After completing a major technology rebuild of LawHelp Interactive’s (LHI’s) backend in 2015, the LHI team shifted focus to improving the look and feel of LHI. That same year, about 20% of users accessing lawhelpinteractive.org were doing so with mobile and tablet devices making it clear that the mobile and tablet experience should be a central consideration for any redesign of the site.

With that in mind and in partnership with Legal Aid Society of Hawaii (LASH), LHI secured funding for a mobile-first redesign and related enhancements to the LHI platform. LASH and the LHI team formed a group of national partners to serve on a mobile usability committee*. We also enlisted the help of Rootid, a national brand strategy, design and web development firm for nonprofits to create the new designs and layouts. Rootid was a great fit for this project because they were able to leverage their prior experience with LHI where they conducted a device-independent LHI usability study (funded under a Legal Services Corporation Technology Initiative Grant).

Implementation

With the new designs and related enhancements settled upon by the summer of 2017, the LHI Tech team began coding these enhancements. This development was in part funded through another Legal Services Corporation Technology Initiative Grant that supports the LHI infrastructure granted through Ohio State Legal Services Association (OSLSA).

Pro Bono Net’s Mirenda Meghelli and Alice Pucheu were leads on the project, and were supported by their colleagues Doug Carlson, Greg Tenzer, and Kanchana Hedge.  LHI Program Manager Claudia Johnson also acted in an advisory capacity, and others at PBN were also key in helping the project become a reality, including Liz Keith and Mark O’Brien. After deployment, Pro Bono Net’s Community Support Associate Rafael Ramirez has been key in tracking end user help requests.

Though the new look and feel did not include major changes in functionality for the platforms, some improvements were made to take advantage of the opportunity. The new features include improving the search function and abilities through a new grid system, and improving the account creation/sign in experience to make it easier for users. The system now also lets attorneys mark “favorite” forms; a helpful shortcut for regular users.

Plain Language

In addition to an updated design, the new platform underwent a plain language review to improve accessibility of the platform across all devices. The LHI environment has been significantly improved since the redesign went live and additional enhancements and fixes continue to be pushed based on end user feedback and ongoing testing. More than 4,000 people have watched the new informational video, and feedback from partners and users on the new design has been positive:

“I really liked the mobile-optimized interface!”

“Staff are always available and responsive. New website design seems much more user-friendly.”

“The website redesign is a great improvement.”

With more than 1 million interviews served on LHI in 2017, this mobile-first redesign will benefit the large and growing number of LHI users.

Learn More

If you want to learn more about LawHelp Interactive, please contact Claudia Johnson at cjohnson@probono.net. If you have questions related to the LHI Redesign project, please contact Mirenda Meghelli at mmeghelli@probono.net

More information about LHI can be found here: probono.net/lhi or to visit LHI go to http://www.lawhelpinteractive.org

*The mobile advisory group is made up of national partners from California, Ohio, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, South Carolina, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Kansas, Utah, and Georgia. The group also included technology partners from HotDocs Corporation and CALI.


Pro 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.

There are 21 summer internship opportunities for law students interested in public interest law and technology through the ATJ Tech Fellows program. Two of these positions will be hosted by Pro Bono Net in New York.

The ATJ Tech Fellows program is designed to provide law students with practical experience on the use of technology in the delivery of legal services. The program offers a combination of virtual classroom learning and a 10-week hands on placement at a partner organization.

One of these positions will be placed in our NY office, working with the national online document assembly team, LawHelp Interactive (LHI) (https://www.atjtechfellows.org/pro-bono-net).

The other position is with partners in NY, Nassau Suffolk Law Services Committee (https://www.atjtechfellows.org/nassau-suffolk-law-services), and hosted at LawHelpNY (LHNY).

As part of the ATJ Tech Fellows programs the summer participants will be part of a diverse cohort across the country receiving training via virtual classrooms, “brown bags” with national thought leaders, and access to mentors through the program. The fellowship also provides a stipend. More details on the Fellowship and how to apply can be found here: https://www.atjtechfellows.org/overview/

 

Deadline is 2/9/2018 for applications.


The Access to Justice Tech Fellows is a 10-week fully funded experiential learning program that places law students at legal services organization to develop innovative solutions that leverage technology, data, and design to expand access to legal services and improve our civil justice.

At the 2017 Equal Justice Conference (EJC) this week, several Pro Bono Net staff members will be presenting on a variety of equal justice issues. The Conference takes place May 3-6th in Pittsburgh and is hosted by the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service and the National Legal Aid & Defender Association.

