On Wednesday June 19th, LSNTAP and Pro Bono Net collaborated on a webinar highlighting the Mobile Accessibility Strategies of various partner organizations. The webinar was moderated by Xander Karsten, LawHelp Program Coordinator at Pro Bono Net, and presentations on various mobile campaigns were given by Mike Monahan, Pro Bono Director at the State Bar of Georgia Pro Bono Project; Raquel Colon, Director of Development at Legal Services of Northern Virginia; Gwen Daniels, Illinois Legal Aid Online Director of Technology Development; Tony Lu CitizenshipWorks Project Coordinator at Immigration Advocates Network; and Liz Keith, LawHelp Program Manager at Pro Bono Net.

The three main types of mobile tools highlighted in this webinar were SMS, Mobile Apps, and Mobile Sites.

SMS (Short Message Service) or Text Messaging

Text messaging campaigns can be used as a way of making legal information available to large numbers of low-income clients. Mike Monahan provided insight into a text messaging campaign initiated by the Georgia State Bar Pro Bono Project, with the help of an LSC Technology Initiative Grant (TIG) and assistance from a number of partners, including Pro Bono Net. The project will allow legal information from GeorgiaLegalAid.org to be sent quickly to people who request it. The project allows legal information to be sent quickly to people who request it. Clients could, for example, text a keyword or phrase such as “Protective Order” to an assigned SMS number and receive back specific information relevant to domestic violence, such as training, protective order, links to helpful sites. A system like this could prove extremely useful in emergency situations, when time is of the essence. Monahan also mentioned the creation of an outreach tool kit, to provide a model or best practices approach for other programs.

In addition to sharing legal information via text message, our partners are developing systems to notify clients via text message, email, or voice mail to remind them of important appointments or court hearing dates. Raquel Colon of Legal Services of Northern Virginia presented on the Appointment Reminder System, a 2012 LSC TIG Grant project. The project arose as a response to a problem with chronic no-shows, applicants and clients were consistently missing appointment dates. The goal of this project is to increase efficiency by reducing the resources and time spent dealing with missed or rescheduled appointments. A vital part of the project is working with a developer such as Twilio Cloud Communications to make sure the automated voice and text message notifications are integrated with existing software. They are also working to develop a system to integrate the SMS campaign with Kemp’s case management system, to extract data and develop safeguards against sending reminders to clients who may be in a situation where it is not safe to receive them.


Mobile Applications or Apps

Using the 2010 TIG grant funded Legal Aid App as an example, Gwen Daniels described the development process for creating a smartphone App for both iPhone and Android. To develop a prototype for the app, programs like Balsamiq Mockups allowed the creation of examples of what the app would look like before coding began, but Illustrator, PowerPoint, or even pen and paper could also be used. Daniels pointed out that it is important to address a number of factors before an app can be developed. For example, making sure an app fits Google and Apple’s app store guidelines so it can be approved for sale is a vital step. Also, keeping the app up to date and compatible is another challenge that must be addressed.  Smartphone app format also limits content to smaller chunks; the resources available in the app should all be “mobile friendly”. However the smartphone app format does provide advantages such as synching with smartphone contacts and calendars. It should also be noted that this project has had ancillary benefits in areas such as public relations and outreach.

Tony Lu presented on his experience developing the CitizenshipWorks Mobile App, and stressed the importance of extensive planning and testing ahead of time. One of the things he emphasized is to clearly define the scope of the project to avoid what he calls “scope creep”. The “kitchen sink approach” or trying to create an app that does everything can quickly lead to overreaching and cause a big problem for the project. It is important to have a very clearly defined idea of what your app is going to do. This is highly recommended when contracting an outside company, such as American Eagle, who built the Android and IoS version of the CitizenshipWorks App. Free online services like MindMeister can be used to create a logic work flow of the app and can create a very straightforward map of the requirements for your app. Wireframes or skeletons of the App can also be created with programs like keynote or PowerPoint, and can give a very good impression of the limitations that the screen size will impose on the content of your app. Unifying the design of the App with the design of the website is also an important consideration, and maintaining consistency with font and icons is recommended.  The CitizenshipWorks App also had some success turning design elements (such as icons) into interface elements (such as a links) as a way to deal with the size constraints of the small screen. Another important factor is testing the App, to ensure that it works on older phones and not just the newest models.  Emulators can be used but Lu advises caution, since emulators are not always a perfect representation how it will work in the field. This app is now available for download at both the Google and iTunes stores


Mobile Sites

Liz Keith spoke about a TIG funded project in progress by Legal Aid Services of Northeastern Minnesota called “Pro Bono To Go”. This project is designed to provide support to advocates in situations where getting such support would otherwise be difficult. This includes features such as a mobile version of ProJusticeMN.org, as well as checklists for settlements, and client interview guides. The mobile optimized settlement checklist, for example, is useful for helping attorneys respond more effectively to unexpected settlement opportunities that may arise in court and will point out problems that may be overlooked. The mobile interview guides are intended to provide help with key issue spotting, making walk-in interview sessions go more efficiently.

Under this project, Pro Bono Net is developing an HTML5 mobile website app for the probono.net platform that includes a mobile specific interface. While ProJusticeMN is being utilized for the pilot stage of this project, the mobile capabilities and authoring tools will be available to other probono.net network sites. The development will begin in the second half of the year. It will be informed by a survey developed and administered by Legal Services State Support, which interviewed pro bono coordinators and volunteer attorneys to help identify priority areas for checklist and interview guide content development. The survey results showed the preferred topics for checklists and guides, with divorce and child custody and landlord/tenant cases being among the most valued categories among responders.

Volunteers also took a survey that asked they wanted to work with these resources. The results showed that the option to email the resources, download the resources for offline use, and print versions of the resources were considered very important. These survey results will help guide the creation of the ten guides and ten checklists for the mobile site.

The webinar concluded with a short presentation by Xander Karsten, who reviewed a few other technological features that others are using in their mobile strategies. Geolocation can help with the creation of mobile optimized Google maps to integrate information such as the location of offices or courts. Mobile video was also discussed, with sites like YouTube and Facebook mentioned as providing mobile accessible video platforms. Video content should also be considered when creating mobile videos as certain factors such as the small screen size can impose limitations. Videos can also be used in other ways, and can be tied in with SMS campaigns, providing numbers for viewers to text at the end of the video for further information, or to “unlock” further parts of the video.

For those who want to view the entire hour long webinar, a recording is available here. The next webinar in this series will be on August 7th, and will be on the topic of cloud security.