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.

Welcome to Part II of how we at Pro Bono Net designed and tested the new LawHelp Refresh design. Check out AlaskaLawHelp.orgMontanaLawHelp.org, and AlabamaLegalHelp.org (among many others) to see it in action. Back in Part I, I discussed how we handled the design process itself and the kinds of lessons we learned. In Part II, we will now look at how we structured usability testing including how we recruited participants.

A special thanks to Lagniappe Law Lab who maintains the content on LouisianaLawHelp.org, our pilot partner for this project. We not only launched with them first but Lagniappe Law Lab was a huge help in recruiting participants so that we could test that site with local users.

Part II

Usability test structure

Once the design process was over and a pilot site design had been completed, we began usability testing. Usability testing simply tests how intuitive a design is. Can users easily navigate the site? Are they using our intended workflows? Where do they get stuck or lost? And what surprises are there? If you are curious to learn more about why we usability test, check out the Connecting Justice Communities blog where I wrote last summer about our usability testing process, why you should embrace being proven wrong, and how to quickly reiterate post-testing.

Our usability test structure can be boiled down to a few key components:

  1. Real-life scenarios
  2. Organic interaction
  3. Avoiding leading the user
  4. Standardized scripts & recordings
  5. Recruitment

Real-life scenarios

Usability testing is exactly what it sounds like, it’s testing how usable a site is. This is done with real users, using real life scenarios as a backdrop for finding critical resources on LawHelp.org sites. When the user cannot complete the task we gave them or is confused by something, that means the design has failed the test (not the user).

To test this new design, we developed a beta version of LouisianaLawHelp.org in the new design where all the components of the site were functional. Using a possible eviction as the scenario, we explained to each participant that they should pretend that they live in an apartment, their landlord is considering selling the building, and that they are worried about being evicted. We then walked them through a process of finding information on eviction, landlord negligence on repairs relating to a recent hurricane, and more.

Here is the exact prompt we used:

“Let’s say you rent an apartment and found out your landlord is considering selling the building. You did a web search for ‘Louisiana eviction’ and clicked on a link that sent you here.

When planning this scenario, we considered a few things:

  1. Is this scenario clear, common, and relatable?
  2. Will this scenario be nuanced enough that the user will need to visit several areas of the site?
  3. Will the user be able to hold this in their mind the entire time, simulating a realistic search session?

Organic Interaction

When picking a scenario for usability testing, you want to ensure that you can hold off on leading the user as much as possible. Organic interaction is the most ideal testing ground to see how your design will hold up in the wild. This is tricky because you do need to test a number of components and thus, without leading them too much, you need to structure it so that they will likely interact with the components you are testing.

Here’s an example of how we struck that balance. Most LawHelp users arrive at a LawHelp page having done a web search for a legal issue such as “eviction Louisiana” or “divorce NYC.” They then click a link to a LawHelp site directly into a resource page. This means they visit LawHelp first by going about 3 pages deep immediately, bypassing the homepage.

So where did we start our testers? On a resource page! We gave them a link and then simply said “take a look through this page and tell me what you see.” This kept things open but gave us a ton of information. We observed what they found in the content, how they navigated that content, how they interacted with the navigation bar and footer areas, etc. By keeping the prompt so open-ended, we also found out what things grab the user’s attention as well as what they completely ignore.

Tip: Be prepared to see some of your most beloved design choices be totally ignored. This is good because again, it’s best to be proven wrong early rather than later!

Avoiding leading the user

We then wanted to see, could the user find other resources on a related topic (a common existing LawHelp user path). We asked them,

“Now after reading this, let’s say your landlord has failed to make some necessary repairs. Where would you go now to find help on this?”

This was an organic question within the scenario but this pushed the user to find primary navigation tools, navigate information hierarchy, interpret labels and calls to action, etc.

Don’t ask questions like, “find the navigation bar” or “can you find the filter for other topics?” These are extremely specific and don’t capture the way an average person would approach the site. As a user, you are thinking about your eviction issue, not site components.

The only exception is if you feel a major component, such as the search bar, is not being noticed at all even after several scenarios that would likely lead to organic interaction with it. At that point, you could break and ask “do you see a place to search by keywords?” This is a helpful last result. I have had to do this on previous projects and it proved that certain components were totally undiscoverable.