Pro Bono Net is a national nonprofit leader in increasing access to justice through innovative uses of technology and collaboration. Pro Bono Net’s staff is made up of a cross-disciplinary team from legal, technology, and community engagement backgrounds who are committed to finding innovative, sustainable solutions for expanding access to justice.

The Equal Justice Conference brings together all components of the legal community to discuss equal justice issues as they relate to the delivery of legal services to the poor. Pro Bono Net will present on a wide range of topics, including emerging technology trends in the equial justice community, technology to expand pro bono participation, and designing and delivering better tools to assist self-represented litigants.

Staff attending the conference includes Mark O’Brien, Executive Director; Liz Keith, Program Director; Claudia Johnson, LawHelp Interactive Program Coordinator; Mike Grunenwald, Program Coordinator;  Sam Halpert, LawHelp Program Coordinator; and Jessica Stuart, Pro Bono Manager Product Manager.

Pro Bono Net staff are participating in the following pre-conference activities and conference workshops. For more details on each workshop, please visit the EJC website here.

Thursday, 10 AM

Emerging Technology: Envisioning Broad Benefits to Legal Aid
  • IV Ashton, LegalServer and Houston.AI
  • Liz Keith, Pro Bono Net
  • David Neumeyer, Virginia Legal Aid Society
  • Roger Skalbeck, University of Richmond School of Law
Hot Topics in Civil Right to Counsel: Pilots, Research Results, Legislation
  • Lise Adams, D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center
  • Mike Grunenwald, Pro Bono Net
  • Mairi McKeever, Justice & Diversity Center of the Bar Association of San Francisco
  • John Pollock, National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel

Thursday, 11:45 AM

LawHelp / probono.net / LawHelp Interactive Network Gathering

Room 301

Programs are invited to share project highlights and connect with others around the country working on or interested in LawHelp.org, probono.net or LHI online forms initiatives. Pick up your lunch in the gallery and join us in room 301!  Contact Liz Keith at lkeith@probono.net with any questions.

Thurdsay, 1:30 PM

Delivering Better Tools to Self-Represented Litigants: Tips for Websites and Document Assembly
  • Sam Halpert, Pro Bono Net
  • Rochelle Klempner, New York State Courts Access to Justice Program
  • Angela Tripp, Michigan Legal Help Program

Friday, 8:30 AM

Closing the Justice Gap with Remote Service Delivery
  • Mike Grunenwald, Pro Bono Net
  • Claudia Johnson, Pro Bono Net
  • Lillian Moy, Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New Yor

Friday, 10:30 AM

Big Ideas: The Future of Pro Bono
  • Kevin Curnin, Stroock & Stroock & Lavan
  • Sharon Goldsmith, Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland
  • Mark O’Brien, Pro Bono Net
  • Eve Runyon, Pro Bono Institute
  • Steve Scudder, American Bar Association
  • Joe Sullivan, Pepper Hamilton
  • Witold “Vic” Walczak, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Friday, 1:45 PM

Learning to Love and Use Your Data
  • Claudia Johnson, Pro Bono Net
  • Sam Halpert, Pro Bono Net
  • Mary Kaczorek, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid

Friday, 1:45 PM

50 Tech Tips
  • David Bonebrake, Legal Services Corporation
  • Liz Keith, Pro Bono Net
  • Glenn Rawdon, Legal Services Corporation
  • Jane Ribadeneyra, Legal Services Corporation
  • Brian Rowe, Northwest Justice Project

About Pro Bono Net

Pro Bono Net is a national non-profit organization dedicated to increasing access to justice. Through innovative technology solutions and expertise in building and mobilizing justice networks, Pro Bono Net transforms the way legal help reaches the underserved. Comprehensive programs including www.probono.net, www.lawhelp.org,  www.lawhelpinteractive.org and the Immigration Advocates Network, enable legal advocates to make a stronger impact, increase volunteer participation, and empower the public with resources and self-help tools to improve their lives.

About the Equal Justice Conference

The Equal Justice Conference, hosted by the American Bar Association and NLADA, brings together all components of the legal community to discuss equal justice issues as they relate to the delivery of legal services to the poor and low-income individuals in need of legal assistance.

The emphasis of this Conference is on strengthening partnerships among the key players in the civil justice system. Through plenary sessions, workshops, networking opportunities and special programming, the Conference provides a wide range of learning and sharing experiences for all attendees.

 

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

“BOB AUBIN AND ANGELA TRIPP RULE!!!!!!!!!!!!”

