August 2012

Yanting Zhang

Yanting Zhang is a graduate student at the University of Michigan School of Information, specializing in human-computer interaction.  During an internship at Pro Bono Net this summer, she worked on a LawHelp Interactive usability project, which aimed to uncover best practices and recommendations for making the online legal document assembly service even more user-friendly.  She discusses the project below.

Usability is the study of the ease with which people can employ a particular tool in order to achieve a particular goal. Usability should be part of the design process to ensure user satisfaction.

Pro Bono Net hired me as an intern to help improve the user experience of LawHelp Interactive (LHI), its online legal document assembly service. During this summer I worked on the LHI Usability Project with Adam Licht, Pro Bono Net’s Director of Product Management. We looked at the underlying technology, the design of the interactive templates and the physical layout of computer stations in court-based self-help centers.

The main methods I used include Contextual Inquiry, Field Observation, Heuristic Evaluation, Usability Testing and Prototyping.

Contextual Inquiry is a field data-gathering technique to understand the users and how they work day to day. To collect data, designers learn from their customers.  To understand LHI users’ needs and gather user requirements, we visited several courts in the Bronx and Manhattan.  We both observed individuals using LHI and interviewed them. We also conducted a contextual interview with a template developer to have a better understanding of the template development process.

We learned, for example, that some LHI users didn’t know how to get their documents after they completed the interactive interview. So we plan to repeat the instructions for getting documents on the page users see after the final step.

Heuristic Evaluation is a technique to evaluate usability without involving users. It’s fast, cheap and easy to use. In this case, I examined LawHelp Interactive and evaluated its compliance with a list of recognized usability principles (the heuristics).  I used a list called Nielsen’s Heuristics, which includes principles such as error prevention, consistency and user control.

Usability Testing is a very useful technique in user-centered design to find out how real users interact with and feel about your product. By observing users performing several specific tasks, designers can capture their reaction and feedback. By analyzing the results, significant usability problems can be found.

To maximize the usage and adoption of LHI and serve more unrepresented litigants, I provided design principles for the court’s physical computer station layout. For example, one guideline is to set up the computer center in a private room or semi-private space. The litigant’s benefit from this is less distraction leading to better concentration and better protection of personal information. The floor plan shows an example of this setup, which should result in increased productivity and better data protection.

To learn more about this project contact Adam Licht at  For more on usability testing, LSNTAP has a series of blog posts on this topic.



People have short attention spans.  Always feed your video crew.   User test everything – your assumptions are probably wrong.

These were among the tips shared by participants in the Aug. 15 webinar, “Online Resources for Self-represented Litigants,” part of the Pro Bono Net/LSNTAP Community Training series. Five  court and legal services programs shared lessons learned in developing online resources for those without lawyers.  Below are some of the highlights.

Claudia Johnson, LawHelp Interactive Program Manager at Pro Bono Net, kicked off the webinar with some reminders about how people learn, some taken from Brain Rules.  Anyone designing online resources should remember that people lose focus after about 10 minutes, that recall is better with more use of visuals, and that people like the opportunity to learn by exploring.

Illinois Legal Aid Online is trying to make it easier for people to find what they need with “GuideMe” modules that bundle online content into a one-stop shop for a particular legal problem.  The goal, said ILAO’s Teri Ross, is to put content into easily digestible chunks.  Her tips:

  • Focus on readability, including plain language.
  • Take the time to incorporate usability testing, because your assumptions about how an online tool will be used may well be wrong.
  • Be intentional about how you present your content.  ILAO heard from courts that people using online forms were often filling out the wrong form.  This led them to couch the online forms in other content that offers additional context.
  • Think about evaluation from the beginning – how will you know if a new tool is effective?
  • It’s imperative today to build for mobile.  Many low-income people access the web only from their phones.

Daniel Ediger of the Northwest Justice Project is creating a series of online videos meant to educate people about common civil legal issues.  [See related post.]  His tips for a successful script:

  • Speak in second person.
  • Avoid passive voice.
  • Use concrete words.
  • Delete needless words.
  • Make sure each sentence states a simple fact and is essential.

The Texas Legal Services Center (TLSC) is also creating public legal education videos, in partnership with the Texas Office of Court Administration and Lone Star Legal Aid.  The project will ultimately produce a series of 14 short videos to help people navigate the court system.  TLSC’s Colton Lawrence shared his tips for video production:

  • Setup will go slower than you think.
  • Have a point person to keep you on schedule.
  • Food is essential!  It shows you are looking out for your crew and it gets people to the set and keeps them there.
  • It is possible to produce videos on a tight budget with some creativity.

At Napa County Superior Court, Neil Bowman-Davis livens up the self-help portion of the website with online presentations created using Prezi, a free, web-based application.  The presentations help users understand that a seemingly overwhelming legal issue such as divorce is a process with a beginning and an end.

