics represent the bulk of user pathways.

Graphic design engagement

How did we get users to follow those pathways as intended? We made use of a far more compelling visual design. The way we contained legal topics into cards, utilized color, and inserted hover-over animations played a big role here. Check out this gif of the new design in action.

There’s a lot of improvements going on here. The use of color is much bolder. The use of hover-over animation and color changes is entirely new. We use contained cards to separate information better and push users towards making selections.

It was abundantly clear during testing that users were much more interested in engaging with the design. We decided to offer six color palette options so that states can better differentiate their site from others. We made sure to achieve at least AA WCAG 2.0 contrast standards, but usually AAA in most places. All six palettes offer strong use of color while allowing for different site personalities.

Information hierarchy

When we say “information hierarchy” we are talking about the way information on the site is organized and structured. Does it make sense to users? Can they differentiate the difference between a topic and subtopic? Can they take an issue such as eviction, and use navigation to find relevant information or do they get lost and have to rely on the search bar?

We found that in all areas of the site that the information was easily accessible and interpreted by users. Topic-based navigation was highly successful, users were able to differentiate between primary and secondary information (such as resource content vs sidebar links). Once on a resource, we found that resources that made use of various organizational features performed best.

For example, Louisiana’s Hurricane Ida resource utilizes a tabbed layout including the FAQ module. This gives users tabs to navigate through and sort out information. The FAQ module offers a pleasant experience in finding answers to your specific questions. The FAQ module is great for frequently asked questions but it works for any way you want to organize a list of information. Such as listing out county-specific information or outlining each step in the process of obtaining a name change.

The FAQ module in action on LouisianaLawHelp.org

Labeling confusion

One larger issue we surfaced was that users found some titles and labels difficult to interpret. The biggest example of this was in the Legal Aid Directory. This is a listing of all civil legal aid organizations in the state where users can search and peruse organizations to contact. Many LawHelp sites label this in the navigation bar as “Find Legal Help.” Initially this was to simplify the language and make it more accessible to understand.

Unfortunately, in testing, we found that this was too simplified. Users already see themselves on this site to find legal help and so having a main navigation item with that label was too vague. We are currently using one LawHelp site to test alternative language and see if engagement increases. Legal Aid Organizations or Find a Lawyer are possible solutions.

The other tool users couldn’t interpret was the Quick Exit feature. This is a common tool in the field of intimate partner violence (AKA “domestic violence”) where some users are seeking help under duress, worried that an abuser may walk in on them trying to find help. The user can then click on this big red button in the top right corner to quickly exit the page and switch over to a generic search engine site.

OregonLawHelp.org utilizes the Quick Exit feature

No user tried to use this feature and we had to ask them specifically for their interpretation of it. Users thought it would close the page, clear their search filters and language settings, or return to the homepage. What’s more is they couldn’t figure out why that search engine page loaded when they clicked on it. Fortunately, since no users interacted with it, we aren’t worried about much confusion there. It’s also a commonly known tool for people seeking help around Intimate Partner Violence (IPV)/Domestic Violence (DV) so we are optimistic that it will be understood by users who need it. We do have a hover over tooltip that explains how it works. Some other websites who have similar features use a pop-up to inform users of this feature when they reach the site. Pop ups are ignored immediately by the vast majority of users so we haven’t yet gone down this route to increase discoverability.

Other issues

Finally, we had a number of other smaller issues arise. We had tried diverting from the industry standard mobile menu button with the three horizontal lines (hamburger menu) to try out something that simply said “Main Menu.” This was a total failure so we quickly reiterated this back to the hamburger menu and it then performed very well.

Before

After

We have a feature for allowing users to change subtopics while perusing resources under a subtopic. Example: Looking at results under Housing → Eviction and then wanting to switch to Repairs without needing to use the main navigation menu. 0% of users utilized this so we are currently reiterating on this. It appears to be too well hidden. The main information on the page is to the right and the tool is in the mid-upper left. This hasn’t been an immediate concern because users successfully switched subtopics using the main navigation without complaint. We are in the middle of redesigning this now and aim to move this tool closer to the content and make it look more like a breadcrumb.

The Other Problems dropdown feature on GeorgiaLegalAid.org

Finally, we found that users had trouble discerning the meaning between “Content Detail” and “Read More” when looking at listings of resources. The difference between the two is that “Read More” will lead you to a resource on the site where you can read a whole article on this issue. “Content Detail” is a button associated with an external resource. Clicking on that title will send you directly to an external resource. Clicking on the “Content Detail” button will send you to a short internal page that describes what kind of external content you are about to head to.

Two resource cards from LawHelpNC.org

Users didn’t show any concerning issues here though. We have found that users are so used to clicking around to figure out how things work, it’s very unlikely that we will see users throw up their hands and say “well I don’t know the difference between those so I am going to leave this site now.” Sometimes labels don’t need 100% success in interpretation, they just need to be navigable.

Next Steps

So what did we do next? First we conducted a detailed analysis of the research findings. We broke it out into design affirmations (things that proved us right) and complications (things that need fixing). We then prioritized those complications, considering what needs reiteration prior to launch, what can wait but should be fixed, and what doesn’t pose a significant barrier to success and thus can wait indefinitely.

I like to use the MoSCoW framework for prioritization.

  • Must: Improvements that are critical. Without fixing this, there will be huge problems.
  • Should: These are important fixes but they could wait a little longer before they become a “must.”
  • Could: These are nice to haves. If they are small efforts, we do them now. If they are higher effort, we bookmark them for later.
  • Won’t: Things we likely won’t ever do with an explanation of why.

Tip: The MoSCoW framework can be used to prioritize all kinds of things from product road-mapping, to design reiteration, to packing a suitcase for a long vacation (Years ago, I developed a spreadsheet and equation for the latter).

As we rolled the design out to additional states, we also incorporated additional, iterative community feedback. Ideally we’ll have the resources to dig into the small issues later on.

We also developed six standard color palettes, ensuring that each fits WCAG 2.0 standards of at least AA if not AAA. We did the same for three custom palettes some of our state partners contracted us to do. We fixed the mobile menu. We drafted design requirements for our designer to fix the Other Problems menu, and we conducted some other minor fixes.

Tip: Check out WebAim.org for a free color contrast checker tool.

Announcing the new LawHelp.org

The biggest next step is to redesign the national LawHelp.org website! We are so thrilled to apply this new design to our national gateway website. Many LawHelp state sites are reached first through this national gateway site and so we expect even more engagement once we improve the user experience and interface there. As of now, we have finished the design process and are beginning development. Keep an eye on LawHelp.org for that redesign later this summer.