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.

Pro Bono Net would like to recognize the thousands of volunteer lawyers who make a huge difference for those in need and the incredibly important work of pro bono volunteers in building our capacity to meet the vast unmet need for civil legal services.  This year we are celebrating National Pro Bono Week through a special Volunteering Through Technology Initiative, which features someone who volunteers though one of Pro Bono Net’s innovative legal tech solutions on our Connecting Justice Communities blog. We are very proud to showcase these volunteers from our pro bono community and hope they may inspire you to get involved as well! Today we are highlighting the work of Nancy Watson, who volunteers through the use of LawHelp Interactive forms at the Bet Tzedek Legal Services’ Self-Help Conservatorship Clinic in Los Angeles.

LawHelp Interactive (LHI) is a national online document assembly platform that allows people representing themselves to prepare their own legal documents and pleadings online for free. It is also used by legal aid advocates, pro bono attorneys, and court systems seeking to work more efficiently and develop new approaches to service delivery. In clinics around the country, LHI forms enable volunteers, like Nancy Watson, to assist those who cannot afford an attorney to create their own complete, high quality legal documents and pleadings for free. Through the use of these forms, Nancy is better able to help those who come to Bet Tzedek Legal Services’ Self-Help Conservatorship Clinic in Los Angeles. Keep reading to learn more about Nancy and why she volunteers.

Nancy Watson, Volunteer
Bet Tzedek Legal Services’ Self-Help Conservatorship Clinic

Nancy WatsonIt is a joy and privilege to have the opportunity to volunteer at Bet Tzedek Legal Services’ Self-Help Conservatorship Clinic in Los Angeles.  The clinic assists those wanting to ensure that family members or loved ones who are not able to make decisions for themselves are adequately cared for and protected from potential physical, mental or financial abuse.   Most of those who come to the clinic do not have the resources to hire an attorney to navigate the legal system on their behalf.  Bet Tzekek performs a vital public service by helping a large number of potential conservators prepare and file the voluminous paperwork required by the court.

It is heartwarming to see the relief on a mother’s face when she knows that she will be able to continue making life decisions for her developmentally disabled child after he reaches the age of 18.  Rather than trust an institution to make the right decisions, parents who obtain conservatorships in this situation have peace of mind knowing that they will still be able to ensure their child is protected from neglect or abuse by retaining the right to determine where the adult child will live and to make important medical and educational choices.

Many adult children and spouses of those suffering from dementia or debilitating illness have expressed their gratitude to the clinic staff and volunteers who help them as they are often forced to deal with very stressful situations and emotionally wrenching decisions.  I am often touched by the consideration and gratitude of those who in the midst of their life struggles take the time to thank and appreciate the volunteer workers.

Volunteering is one of the best ways to continue learning and growing as a lawyer and as a person.”

I am a California attorney who has spent most of my career in public service.  I was employed by the State Bar of California for twenty years as a prosecutor in the Office of the Chief Trial Counsel.  As an Assistant Chief Trial Counsel, I oversaw the Intake Unit and served as a manager of attorneys, investigators and paralegals until 2011.  Since that time, I have worked as a part-time Hearing Officer at Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and have been volunteering two days a week at Bet Tzedek Legal Services.

I am grateful for the opportunity to continue working to serve the public as a volunteer at the Self-Help Clinic and I enjoy using my legal skills and knowledge to help others.  Volunteering is one of the best ways to continue learning and growing as a lawyer and as a person.  Nothing is more satisfying than helping others, particularly those who might otherwise not be able to exercise their legal rights, and it is my hope that others will be inspired to volunteer their time to assist the underserved in our community.

 


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. 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.

Bet Tzedek ClinicThe Bet Tzedek Self-Help Conservatorship Clinic, in partnership with the Los Angeles Superior Court, provides basic assistance to individuals who want to file for a probate conservatorship without a lawyer in order to help an adult who cannot care for himself or herself. The Clinic does not provide legal advice or attorney representation; instead it offers general information about the court process and help in preparing and filing documents to be appointed as a probate conservator.

Hispanic Heritage month, a chance look at the wealth of contributions the Hispanic community has made and continues to make in our society, is almost over. As we celebrate the contributions, we continue to support our communities in achieving their dreams and goals by providing assistance in overcoming civil legal issues and access to justice. Continue reading to see some examples and learn about how these tools and resources impact Spanish speaking communities nationwide.