Pro Seniors in Ohio recently developed an online, interactive interview, built using Pro Bono Net’s LawHelp Interactive system, that lets people create a document for power of attorney. According to Pro Seniors’ Michael Walters, the form was used more than 1,200 times in the first two months after its May 1 launch.  To make the development process easier, Pro Seniors started with a similar form that had been created in Idaho and adapted it.  Michael and his colleagues wanted to include warnings about potential abuse; their solution was to include this in a cover letter that prints out with the completed form.

Materials from the webinar will soon be posted on the LSNTAP site.  Join us for the next Community Training, on Online Intake, Sept. 12 at 1 p.m. Eastern.


Carleton Strouss spent 10 years as chair of the K&L Gates Pro Bono Committee.

We spoke with Robert Mitchell, the new chair of K&L Gates Pro Bono Committee, and Carleton Strouss, who recently stepped down after serving as the committee chair for 10 years, about the firm’s pro bono program, including its international efforts and the role of technology.  K&L Gates handles hundreds of pro bono cases a year around the globe. 

Rob Mitchell just stepped into the role of Pro Bono Committee chair.

Tell me about K&L Gates’ pro bono program – what are you especially proud of? What makes it unique?

Carleton Strouss: I think that one of the more interesting things about the K&L Gates pro bono program is that it reflects the growth of our firm. The firm is now multi-continent and multi-city and our pro bono work reflects that.  We still provide support to meet needs in the local community, but we also see pro bono extending around the world and not confined to one geographic area.  Pro bono is woven into the fabric of our practice, with our commercial work and pro bono work continuing to become more closely aligned.

How do lawyers at K&L Gates typically get involved in pro bono work?

Carleton Strouss: How our lawyers get involved in pro bono work is an evolutionary tale. In earlier days, you might think all pro bono work was local lawyers identifying local needs, mostly ad hoc. [And] that is still present. But people also start affiliations in providing services. By way of illustration, common themes that are present in a few of our offices include working with women and children at risk, assisting veterans, and helping refugees navigate immigration. We have an association with Habitat for Humanity, and we assist with closing documents. Aside from that we may get involved in matters through court appointments, typically criminal or appellate. As I mentioned, we have established ourselves as a global practice, and that increases collaboration in multiple practices as we help clients respond to issues that are global in nature. Also, our Government Affairs practice has grown and we’ve advocated for U.S. funding of projects aiding the underserved.

Can you tell me a little more about your global projects?

Carleton Strouss: Two of them involve the International Senior Lawyers Project. One of our senior environmental lawyers went to Tanzania to provide advice on appropriate environmental standards in developing mineral resources. Also, a senior partner headed to Liberia to help provide advice on criminal justice matters for the government.

Robert Mitchell: He’s in Monrovia (the capital of Liberia) now, training prosecutors and directly assisting in the prosecution of government corruption, which is a serious problem sapping development in many parts of the world.

Continue Reading Q&A With K&L Gates: ‘We are developing global citizens and global lawyers’

The Northwest Justice Project (NJP) is charged with creating a series of instructive videos for through the federal Communities Connect Network Project (part of the Department of Commerce’s Broadband Technology Opportunity Program) which aims to increase access to technology and improve legal literacy for unrepresented Washingtonians.  NJP recently released its 8th video, on Public Healthcare for Children & Youth in Washington State.  We spoke about the project with Sue Encherman, NJP’s Director of Administration, and Daniel Ediger, a Loyola Public Interest Law Fellow at NJP who is the main force behind producing the videos.

Tell us about the overall video project.  How did it originate?  

Sue: It was part of a huge Broad Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grant that the state of Washington put in, mostly for broadband access but a small part of it, called JusticeNet, proposed to open a couple of computing centers attached to courthouses and to have a portal page on these computers that would show you where to go for help with civil legal aid.  The job of Northwest Justice Project was to help on the portals and to produce 11 videos in Spanish and English on certain topics that came under the areas of interest to BTOP, including safety and security, economic security and jobs.  These were to be accessible from WashingtonLawHelp.

Daniel, how did you get involved in this project?

I graduated from Loyola Law School-Los Angeles in 2010 and got a two-year public interest fellowship from Loyola.  I served one year at Idaho Legal Aid, then transferred to Seattle.  In Idaho I worked on a public legal education project for seniors – an easy-to-understand guidebook in plain language.  So I had experience in making complex legal ideas accessible.  I also had worked in film before law school.

Sue: Originally he was just going to be the project manager but since he had the talent, we moved all the production to him.

The videos convey complex legal information in a way that is easy to understand.  How did you achieve that?  

Daniel: With some of them, the first seed of the script is one of our Washington LawHelp handouts, which already use plain language principles – everything from font size to scrubbing them of legalese terms.  We’re trying to use all of those ideas.  I talked to some other groups, mostly in Canada, that are doing legal education videos.  They use a lot of animation and graphics, which also helps for translation purposes.

