The Northwest Justice Project (NJP) is charged with creating a series of instructive videos for WashingtonLawHelp.org through the federal Communities Connect Network Project (part of the Department of Commerce’s Broadband Technology Opportunity Program) which aims to increase access to technology and improve legal literacy for unrepresented Washingtonians. NJP recently released its 8th video, on Public Healthcare for Children & Youth in Washington State. We spoke about the project with Sue Encherman, NJP’s Director of Administration, and Daniel Ediger, a Loyola Public Interest Law Fellow at NJP who is the main force behind producing the videos.
Tell us about the overall video project. How did it originate?
Sue: It was part of a huge Broad Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grant that the state of Washington put in, mostly for broadband access but a small part of it, called JusticeNet, proposed to open a couple of computing centers attached to courthouses and to have a portal page on these computers that would show you where to go for help with civil legal aid. The job of Northwest Justice Project was to help on the portals and to produce 11 videos in Spanish and English on certain topics that came under the areas of interest to BTOP, including safety and security, economic security and jobs. These were to be accessible from WashingtonLawHelp.
Daniel, how did you get involved in this project?
I graduated from Loyola Law School-Los Angeles in 2010 and got a two-year public interest fellowship from Loyola. I served one year at Idaho Legal Aid, then transferred to Seattle. In Idaho I worked on a public legal education project for seniors – an easy-to-understand guidebook in plain language. So I had experience in making complex legal ideas accessible. I also had worked in film before law school.
Sue: Originally he was just going to be the project manager but since he had the talent, we moved all the production to him.
The videos convey complex legal information in a way that is easy to understand. How did you achieve that?
Daniel: With some of them, the first seed of the script is one of our Washington LawHelp handouts, which already use plain language principles – everything from font size to scrubbing them of legalese terms. We’re trying to use all of those ideas. I talked to some other groups, mostly in Canada, that are doing legal education videos. They use a lot of animation and graphics, which also helps for translation purposes.
It’s a balancing out of trying to make it informal and short and watchable, but not making people think it’s a really simple thing if it’s not. There is an art to it.
A key part is telling people the legal process is not just a huge chaos. A lot of the videos, because they’re for pro se people, we thought of this game board idea – there are steps, you do them in this order. Video, more than print, can convey that sense of time and pacing.
Sue: Daniel gives the person who’s going to write the script a template with two columns – one for what you say, one for what you see. He instructs you to put one sentence per line in the table and to make it fairly chatty – not like you’re reading, but more like you’re speaking to someone.
How are the videos being promoted?
Sue: It’s all done electronically. We have a big email list that includes other agencies, volunteer programs, the Bar. We just sent out a special bulletin on “What’s New at WashingtonLawHelp” that goes to 2,200 email addresses including public libraries, agencies and individuals. Also, this grant is being managed by the EdLab Group, and they promote the videos to their community computing centers.
What kind of feedback have you gotten on the videos?
Sue: We’re getting really great reviews. About 3,800 people have seen the videos. The foreclosure mediation videos have been used in trainings for mediators and in public clinics for those who need foreclosure help.
We’ve also learned how well getting information out via video works in this day and age. When we started online intake in February, the early feedback showed that there were some topics people did not understand. We did a short video for that and over 1,000 people have looked at it.