In civil law cases, many begin the legal process without the benefit of an attorney due to the cost of retaining one. In order to provide access to information easily and effectively, Pro Bono Net offers a myriad of tools and resources and support, developed by local partners, to assist those who navigate our legal system alone. LawHelp.org is an online resource that helps low and moderate-income people find free legal aid programs in their communities, answers to questions about their legal rights, court information, links to social service agencies, and more. Several states around the country now offer these resources in Spanish to better equip communities to navigate the legal system on their own, or find access to legal aid.

Online interviews and document assemblies help legal aid programs meet the needs of Spanish speaking communities by helping them to help themselves. Many of these households struggle to find the time to go downtown to a legal aid office, so these online tools allow them to handle their legal problems from home on their own time. Providing online resources 24/7 in Spanish and other languages enables the community to better access our justice system in a manner that suits their needs.

Spanish Language Resources

Ayuda Legal MichiganThe Michigan Poverty Law Program has created Ayuda Legal Michigan, a LawHelp powered site, to provide access to their information and resources directly in Spanish. Here Spanish speaking residents of Michigan can access easy to use online forms in their native language in multiple civil legal aid areas. Many of these forms are interactive and guided through the use of LawHelp Interactive (LHI), a Pro Bono Net form generation platform which has supported Spanish online content more than 10 years. All of these forms are available for free. Take a look at an example of a Michigan protective order report.

Ayuda Legal NY offers similar resources and online forms in multiple areas of law in Spanish. The NY State Courts have a Paternity petition form available in Spanish, as well as a Tenant Answer to Eviction, one of the first online forms in Spanish in the LHI system. These online interactive forms make it easier for Spanish speakers to navigate the US legal system, minimizing confusion and increasing efficiency. Ayuda Legal NY also offers various know-your-rights information and tools directly on their website.

Minnesota screen shot spanishIn Minnesota, tenants can request Security Deposit returns using an online interview, available in Spanish, which takes their entered information and produces a document for them to file/ provide to their landlord. For many low income families, not receiving the security deposit back from their landlord within an acceptable time frame can affect their ability to move and secure housing somewhere else. The ability to go through a simple interview that will create the necessary legal forms provides an avenue to ensuring their landlord returns their deposit, enabling them to utilize those funds for a different apartment, or towards purchasing a more permanent residence such as a house.

These are just a few examples of how legal aid programs can put online resources at the hands of our Hispanic communities to ensure equal access to helpful tools. Similar forms and programs can be found in multiple states across the country. The LawHelp Interactive platform supports additional languages and if you are interested in learning more about this capacity please reach out to us.

Resources for Nonprofit Service Providers

At Pro Bono Net we believe that creating online tools to bridge language and culture gaps is key to achieving access to justice for all, and have worked steadily since 2008 across states to support the design and creation of online tools for multiple communities.

In that spirit we would like to share the following resources for legal non profit service providers who are working with multiple languages, as there are now online glossaries that help explain legal language in Spanish. One example is Readclearly, is a glossary shared through Open Advocate. In addition the Sacramento Courts have for years made available some of the most complete legal dictionaries.

Legal nonprofits, courts, librarians and their partners interested in discovering more about Spanish language online tools are encouraged to reach out to us to find out what is available in your state, and/or learn how you can work with us to continue bridging language gaps for those facing civil legal needs.


 

probononet_Logo_with_taglineAbout Pro Bono Net

Pro Bono Net is a national non-profit organization dedicated to increasing access to justice for the disadvantaged. Through innovative technology solutions and expertise in building and mobilizing justice networks, Pro Bono Net transforms the way legal help reaches the underserved. Comprehensive programs including www.probono.net, www.lawhelp.org and www.lawhelpinteractive.org, enable legal advocates to make a stronger impact, increase volunteer participation, and empower the public with resources and self-help tools to improve their lives.

About LawHelp InteractiveLHI logo

Pro 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.

About LawHelp.orgLawHelp3Logo

LawHelp is an online resource that helps low and moderate-income people find free legal aid programs in their communities, answers to questions about their legal rights, court information, links to social service agencies, and more. This resource was built and is maintained in partnership with hundreds of legal aid, pro bono and court-based programs across the country. LawHelp.org was recognized with the 2007 Webby Award for Best Law site.

Developer Training LHIWe are excited to announce that the next live LawHelp Interactive (LHI) developer training will take place July 11-12, 2016 at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, DC.