It’s a balancing out of trying to make it informal and short and watchable, but not making people think it’s a really simple thing if it’s not. There is an art to it.

A key part is telling people the legal process is not just a huge chaos.  A lot of the videos, because they’re for pro se people, we thought of this game board idea – there are steps, you do them in this order.  Video, more than print, can convey that sense of time and pacing.

Sue: Daniel gives the person who’s going to write the script a template with two columns – one for what you say, one for what you see.  He instructs you to put one sentence per line in the table and to make it fairly chatty – not like you’re reading, but more like you’re speaking to someone.

How are the videos being promoted?  

Sue: It’s all done electronically.  We have a big email list that includes other agencies, volunteer programs, the Bar.  We just sent out a special bulletin on “What’s New at WashingtonLawHelp” that goes to 2,200 email addresses including public libraries, agencies and individuals.  Also, this grant is being managed by the EdLab Group, and they promote the videos to their community computing centers.

What kind of feedback have you gotten on the videos?

Sue: We’re getting really great reviews.  About 3,800 people have seen the videos.  The foreclosure mediation videos have been used in trainings for mediators and in public clinics for those who need foreclosure help.

We’ve also learned how well getting information out via video works in this day and age.  When we started online intake in February, the early feedback showed that there were some topics people did not understand.  We did a short video for that and over 1,000 people have looked at it.

The eight videos produced so far can be seen on NJP’s YouTube Channel.   To learn more about how the videos were produced, email Daniel at  

From July 11-13, my colleague Pam and I attended the MIE National Fundraising Conference in Boston, MA.  As a newbie to the legal aid fundraising world, the conference provided some great insights that will help as we prepare for year-end fundraising and the coming year.  The location also provided the opportunity to take in some of Boston’s sites during morning runs, including the Charles River and Boston Common.  My favorite way to explore a city is on foot, and since I had not been to Boston in quite a while the location offered great places to explore.

Boston Common

Attending this conference for the first time was a good opportunity to get a better understanding of what works in the legal aid world of fundraising.  Feeling the pinch of ongoing funding cuts, fundraisers from legal aid organizations were certainly looking to improve and sharpen their skills.  Attending the session for those new to legal aid fundraising, I learned that while there are some differences, the tactics I learned from my previous positions with other types of nonprofits are applicable.

This year conference focused on the “The Power and Importance of Private Philanthropy” and brought together an impressive group of speakers.  Below are my top takeaways from the conference.

  1.  Talk to your donors more than you call your mother.  You know how mom always gets upset without that update as to how you’re doing and what’s new?  Our donors want to know what we are up to as well.  And they don’t want to know only when we send them an appeal asking for money.  Simone P. Joyaux’s plenary, “Seeking the Holy Grail of Fundraising…Donor Loyalty” talked about relationship building and experiences. Bottom line? Stewardship is a process but in the end it will secure donations for your organization.
  2. You, I, we, me, it… The second day’s plenary from donor communications expert Tom Ahern, “Love Thy Reader: The Science and Secrets of Effective Donor Communications” focused on how we talk to readers of our communications (be they in newsletter, appeal or any other form).  Ahern had some great examples of some of his favorite (and not so favorite) communications and how they were donor centered.  Bottom line: we’re not telling the donors what we did; we’re telling them what we accomplished thanks to their generous support.  I think my favorite slide was of an organization’s web page where he pointed out how many times they’d use we/us.  How many times can we say thank you before it’s too many?  Exactly.
  3. What is fundraising really about…Fundraising is emotional.  We, as fundraisers, are helping people live out their passions. We (board, staff, volunteers) must, Joyaux says, adopt a lifestyle where we find out if our friends connect with our passions.  Bottom line: those who share your passions will likely be good, if not great, donors.
  4. The right tool for the job.  Before board members and/or staff can go out and fundraise on behalf of your organization, they need to be armed with the proper tools and an understanding of fundraising in order to be effective fundraisers.  Bottom line: invest time in arming and preparing your board and staff to make “the ask.”
  5. It’s a donor-centered world.  In order to get our donors to be loyal, we must build trust – how do we do that? According to Joyaux, it’s as simple as keeping our promise and saying thank you.  Bottom line: Make phone calls, say thank you, steward donors and give people extraordinary experiences.

Bonus Takeaways

Form a Committee.  Development is not for everyone.  Susan Kruse, Donor Relations Manager at Legal Aid Justice Center in VA, talked about creating a development committee that meets monthly (separately from the board) and focuses on development issues, including events, to get the work done.

Keep Knockin’.  Everyone in a nonprofit is busy. People wear many hats and often do too much for one person.  However, as good development advocates we must continue to ensure letters get signed, phone calls get made and stewardship marches on. Kruse advised persistence when getting development work done and dealing with senior level staff.