LHIIn 2016, Michigan Legal Help (MLH) partnered with expert developer Bob Aubin, and Pro Bono Net to create a tool that helps online form developers automate the identification of text that needs to be translated. When an interview for Pro Bono Net’s LawHelp Interactive (LHI) needs to be changed to plain language, or to any other target language this tool helps to minimize the time and effort required.

The inspiration for this project came about as Bob Aubin worked on creating Spanish forms for Michigan. After finding out how long it took to pull the text that needs translation and how much time it took to reinsert the translated text, the idea came about to develop a more error proof automated way to do this. The idea of creating a “Text Management Tool” (TMT) was born! Below is an interview with Angela Tripp (Co-Director and Project Director of Michigan Legal Help Program), and Bob Aubin.

How did the need to create this tool come up?

Angela: Michigan Legal Help (MLH), michiganlegalhelp.org, has a very complex divorce interview in HotDocs, and we wanted to translate it into Spanish. This process was laborious – Bob had to cut and paste each question, prompt, set of answer choices, help text, etc. from every cul de sac in this long interview, and it took a lot of time and effort.

Then once we had that translated, he had to put it all back together again. It took many hours, and we had to test for many more months to make sure everything was working as intended. In the meantime, over the year it took us to do this, we made multiple changes to the English interview, and had to go back and painstakingly make those same changes. Bob thought that there had to be an easier way to do this, so he created one.

Could you share some details of those interviews and how are they being used?

Angela: We have used the Text Management Tool (TMT) to speed up translation of interviews into Spanish, and to make major changes to interviews. We plan to use it in the near future to improve the plan language of our interviews – we anticipate making a lot of changes to the text when we review our interviews for plain language. We’re also going to use the tool to make our HD interviews more mobile friendly by shortening the questions as much as possible.

How did you develop the tool?

Bob: Knowing that the HotDocs Component File is an XML file, I figured we could develop a way to cycle through the XML and copy any instances of interview text found. All nooks and crannies that can contain interview text were identified. Then we hired HotDocs Corporation as a subcontractor to create the tool in C# to do what we had specified.

Since we created Ayuda Legal in 2014, there have been over 64,000 pages views, representing approximately 2.5% of all Michigan Legal Help visitors. Right now, we have 3 forms available in Spanish, all in family law, including a form to request and interpreter.

What other uses for the tool are there, besides the intended simplification of the process of pulling text from a HD interview and putting it back into it?

Angela: That’s what the tool does; the multiple uses come from the different goals you can accomplish by doing this. When same sex marriage (and divorce) became legal, we had to modify a lot of the language in our divorce interview; this helps do that. When you want to translate into another language, this helps do that.

Any time you need to modify a lot of text at once, this tool help – whether you want to translate, improve plain language, update legal information in the interview, or make more mobile friendly – this tool helps you do that and makes sure all the new text gets put back into the right place in the interview.

Bob: The tool has also proved to be a valuable troubleshooting tool for developers.  We had an interview with a lot of number computations in it, and one of them was misbehaving. The server error could not tell us which computation it was, so we used the tool to produce a report of the computations and all text was scanned. The error was quickly found and fixed.

Finally, we wanted to merge two separate but similar interviews with separate component files into one interview. The tool generated reports for each of the component files, and those reports were compared in Word to show the differences we had to address.

What type of response are you getting from the community?

Angela: People have been very excited. The response at the training and the survey has been uniformly positive, with one training attendee saying,

“This will be fabulous for debugging. And it has potential for managing translations is terrific”

another commented


We’d still love to hear from people what they think – we have separate surveys for HotDocs developers (https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/TMTDev) and document assembly project managers (https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/TMTprojmgr) – if you haven’t taken a survey yet, please do!

Are there any programs that are now using the tool to improve their existing interview?

Angela: Well, we are in Michigan. Other states are right now learning how to use the tool—and we expect that in the next coming months, developers will use the tool to trouble shoot, create new content, and find new uses for the tool.

Are you now creating any new content/forms with this new capacity?

Angela: Not at this time. Its biggest application for us is maintenance – updates, translations, improving existing content. Maintenance is one the biggest challenges in the document assembly world, and it’s great to have a tool to help make this easier, and less time consuming.

Any last work to project owners on the importance of using plain language for LHI interviews?

Angela: Only that it is extremely important, and as we move to developing more and more for mobile devices, using plain language is even more important. We have to learn to say things in simpler terms and fewer words so that it will fit and make sense on a small screen for people who are on the “go”; the only way to do this is through plain language.

You can find the tool, User’s Manual, and training video all here: https://www.probono.net/dasupport/library/folder.617503-HotDocs_Text_Management_Tool

Michigan Legal HelpThe Michigan Legal Help website and affiliated local self-help centers are part of the Michigan Legal Help Program. The Program works with judges, courts, lawyers, bar associations, nonprofit legal aid agencies, legal self-help centers, libraries and many others to promote coordinated and quality assistance for persons representing themselves in civil legal matters in Michigan.

LHI logoPro Bono Net leads a national effort to provide online legal document assembly for poverty law and court access to justice programs. LawHelp Interactive allows subject matter experts to create interview templates that can be used to assemble court forms and other legal documents based on a user’s input. 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. Read a case study about how the NY Courts are using LawHelp Interactive. This project is in collaboration with Ohio State Legal Services Association, with funding by the Legal Services Corporation and the State Justice Institute, and using HotDocs software.