Patrick Reynolds, the 2013 Pro Bono Net and Montana Legal Services Association 2013 AmeriCorps VISTA, reports on the December 4th, 2013 LSNTAP webinar on the use of technology to help unrepresented litigants. More of Patrick’s posts are available here.

The last LSNTAP webinar of 2013 – the Beyond Online Intake on Wednesday, December 4th -highlighted a number of projects relating to Triage and Expert Systems. The goal of the webinar was to provide a look into programs that increase the efficiency of intake, as well as the applications and tools that can be combined with them in order to improve the services offered. The webinar was moderated by Mirenda Watkins of Pro Bono Net, while projects were presented by Mike Grunenwald of the DC Bar Pro Bono Program, Gwen Daniels from Illinois Legal Aid Online, Gordon Shaw of the Massachusetts Justice Project, and Liz Keith for Pro Bono Net.

The slides can be viewed along with a recording of the webinar on the SWEB support site. A recording of the webinar has also been posted to the LSNTAP YouTube page.

Mirenda Watkins began the webinar by offering a proposed definition of triage and online intake. Triage was defined as a rational distribution of  resources based on litigant need and case complexity to insure that all litigants have access to justice. The triage process sorts resources and people to reach the most fair and just result for all involved. Intake was defined as the process of deciding which clients will be accepted by a legal services provider based on articulated criteria. Intake can include data collection, review, denial of services, and referrals and can be done online, in person, and over the phone.

Mike Grunenwald, Senior Project Specialist, DC Bar Pro Bono Program
Consumer Debt/Bankruptcy App.

Mike Grunenwald gave the first presentation on the topic of two Apps in development by the DC Bar Pro Bono Program through partnerships with Georgetown Law and Neota Logic. The first app presented was the Consumer Debt/Bankruptcy App. Utilizing law students with tech support from Neota Logic, the app is intended to assist consumers in generating no contact letters to creditors, but has been expanded to help determine if a person was judgment proof. Seeing the potential for expansion and with the willingness of the Georgetown law students to contribute to further development, the scope of the app has been expanded again and connected into the DC Bar Pro Bono Programs bankruptcy clinic. This expansion became a tool for bankruptcy clinic pre-screening that could quickly run users through a bankruptcy checklist that previously took around 30 minutes to complete during the traditional bankruptcy clinic.

The app should save a great deal of time at the bankruptcy clinic stage and allow the clinics to operate with increased efficiency. While the DC Bar Pro Bono Project is not currently doing online intake, the usefulness of this app for increasing the efficiency of their bankruptcy clinic will hopefully serve as a driver for online intake.
Concierge App

Another effort by the DC Bar Pro Bono Project is to develop a Concierge App. The goal of this app is to devise a better way to help people find the resources they are looking for. The Concierge App will ask visitors to the site why they are there and  would then help them find exactly what they are looking for. This program would also make connections where the user might not see them. The example given was that issues with Divorce, Domestic Violence, and Housing Rights are sometimes intertwined, and the process helps to branch out and identify other relevant resources for complicated individual situations.

Gordon Shaw, Executive Director, Massachusetts Justice Project
Legal Resource Finder

Gordon Shaw discussed the Legal Resource Finder, a project funded by a 2012 Technology Initiative Grant (TIG). The tool will create an expert web based triage tool to help the applicant figure out where they can get help. This is needed because of the flood of requests for assistance and the inability of the existing systems to handle the volume. In Massachusetts, there are 18 specific legal aid programs that lack any centralized way to direct people to their resources.

The site will be up and running shortly and is built with the Drupal data management system. This program uses short online forms where users fill out a limited number of questions about their issues and their demographics. The Legal Resource finder will then search a database and inform them about which programs in their area are accepting those issues for intake, provide live links to online resources, and direct them to additional programs that may exist to help. The Legal Resource finder will be part of one of the state legal aid websites, and other legal aid programs will be linking to the site if they have an online intake system. While this site is not intake in and of itself, and the information will not be saved, it will help steer away people who are clearly over income for example towards more productive areas than online intake.

Gwen Daniels, Director of Technology Development, Illinois Legal Aid Online
Online intake, Triage and Expert Systems

Gwen Daniels presented the Illinois statewide online access system, a TIG funded project from January 2012 that is currently in live beta. This project handles problematic codes where the triage is less visible and directs the user away from programs and into self help material. One problem this program was intended to combat is that telephone intake operators spend half their time informing applicants they can’t help them. This system was built with the idea of pushing high priority cases towards intake while directing the rest to self help resources. The system has an Admin focused interface on which allows each organization or sometimes each office to set system messages at a problem code level. Advocates can open and close intake, and set limits for income, assets, zip codes and counties, and the number of intakes allowed.

The user interface for both intake and triage is on the statewide public website platform. From the user perspective, if legal aid is available then a yellow popup will inform them of their options. For example, visitors with food stamp related issues such as “I tried to apply for food stamps but they wouldn’t let me” would be directed not to online intake but to an exit screen with links to more relevant content. Selecting the right options will transfer them into the legal server, while filtering out the cases that can’t be helped. It also allows for an “Always Divert” option, where terms like “Traffic” or “criminal”, which LAS doesn’t take will be directed to call other agencies. This program will be out of beta in 2014, with next steps being focused on deeper integration with systems, true statewide integration, and analysis dating to refine triage rules.

Another project is a statewide collaborative data system, funded by a 2013 TIG grant, which will allow for a statewide legal server to be used to hold online intake. This project will be able to pass data from the case management system of each organization and the statewide websites into a single legal server. The resulting data can then be analyzed to see how well they are picking up cases that are the best use of their limited resources. This should allow them to spot patterns in the cases that get picked up and further refine their triage rules to avoid intake for people who are ineligible.

Liz Keith, LawHelp Program Manager, Pro Bono Net
New Mexico Legal Aid 2014 Triage Pilot Program

As part of a 2014 Technology Initiative Grant, Pro Bono Net is partnering with New Mexico Legal Aid and Neota Logic to develop a statewide triage system that intelligently guides users towards the most actionable results and ensures New Mexico Legal Aid and its partners get cases that will allow them to do the most good. New Mexico has large rural areas that cover thousands of square miles where increased access to resources is necessary. This program has several components, encompassing triage for advocates, triage for individuals in need of legal assistance, development of new self-help and legal education content for triage system users, and a data reporting service.

While it is piloted in New Mexico the longer-term goal is to make it available nationwide. Keeping an eye toward the creation and hosting of such a program in other states, there will be a set of canned or master rules that can be modified for other states. The advocates triage program gathers information on litigants based on program priorities, intake requirements, and broader advocacy strategies in order to determine what resources or referrals would be most impactful. The first step for such a program is developing an agreed upon system of questions and protocol to help script and guide triage and referral rules for the system. The triage interview for advocates will then be adapted to create a similar tool for the public. Public interviews will be provided in English and Spanish with the goal to provide a one stop universal tool that can be used statewide for diagnosing and guiding people to the relevant resources, forms, referrals, or intake. Those directed to intake will be provided with preparatory information, and recommended actions to help the user prepare for their appointment or meeting with an advocate. It will also include the option to email a standard email request to a recommended organization for reviewing and uploading into their CMS where appropriate. The interview template with Neota Logic could also be widgitized for inclusion in other systems such as those of public libraries.