I want to underline that this is a last resort. It is essentially a post-mortem question. During analysis, you’ll have to acknowledge that they did not find it until you pointed it out. It’s helpful to ask but can only be used to prove that they couldn’t find it on their own.

Standardized scripts

A key aspect of reliable results is conducting the tests in a standardized way. Use the same script, say the same words, and record the session. The more you deviate from the initial structure, the more likely it is you will get different results which muddies the waters when it comes time for analysis.

Usability testing is (most of the time) not “pure” research. Pure research is rigorous, highly scientific, and undergoes peer review (as Erika Hall explains in Just Enough Research which I highly recommend). Most tech teams won’t have the luxury of such a slow and rigorous process. However, the more control you can keep over the consistency of testing experience between participants the better.

Recordings

Record your sessions! This is crucial. You will not remember everything and taking verbatim notes during the session is both difficult and pulls you out of what’s happening. Plus, recordings allow colleagues to review the session too and provide alternate interpretations and perspectives. At the end of testing, you will definitely need to refer back to a recording. Keep them clearly labeled and organized in your drive for easy reference.

A note on ethics: Your participants should know well before the session begins that you are recording the session. They should also know exactly what you will do with the recordings, whether they will be published/quoted in any way, who will have access to them, etc. We inform our participants that we will never publish recordings without their permission and that if we quote them in publications, we will do so in an anonymous manner. Recording requires strong ethics so get your policy straight before even inviting people to sign up.

Recruitment

We recruited carefully, attempting to reach a diverse set of users that would give us the varied perspectives and experiences we needed. We did this both alongside Lagniappe Law Lab, our pilot partner, and via our larger LawHelp network channels. We attempted to find a diverse grouping around:

  • Income
  • Race/ethnicity
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Occupation and familiarity with the legal system

The latter point was to try and get users who are both self helpers and professional helpers. The self helpers are users who come to LawHelp looking for help for themselves or a loved one. Professional helpers tend to be paralegals, social workers, or even attorneys who are trying to refer clients to helpful resources and services.

Tip: When creating a sign-up form, don’t forget to ask basic questions like “Do you have a reliable internet connection? What devices do you have access to? Do your devices have a working webcam?” These may seem obvious to you but they aren’t to everyone.

We utilized web forms and spreadsheets to get people recruited and then review the pool of respondents. We disqualified anyone without internet access or without necessary devices, these were non-starters in our ability to include them. We then sorted the data by the various demographics and began segmenting them into mobile and desktop, targeting our demographic ratio goals.

Tip: Wondering how many users to test? The rule of thumb is 5 users for mobile, 5 users for desktop. Scale that up if you have several highly distinct user groups.

Recruitment is tricky because in the end, you are reliant upon whether your participants decide to show up to the session or not. You can do things to increase your chances of success like including financial incentives (we paid our participants in Visa gift cards), flexible available hours, session reminders day before and day of, etc. However, when testing with the general public, you should expect about half or more of your scheduled sessions will be either re-scheduled or completely abandoned.

This meant that our careful targeting of a diverse group across those five demographics had varying success rates. We did land a good balance on age, occupation/subject matter familiarity (the range was 2–6 on a scale of 1–10), and income.

Race and gender ended up being more lopsided though. Our participants were 20% Multi-racial, 10% Hispanic, 10% African American, and 60% Caucasian. We feel this doesn’t accurately represent the demographics of who the justice system impacts the most.

Gender ended up being 100% binary-identified users, 80% female and 20% male. Additionally, none of our survey respondents who identified as non-binary or transgender responded to session invites.

Testing begins in Part III…

Ultimately though, we did find highly insightful results that facilitated impactful reiteration. Because the scale of this redesign was so large, I went into the testing process expecting a laundry list of usability issues to arise. It’s just a natural part of the design process when making such global changes. What we found surprised us all. That’s all in Part III.