Why Attend? Participants in this free training will learn how to author interactive interviews for self-represented litigants, volunteer attorneys or advocates. For those already familiar with the development process, we will go beyond the basics so you can take your statewide websites and online forms initiatives to the next level.  In addition to learning how to create our forms, you’ll also learn about new LHI features to support innovative uses of online forms in pro bono and remote legal services. It’s also a great opportunity to connect with a network of peers around the country working on similar projects.

Who Can Attend? The training is free for legal aid organizations and their eligible partners. Participants are responsible for their hotel and travel costs where applicable.

Training Details: We will hold a beginner’s track where emphasis will be on HotDocs template development and A2J Guided Interview development is also covered. The beginner track training faculty include trainers from Capstone Practice Systems as well as Center for Access to Justice & Technology at Chicago-Kent College of Law. In addition, we will hold a second track covering advanced/intermediate or project management topics if there is sufficient interest.  We will also highlight new LHI functionality to support innovative uses of LHI by pro bono and remote services, and opportunities to more deeply integrate LHI with systems such as legal aid CMS’s and statewide websites.

How to sign up: Registration is available here. It’s first-come, first-served and will close July 1, 2016. If you have any questions, please let us know. You can reach me at mmeghelli@probono.net or you can reach out to LHI Program Manager Claudia Johnson, cjohnson@probono.net.

More about LHI : LHI was developed to make implementing document assembly initiatives easier and less costly for legal aid organizations as well as pro bono and court-based access-to-justice programs. Participating programs use HotDocs Corporation’s HotDocs Professional, and can also use Center for Access to Justice and Technology’s A2J Author, to create online forms and documents. Templates are uploaded to the LawHelp Interactive server and made available to advocates, pro bono volunteers, and self-represented litigants through legal aid and court websites. This training is an opportunity for in-person, hands-on expert guidance on how to develop forms.

Thanks and we hope to see you in DC!

LHI logoThis week has been designated National Reentry Week by the US Department of Justice. Those who have served their time and paid their debt to society, are at a disadvantage when reentering into the main stream. Pro Bono Net’s LawHelp Interactive provides access to online forms for those who qualify for expungement.

One of the ways previously incarcerated persons can minimize the complications and long term negative effects of serving time is to have their record expunged. Depending on the type of record and history, there might be an opportunity to erase or remove that record. Once the record is “expunged” then opportunities for housing, employment, and economic participation in their communities can become a reality.

In the first 90 days of 2016, 6,822 people used online interviews powered by LawHelp Interactive to learn about expungement in their states, and 2,331 documents were created for submission to the courts. These expungement tools are available online in the states of Washington, Kansas, Arkansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Oklahoma, Ohio, Michigan and Louisiana.

Getting an arrest or criminal record expunged is not an easy process, and the person has to meet very specific conditions. Sometimes the process requires them not only to obtain state criminal records, but also FBI criminal records, as well as letters of support and recommendation. Completing the process is difficult, confusing and frustrating, given the lack of resources out there and the steep requirements.

Not many legal aid groups provide these services due to lack of resources. Sometimes pro bono lawyers help with these cases, and sometimes the counties set up public defender offices or units to assist, but by and large, the screening process is nuanced and time consuming.

Various states are now making online forms and tools available to help people figure out if they might qualify for an expungement and prepare the petition, either on their own, or with the help of pro bono lawyers.

Legal aid groups and their partner nonprofits interested in making online forms and tools available to meet this crucial need, please contact Claudia Johnson at cjohnson@probono.net.

More Information:

In Washington state, Northwest Justice Project and TeamChild have a project that focuses specifically on juvenile expungement, that includes videos explaining expungement and the online forms: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0z5SYm26QJ4 and http://www.washingtonlawhelp.org/issues/criminal/record-expungement-sealing-records.

Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma is piloting a new program to allow those interested in clearing their records to obtain advice and counsel from a pro bono lawyer, and have the pro bono lawyer provide the documents for the case, using a new capacity in LHI that promotes sharing on the back end, called LHI Connect. http://oklaw.org/issues/expungments

Illinois also makes juvenile expungement tools available online at http://www.Expunge.io.

Sample links to online form projects that are currently live include:

http://www.illinoislegalaid.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.dsp_Content&contentID=9313

http://www.kansaslegalservices.org/node/785/free-legal-forms

http://michiganlegalhelp.org/self-help-tools/expungement

http://oklaw.org/resource/expunging-a-criminal-record?ref=0nJK2

http://www.ohiolegalservices.org/public/legal_problem/reentry/expungement-eligibility-template/qandact_view

http://www.lawhelpmn.org/resource/eviction-expungement-do-it-yourself?ref=KwO4g

We are delighted to announce that Claudia Johnson, Pro Bono Net’s LawHelp Interactive Program Manager, was invited to author a guest article for the Self-Represented Litigation Network entitled “Document Assembly : An Essential Building Block for the Access to Justice Ecosystem.” In this piece she not only describes the innovation and extensive reach of LawHelp Interactive, but it’s incomparable impact on the end user community of pro se litigants. Below is a short blurb from the piece.

