This past summer, Pro Bono Net engaged a graduate student from the University of Michigan School of Information to run a usability study on one of our programs, LawHelp Interactive (LHI), in the New York Courts.  The graduate consultant, Yanting Zhang, summarized her findings in an earlier blog post.  LawHelp Interactive allows low-income people without access to a lawyer to prepare their own legal forms online for free. The system increases opportunities for self-represented litigants to achieve justice on their own and improves efficiency for legal aid, pro bono and courts-based access to justice programs.

The New York Courts were very supportive of this project. Yanting visited with Sun Kim, Senior Assistant Counsel at New York State Unified Court System,  the New York County Civil Court; Michael Hausler in the Surrogate’s Court Bronx County; and Mike Williams in the Family Court Bronx County, among others.  Many of these New York courts were early adopters of LawHelp Interactive, and are strong proponents of increasing access to justice and improving courthouse efficiency. For example, Bronx County Chief Clerk Mike Williams’ Self-Help Center is a recipient of the DIY Star Award for exceptional use and promotion of DIY forms.  (The New York Courts Access to Justice Program powers its DIY forms project using LawHelp Interactive.)  Beyond visiting the NY courts, Yanting and the Pro Bono Net staff did a review of other states using LHI in different ways, so the usability review is based on different installations of LHI powered forms across the U.S.

During the usability review, we gained insights about what does and does not work when a computer is set up in a public area so individuals can create their own legal documents with or without assistance.  These insights span across the different LHI components including A2J Author interviews, HotDocs, and the overall LawHelp Interactive infrastructure managed by Pro Bono Net.

One of the areas of focus in our review is the physical layout of computer stations for litigants in self-help environments. The environments can be run or managed by various groups, including libraries, law libraries, legal aid groups, victims’ centers in police departments, shelters, and courts. Some of the important takeaways from our research include the importance of setting up a comfortable area that minimizes distractions, maximizes privacy, and delivers enough guidance so that the user can start and finish their documents.

Here are some of the highlights:

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