“The change that I’ve seen and the growth that I’ve seen in pro bono departments has been so inspiring to me. But that also means that there is always efficiency that is required because they are in charge of pro bono matters for the entire law firm, and so it’s really important for them to have access to their information easily.” – Jessica Stuart

Pro Bono Net’s Senior Product Manager, Jessica Stuart, recently was interviewed on the Pioneers and Pathfinders Podcast, hosted by J. Stephen Poor, chair emeritus of Seyfarth Shaw. Pioneers and Pathfinders is a podcast about the people driving change in the legal industry.¹

In this episode of Pioneers and Pathfinders, Jessica discusses how she transitioned from doing marketing in the entertainment industry to working her way to her current position of Senior Product Manager at Pro Bono Net. Jessica also discusses the growth and evolution of Pro Bono Net, the power of virtual courtrooms to increase access to justice, pro bono workflow analysis, and how SeyfarthLean was an early inspiration.²

Jessica is passionate about access to justice, and her motivation has fueled the development of Pro Bono Net’s Pro Bono Manager. For over 10 years, law firms have been using Pro Bono Manager to help them be more effective and increase the impact of their pro bono programs. With a centralized pro bono database at their fingertips, pro bono teams have easy access to the data they need no matter where they are, helping them support the attorneys who conduct valuable pro bono work for communities in need. 

Jessica has also helped lead the platform development and product strategy for Pro Bono Net’s Remote Legal Connect platform. Our Remote Legal Connect technology allows legal services providers, pro bono initiatives, courts, and community partners to rapidly build and manage a legal support program regardless of location. The platform enabled legal services organizations to transform their operations during unprecedented shelter-in-place orders, and stand up new models for statewide assistance. Jessica has been crucial in implementing the development strategy for partnerships with Atlanta Legal Aid Society (Georgia Legal Connect) and Legal Aid of Nebraska (Nebraska Legal Aid Connect).

For more information and to listen to this podcast, visit Seyfarth’s website. For more information on Pro Bono Manager, visit: probono.net/our-work/advocates/pbm and to learn more about Remote Legal Connect, visit: probono.net/programs/rlc.


¹ https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/pioneers-and-pathfinders/id1558294456 

² https://www.seyfarth.com/news-insights/pioneers-and-pathfinders-jessica-stuart.html

We recently launched a new design of the LawHelp platform (managed by Pro Bono Net) to make major improvements to the aesthetic design as well as the overall user interface (UI) and user experience (UX). We first launched the new design on LouisianaLawHelp.org with our pilot partner Lagniappe Law Lab. Since then we have implemented the new design on just about every LawHelp site across the country. You can see other examples at AyudaLegalPR.orgOKLaw.orgLawHelp.org/DC among many others. We call it the LawHelp Refresh.

The new homepage of LouisianaLawHelp.org

When we set out to re-design LawHelp, we wanted to meet four main design goals:

  1. Mobile-optimized design — A strong mobile design that isn’t an afterthought to the desktop design but rather a primary focus.
  2. Refreshed aesthetic — An overall improved aesthetic to bring LawHelp into the realm of contemporary web design including a wider range of color palettes available, all that meet WCAG 2.0 AA guidelines.
  3. Decreased reliance on text — Reducing the need for explainer text through intuitive and accessible design.
  4. Improved calls to action (CTA’s) — Making it much clearer to users where to go and how to get there.

We have learned a ton during this project across the board and I want to share some of the key things we learned all the way from design through usability testing. In this three-part series, I’ll first describe a bit about our design process. This was a big project spanning more than 20 websites and we learned a lot through it. In Part II I’ll share how we recruited for and structured our usability testing. We’ll dig into what usability testing is, how to structure a usability test script, and pitfalls to avoid. Finally, in Part III, I’ll outline what our results were, how the design succeeded and failed, and what we did next.

Part I

Our design process, with our longtime design partner Ideal Design Co., was rigorous and included extensive input from our LawHelp team, the wider Pro Bono Net team, and of course our state partners across the country. We pored through numerous design iterations and explored several avenues for how to improve the LawHelp design. I can’t count how many rounds of revisions we had but I know it was more than enough! A few things that helped us succeed in the design process:

  1. Tiered feedback
  2. Centralizing documentation and discussion
  3. Folding in technical input
  4. Frequent communication with design

Tiered feedback

The LawHelp platform supports over 20 websites across the country and meets the needs of numerous user types and civil legal aid organizations. This means we have numerous stakeholders which makes design difficult! In the past I have worked on platforms where our stakeholders were much more centralized and our user types were more focused which made for a simpler design process.