LawHelp Interactive increases opportunities for those without an attorney to achieve justice on their own by allowing pro se litigants to create their own complete, high quality legal documents and pleadings for free. LHI also promotes innovative models of pro bono, remote and unbundled legal assistance, and supports collaborations with community organizations and libraries.

LawHelp Interactive is a program of Pro Bono Net, a nonprofit leader in deploying technology and collaboration to increase access to justice, operated in partnership with Ohio State Legal Services Association. Together they have received generous support for this work from, among others, the Legal Services Corporation’s Technology Initiative Grants program, as well as significant software donations from the HotDocs Corporation. Through trainings, technical assistance and community networking, LHI helps local programs develop interactive forms and effectively integrate them with services to help hundreds of thousands of people each year prevent or address legal problems.”

To read the piece in its entirety, click here: http://www.srln.org/node/848


SRLNSelf-Represented Litigation Network (SRLN) is a network of innovative lawyers, judges, court staff, legal technologists, librarians and other allied professionals who believe everyone deserves access to justice. They are working to transform the American legal system so that every person who faces a civil legal issue can get the legal help they need, understand court proceedings and get a decision on the merits. They accomplish this by advancing innovative, evidence-based access-oriented solutions such as comprehensive court and legal aid self-help services, simplified court rules and procedure, and integrated systems that efficiently and effectively connect people who need lawyers to lawyers.

 

 

MirendaIt’s hard to believe time has gone by so quickly, but earlier this month I attended my fourth LawHelp Interactive (LHI) annual technical summit. This 2-day summit has served as a time to meet in-person with the full LHI team which spans from Coast to Coast, as well as with various LHI field partners, funders, technology partners and stakeholders. We spent much of the 2016 technical summit going over LHI priorities for the year and engaging in discussion around strategies on promoting and preserving LHI’s important and evolving role helping legal aid organizations and court to provide free forms online.

Over the past two years, with funding through the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) Technology Initiative Grant program and support from Blue Ridge Legal Services (BRLS) and Ohio State Legal Services Association (OSLSA), LHI has undergone a rebuild process to modernize and upgrade the capacity of LHI to support service delivery innovation by legal aid programs, courts and other justice community stakeholders (see this blog post on the rebuild).  This technology strategy has been validated by an independent third party assessment and work is currently underway to implement recommendations to further improve the system. With this new, stable environment completed, focus on LHI has shifted to a number of areas outside of ensuring that the system works well for a growing and diversifying user community. Here are a few highlights from my perspective:

Data: Through an LSC-funded project with Central Minnesota Legal Services and Legal Services State Support, LHI now has the capacity to better understand how users are utilizing the system. Better data allows the Minnesota team to make more informed decisions about what’s working and where improvements are most appropriate for the users of its interviews. We’re all working to expand our internal capacity to leverage Google Analytics in more powerful ways to understand the end-to-end experience of LHI users.

Usability, and End User-centric design: The rebuild was focused on back end changes by design. Now that the more robust LHI infrastructure is operational and working well, we’ve identified a follow up priority of modernizing the look and feel of the LHI experience, and exploring opportunities to improve the user experience for specific audiences such as self-helpers, advocate users, and template developers.

Programmatic and strategic partners: A very important part of the summit was being able to hear from partners and funders including LSC, OSLSA, Capstone, and Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI). We also heard from court customers that rely on LHI every day to e-file and provide services in self-help centers (New York, California and Hennepin County Minnesota), as well as received input from high volume users from states including Michigan and Illinois and Washington. We were able to hear from partners in other states and programs that are planning to leverage interactive forms in remote services, online triage and new self-help initiatives. Their input and perspective are critical in the development of a long-term vision for LHI.

 

* Special thanks to my son for accompanying me to New York during the summit and helping with edits to this post.*

 


Mirenda Meghelli is the LawHelp Interactive Program Coordinator at Pro Bono Net, where she works as part of a team to support and grow initiatives using LawHelp Interactive, an award-winning national online document assembly platform operated by Pro Bono Net in partnership with legal aid, pro bono and court access to justice programs across the country.