As the global COVID-19 pandemic and financial crisis exacerbated inequality and disproportionately affected people of color and low-income communities, it also increased the civil legal needs of many. By using LawHelp Interactive’s easy-to-use online forms, courts and nonprofits were immediately able to expand access to critical legal documents and empower those who the American legal system has historically left to fend for themselves.
LHI is designed with empathy for the needs of those without lawyers. It minimizes barriers and unnecessary complications associated with creating legal documents by providing comprehensive assistance in the form of free online interviews that yield complex documents in a simple and fast way. In 2020, LHI served one million interviews resulting in 710,378 legal documents to help put the power of the law into the hands of the people. LHI was able to achieve such success in these unprecedented times by listening to the needs of partners who create forms and end users who reach out for technical support.
In LHI’s 2020 independent evaluation by Komenge, user satisfaction was rated very high by those who turned to LHI for help. The COVID-19 pandemic brought a multitude of new challenges for users, with 75% of survey respondents saying it was harder to access courts as a result of the pandemic, and 46% of respondents saying it was harder to access legal advice and assistance. Further, 44% of respondents reported using LHI as a direct result of COVID-19 or the related economic crisis. In response to these difficult circumstances, LHI stepped up by improving email functionality in the LHI system, providing e-signature options, and supporting partners in creating clearer e-filing instructions to share with end users.
The evaluation found that 96% of end users had their needs very or somewhat well met, and 96% would use LHI’s services again. During a time when access to court systems, legal tools, and communication were fundamentally challenged, 93% of end users reported that it was very important for them to have access to LHI’s services. The effects of the pandemic were felt disproportionately by people of color and immigrants. LHI users were 26% Black and 12% Latino, highlighting that the tool is used in or above parity to national samples. The high levels of satisfaction are evidence of the role that LHI played as a lifeline of legal support during the COVID-19 pandemic.
End user feedback for LHI was overwhelmingly positive. Describing their experience, one user said:
“It was my first time, and I feel the form was easy and comfortable to manage. It was not intimidating as I could go back and forth to different sections. I took a lot of time to revise everything but I do prefer to do this at the comfort of my home and not in an office or courtroom.”
By collaborating with partners, LHI was able to meet the needs and demands of its users and develop effective and necessary legal documents. As a result of the pandemic, 61% of partners saw an increased demand for their services and 55% saw an increased demand or need for online forms. After working with LHI to adjust to the needs of clients in these complex circumstances, 100% of partner respondents said LHI was easy to use and they were satisfied with the LHI platform overall. The COVID-19 crisis fundamentally changed the way many partners delivered services with 91% of respondents reporting a partial or complete shift to remote services. LHI provided the platform and assistance necessary to meet the unique demands of this global crisis, and collaboration with partners played a critical role in supporting equitable access to the power of the law.
Pro Bono Net is proud of the accomplishments achieved by LHI and its partners and the high levels of satisfaction reported by those who utilized this national resource throughout this challenging year. In times of economic downturn and national crisis, the importance of legal accessibility is most poignantly exemplified. As economic resource pressures continue to shape the legal landscape in America, LHI remains committed to its mission of supporting nonprofits and courts who prioritize forms as a key access to justice tool and developing a system that empowers the public to create their own forms for free in a safe and supportive way.
In LHI’s 2020 independent evaluation by Komenge, this is what a partner had to say when asked how the COVID crisis impacted how they approached remote legal services, many of the answers highlighted what a significant learning experience it had been:
“It makes sense to offer remote legal services as one of the ways that we help the public. Some people have difficulty traveling to receive help in person. Remote services are convenient for many people who cannot take time off work during the business day. Even after the Covid pandemic is over, we will continue to provide remote services as part of our overall service model.”