 

 

A map of the areas LawHelp is active

We needed to get feedback from the internal LawHelp team at PBN, staff in the wider Pro Bono Net organization with experience developing legal information websites and self-advocacy tools, our state civil legal aid organization partners, and our users. That’s a lot of cooks and our kitchen can’t fit them all. So we set up a tiered system of feedback. The LawHelp team was at the center, spending the most time and going through all of the details, big and small. We would then post our design notes and documents to the wider Pro Bono Net organization for feedback and input.

Then, at regular intervals in the design process, we sent out announcements to all of our LawHelp state partners to review and submit feedback. This included an open invitation for emails but also some drop-in sessions where we presented our progress and opened the mic up for feedback. We also drew on findings from past usability testing on LawHelp sites and other legal resource sites such as TenantHelpNY.org to inform our design process. This process struck a good balance between efficiently progressing on the designs while including valuable feedback and perspectives from outside the team.

This diagram shows how we set this up. The white triangle to the left shows the practices we used to ensure that the perspectives and experiences of each group were able to cut all the way through directly to our product team.

The communication structure used to make feedback and input efficient

Centralizing documentation and discussion

A key ingredient to any effective tech team is strong project organization and communication. It’s so important that in the past, at every tech company/organization I have worked at, we have taken time out specifically to redesign our file structure in Google Drive. This was key during our design process because we were able to easily store the numerous versions of design files. We used clear labeling systems for each design file so you knew which was the most recent. Those file names then corresponded to a single design review document that we used for documenting discussion.

Let’s say you were on the LawHelp team and on a Wednesday morning, you had set aside time to review the most recent designs. Instead of digging through emails or Slack, you had one Drive folder bookmarked. In this you could find the design review document. At the top of the document was a header “Wireframes V6 (current).” That header hyperlinked to the design file so you could easily pull it up. A week later, when V7 came out, you’d see that header change to drop the “(current)” part of the title and simply say “Wireframes V6” and above that is a fresh new area for discussion called “Wireframes V7 (current).”

Below is a screenshot directly from our review document.

Screenshot of a section of the design review document

Folding in technical input

A big stumbling block in the software development process can be failing to include the engineering team early on. We included our developers and QA team in the design review process and utilized our project management tool, Jira, to keep track of various discussion points. This was especially helpful when considering new features or major changes to existing ones. This helped prevent some surprises down the road when it came time to code (although you simply cannot prevent all surprises).

Jira is a great tool for software project management. It’s a very powerful tool and requires a large amount of investment in setting up. Its numerous features for organizing projects were a huge help in keeping track of numerous discussion points big and small such as a new Google Maps integration and what dependencies there would be. You may not need a tool as powerful as Jira though depending on the nature of your projects.

Frequent communication with design

Never let design become a game of telephone! It’s tempting to do especially when your designer is not in-house. You hear something from your developer, pass it to your project manager, who then pings the product manager, who then drops a comment in the Google Doc to the designer. This inevitably leads to information loss and your designer then moves forward with only half (or less) of the story.

Since our designer for this project was not in-house, we kept a clear open line of communication. We would easily jump into a video chat if anything was too complex or nuanced to outline in a document. As the product manager for this project, I made sure to utilize active listening skills when centralizing feedback. The key skill here is repeating back to people what you think they are saying and allowing them to correct you. This made sure I was getting it right and allowed for less meetings. It meant I didn’t need to have seven+ people on a call with our designer while still avoiding the game of telephone.

A good phrase to get comfortable using is, “Let me make sure I’ve got this right. What I hear you saying is [X,Y,Z]” That phrase has saved me more time and trouble than I can quantify. I know that because in the times I didn’t exercise that skill, things went in circles.

This lesson on active listening skills applies pretty much everywhere in our lives though, not just work. It’s amazing how much we assume and get wrong. Plus, everyone appreciates knowing that the person they are speaking to is actively working to hear them.

In Part II…

That’s how we structured the design process. Eventually we finished up, went through the development process, and then prepared to usability test as soon as the beta site was complete. Exactly how we usability tested is all in Part II.

“Volunteering doesn’t have to be direct legal services or taking on a case, I think that is actually a misconception. It can also be reviewing or preparing know your rights materials for the public on a topic you’re an expert on, or it can be conducting research on policy or being a mentor to a law student.” – Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz

This month officially marks the beginning of the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season, which ends in November. What should attorneys and other legal advocates know about the legal needs disaster survivors face, and why does that matter if we want to help communities recover? Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz, Pro Bono Net’s Pro Bono & Strategic Initiatives Manager, recently went on Practising Law Institute’s Pursuing Justice: The Pro Bono Files Podcast to discuss Pro Bono Net’s Disaster Response Initiative. This podcast provides a behind-the-scenes exploration of pro bono and public interest legal work.¹ 

In this episode, Alicia Aiken, Director of the Danu Center’s Confidentiality Institute and Faculty Fellow at Practising Law Institute (PLI), talks to Jeanne and other seasoned disaster relief attorneys about how pro bono can make a difference in disasters, and how lawyers can prepare to pitch in.²

When asked about how attorneys can prepare in helping after a disaster, Jeanne says:

“One of the things that Pro Bono Net did with Equal Justice Works and Lone Star Legal Aid was the PLI training on current and emerging disaster response issues, which I think is an excellent resource for people who are new to disaster legal aid, and we cover everything from the lifecycle of disaster legal issues, how to advocate for survivors, and changes in federal regulations that have taken place in recent months.”

Another great resource Jeanne highlights is:

“One of the things that Pro Bono Net did after the 2017 major disasters was build on our partnership with Lone Star Legal Aid to create the National Disaster Legal Aid Advocacy Center, which is an online resource to facilitate connections between advocates working in disaster legal aid and also to give additional visibility to what’s going on in the disaster legal aid field.”

For more information and to listen to the podcast, visit Practising Law Institute’s website. For more information on Pro Bono Net’s disaster work, visit: probono.net/our-work/initiatives/disaster


¹ https://www.pli.edu/probono/probonopodcast 

² https://www.pli.edu/probono/probonopodcast/episode-21

“I’m very excited about the future as we include communities that we have over-policed or stigmatized and under-invested in, because I think that’s where technology and justice, we create the biggest gain for the whole society, not just the communities that were left out, that now we’re bringing in.” 

Claudia Johnson, LawHelp Interactive Program Manager, recently went on the Law 2030 Podcast presented by University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School’s Future of the Profession Initiative. This podcast focuses on the many changes afoot in the legal profession and implications for lawyers, law students, clients, and leaders across the industry.¹

Claudia was interviewed by Jennifer Leonard, Chief Innovation Officer at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, alongside Miguel Willis, Executive Director of the Access to Justice Tech Program and The Future of the Profession Initiative’s first Innovator in Residence. 

The podcast covers private and public partnerships and asks how the private sectors and for-profits firms can support Access to Justice initiatives. Claudia highlighted the partnership between Pro Bono Net and AbacusNext. AbacusNext is the creator of HotDocs, one of the most robust document assembly software tools. Claudia shared: 

“For over 10 years, we have managed a discount for the legal nonprofit of 70% for those software products, so that they can use them to create legal forms. And this is a longstanding public private relationship. I don’t know if there’s another example in the US of such a longstanding and collaborative partnership.”

She also encouraged the private sector to support nonprofits with cyber security needs and capacity building and talked about the benefits of incentives and collaboration, such as the partnership between CLIO, LawDroid, and others sponsoring the American Legal Tech Awards. The goal of these Awards is to highlight innovation for courts, legal aid, pro bono, and tech companies to improve access to legal services and assistance through tech.

Claudia is the LawHelp Interactive (LHI) Program Manager. LHI is the only free, national online document assembly platform used across 40 states. It allows people representing themselves to create accurate court forms simply, easily, and for free. It is also used by nonprofit legal aid programs and courts across the country to help people navigate complex processes – and to make those processes more accessible, responsive, and person-centered.

For more information and to listen to this podcast, please visit Penn Law’s website. For more information on LawHelp Interactive, visit probono.net/our-work/individuals/lhi, or go directly to their website at lawhelpinteractive.org. For nonprofits who are interested in accessing the 70% discount for LawHelp Interactive, please contact Claudia Johnson at cjohnson@probono.net


¹ https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/law-2030/id1505898171

Pro Bono Net will be represented at the 2022 Equal Justice Conference (EJC). This conference, from May 11-14, 2022, is hosted by the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service and the National Legal Aid & Defender Association. 

The Equal Justice Conference is an annual gathering of legal services and pro bono advocates to share and learn about developments and innovations in providing legal services to low-income persons.  

Pro Bono Net is a national nonprofit leader in increasing access to justice through innovative uses of technology and collaboration. Our staff is made up of a cross-disciplinary team from legal, technology, and community engagement backgrounds who are committed to creating innovative, sustainable solutions for expanding access to justice. The Equal Justice Conference brings together all sectors of the legal community to discuss equal justice issues and strengthening partnerships among the key players in the civil justice system. 

Look for Liz, Rodrigo or Jeanne at one of the sessions below, at the Networking lunch on Thursday, or reach out to us directly if you’d like to connect. We hope to see many of you there!  

Thursday, May 12th

10:00am – 11:30am CDT: 50 Tech Tips 2022 

This fast-paced, engaging session will provide tips about free and low-cost technology relevant to the access to justice community. This will include new mobile apps, remote work tools, web platforms, information security resources, and solutions for Windows and macOS. Technology leaders will emphasize practical, accessible technology that helps legal professionals do their work more effectively while encouraging audience feedback and participation throughout the presentation.

  • Liz Keith, Pro Bono Net
  • David Bonebrake, Legal Services Corporation
  • LaDierdre Johnson, Legal Services National Technology Assistance Project
  • Glenn Rawdon, Legal Services Corporation
  • Jane Ribadeneyra, Legal Services Corporation

1:30pm-3:00pm CDT: Helping the Helpers: Tech and Training Strategies to Support Community Justice Partners 

This session will spotlight examples of technology and training tools designed to equip frontline allies with knowledge and support to effectively and appropriately help people with legal issues. Drawing on examples in housing, elder justice, public benefits, wage theft, domestic violence, and other areas, panelists will discuss how these models work and what we are learning from them. We will highlight well-established and cutting-edge initiatives alike, and approaches that can be adapted for new settings to strengthen collaborations with community justice allies.

  • Rodrigo Camarena, Immigration Advocates Network
  • Liz Keith, Pro Bono Net
  • Nikole Nelson, Alaska Legal Services Corporation
  • Martina Tiku, Equal Justice Works Fellow, NAACP

Friday, May 13th

8:30am-10:00am CDT: Got Disaster? An Interactive Session on Making Disaster Preparedness and Relief More Equitable

This interactive session will ask attendees to react and plan for a disaster guided by subject matter experts from across the country. The session will focus on real world work with an eye towards equity issues and proposed solutions.

  • Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz, Pro Bono Net
  • Katherine Asaro, North Carolina Legal Education Assistance Foundation
  • Tiela Chalmers, Alameda County Bar Association & Legal Access Alameda
  • Iris Peoples Green, Disability Rights North Carolina
  • Cheryl Naja, Alston & Bird LLP

Information Justice: Centering Access, Equity and Care in Legal Resource Design

  • Liz Keith, Pro Bono Net
  • Claudia Johnson, Pro Bono Net (via recorded video)

“There is a huge value in ensuring that the legal system, at all levels, is responsive to the needs and lived experiences of those without resources. In order to make that happen, we need interventions by lawyers, legal advocates, courts and community-based organizations at every point in the system. Everyone has a role to play.” – Mark O’Brien

Pro Bono Net’s Executive Director, Mark O’Brien, recently went on Bob Ambrogi’s LawNext Podcast to discuss how Pro Bono Net got its start and how Pro Bono Net’s work and programs support access to justice. In the podcast, Mark O’Brien describes Pro Bono Net’s evolution from “bringing the power of lawyers to all” to “bringing the power of the law to all.”

“The legal know-how of lawyers is still important, and as technology has evolved, some of that know-how can be embedded in the technology itself.” – Mark O’Brien

Pro Bono Net’s mission is to bring the power of the law to all by building cutting-edge digital tools and fostering collaborations with the nation’s leading civil legal organizations. Each day, Pro Bono Net helps thousands of people – particularly those living on the economic or social margins – understand their legal rights and options, find help in their local communities, and resolve life-changing legal problems.

“People should be empowered to understand and participate in the resolution of their own problems.” -Mark O’Brien

For more information and to listen to this podcast, please visit the LawNext website. Thank you to LawNext’s host, Bob Ambrogi, for a thoughtful discussion of Pro Bono Net and access to justice for all.

On August 3, 2021,  the Centers for Disease Control (C.D.C.) implemented a groundbreaking housing federal eviction moratorium in areas substantially hit by COVID infections, so as to ease the burden on public health control measures in the wake of the pandemic. 

As innovative as the edict was, unfortunately the federal order came to an end less than a month later, on August 26, 2021, when the Supreme Court invalidated the housing mandate. The majority opinion stated, “The C.D.C. has imposed a nationwide moratorium on evictions in reliance on a decades-old statute that authorizes it to implement measures like fumigation and pest extermination…It strains credulity to believe that this statute grants the C.D.C. the sweeping authority that it asserts.”¹ Regardless, a stay of execution was temporarily granted by New York Governor Kathy Hochul on September 2, 2021, extending the statewide moratorium until January 15, 2022.²

While the New York State extension of the moratorium brought much needed relief to tenants in crisis, the moratorium in New York was not extended beyond the January 15 expiration date, and with its expiration comes the departure of an important safety net in the battle to curb COVID transmission and the fight against housing inequality. New York, in particular, greatly benefitted from the eviction moratorium, as the state is home to the largest renting population in the country (largely due to New York City). New York State has 700,000 households behind on rent, only to be topped by California with its metric of 750,000 households.³ Although the struggles of tenants facing eviction are similar, some geographic differences on the impact of the eviction crisis are significant.

Specifically, the Bronx reigns as the most indicative example of tenant hardship during COVID-19 as more than 26,000 households have been sued by their landlords since the start of the pandemic, vastly outpacing other large American cities.⁴ Before the pandemic, more than ⅓ of Bronx residents spent more than half their income on rent, a shuddering prospect when considering the ramifications of the expiration of the statewide eviction moratorium.

In New York City and Greater New York, more case studies of housing-related COVID hardships can be found. Those who lost employment during the pandemic will find it hard to procure new housing as a result of not having proof of income, which can result in settling for less than ideal living circumstances and compromises with potentially unscrupulous landlords. For those who have managed to retain their housing despite a lack of income, thanks in part to the state and federal eviction moratoria, rental debt continues to pile up with $2.2 billion accumulated in back rent nationally – a situation exacerbated by the slow disbursement rate of federal rental assistance.⁵

Under the present circumstances, struggling tenants are looking for a reliable source of information to help them understand their rights in an eviction and find free or low-cost attorneys. In response, with the support of the Office of the Attorney General of the State of New York, Pro Bono Net developed TenantHelpNY – a site that focuses on legal resources  and pro bono assistance outside of New York City where there is no right to counsel in an eviction. 

On January 19, Veronica Dunlap, New York Programs Director at Pro Bono Net, shared with attendees at the Legal Services Corporation’s 2022 Innovations in Technology Conference that the site, developed in partnership with upstate legal service providers, was created, “…to be a one-stop hub for tenants facing eviction and attorneys seeking to help them.” On the TenantHelpNY.org site, renters can find information on how to participate in the New York Emergency Rental Assistance Program, find pro bono or low-cost legal service providers, and learn more about their rights and defenses as a tenant. TenantHelpNY materials are curated by legal experts and housing attorneys from the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York, Nassau Suffolk Law Services, Legal Aid of Western New York, Legal Aid Society of Mid New York, Erie County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project, Legal Services of Hudson Valley, and Pro Bono Net. 


Tre Dennis-Brown is the 2021-22 AmeriCorps VISTA Fellow at Pro Bono Net. Tre received a Bachelor’s of Arts in Government, with a concentration in Political Theory, from Wesleyan University in 2019. He has previously worked as a Real Estate Junior Paralegal at Greenberg, Glusker, Fields, Claman, Machtinger. Economic equity is a long-time passion of Treshauxn’s, and he is now excited to be addressing justice gaps in legal deserts.

¹https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/26/us/eviction-moratorium-ends.html

²https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/01/nyregion/eviction-moratorium-new-york.html

³https://nationalequityatlas.org/rent-debt

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/16/nyregion/bronx-evictions-housing-coronavirus-pandemic.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/27/nyregion/evictions-moratorium.html

Women’s History Month is an opportunity to think about the long history of immigrant women in the United States. Immigrant women have made important contributions to arts, sciences, and politics in the United States for many years, from Chien-Shiung Wu, the only Chinese scientist to work on the Manhattan project¹, to Ilhan Omar, who fled Somalia with her family as a child and became one of the first two Muslim women in congress.²

Women have made up a significant part of the immigrant population for many years, now comprising slightly over half of the total US immigrant population.³ This is part of a broader trend of women migrating independently, often for work or education.⁴ Still, the majority of immigrant women who get green cards get them through family-based immigration.

Family-based immigration is associated with both social and economic development.⁶ Once here, immigrant women plant roots and contribute to social stability—the average immigrant woman has lived in the US for 25 years, and the average undocumented woman has lived in the US for 16 years.⁷ Additionally, immigrant women are a significant portion of the invisible “care” economy.⁸ 

While family-based immigration is beneficial for the US economy and US immigrant communities, it leaves many immigrant women vulnerable.⁹ Their immigration status is dependent on a backlogged US immigration system, their relationship with a spouse or other family member, and a long wait for work authorization.¹⁰ A lack of independent income makes many immigrant women dependent on others materially as well as legally. This is especially problematic as immigrant women face disproportionate levels of domestic violence.¹¹

Immigrant women comprise 7% of the official US labor force.¹² Two-thirds earn what the American Immigration Council considers very low wages.¹³ However, official numbers only include documented immigrant women workers, and likely skew toward higher earning workers. Additionally, many undocumented women play important roles in the US labor force in an unofficial or “off the record” capacity that may exploit their legal and material precarity.¹⁴¹⁵

The US offers some legal protections that particularly benefit immigrant women. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) allows victims of abuse to file for a family-based visa based on their own.¹⁶  U Visas and T Visas provide victims of crime with immigration relief based on crimes including domestic violence, sexual assault, and sex trafficking.¹⁷¹⁸ However, U and T Visas place significant burdens on applicants, and VAWA only protects women (and men) related to US citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents (LPR)s. 

Immigrant women make up a unique and important subgroup with its own issues that need to be considered by policymakers. Immigration and refugee law contains inadequate safeguards and a lack of specific provisions for women. For example, the US Refugee Act of 1980 doesn’t address gender, and advocates have been forced to argue for years that its protections extend to gender-based persecution. The omission of specific language has kept many women from qualifying as refugees.¹⁹²⁰ Instead, women asylum seekers are subject to political trends and the bias of individual judges. 

Immigrant women have contributed greatly to American society and economy, despite disproportionate challenges and unfair treatment within the US immigration system. If you are interested in getting involved in pro bono legal assistance to such women, you can find opportunities through The Tahirih Justice Center, a national nonprofit that has served immigrant survivors fleeing gender-based violence since 1997.


¹https://www.atomicheritage.org/profile/chien-shiung-wu

²https://ilhanomar.com/about/

³https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/immigrant-women-and-girls-united-states

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/women-and-migration-vulnerability-face-abuse-and-discrimination

https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/immigrant-women-and-girls-united-states

⁶ibid.

https://www.americanprogress.org/article/profile-immigrant-women-workforce/

https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/advantages-family-based-immigration

https://justiceforimmigrants.org/what-we-are-working-on/immigration/the-importance-of-maintaining-a-family-based-immigration-system/

¹⁰https://www.legalmomentum.org/gender-bias-and-immigration-policy

¹¹https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4302952/

¹²https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/impact-immigrant-women-americas-labor-force

¹³ibid

¹⁴https://via.library.depaul.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1058&context=jsj

¹⁵https://crownschool.uchicago.edu/advocates-forum-2020-workplace-discrimination-undocumented-immigrants

¹⁶https://www.womenslaw.org/laws/federal/immigration/vawa-abuse-victims/vawa-self-petitions

¹⁷https://www.womenslaw.org/laws/federal/immigration/u-visa-crime-victims/basic-info-and-definitions/what-u-visa-how-can-it-help

¹⁸https://www.womenslaw.org/laws/federal/immigration/t-visa-trafficking-victims

¹⁹https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/STATUTE-94/pdf/STATUTE-94-Pg102.pdf 

²⁰https://www.americanbar.org/groups/crsj/publications/human_rights_magazine_home/immigration/the-history-and-future-of-gender-asylum-law/