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.

Earlier this year, Pro Bono Net partnered with JASA of Legal Services for the Elderly in Queens to develop a new web app that enables social workers to perform quick legal screenings for homebound and disabled seniors. JASA assists many at risk Queens seniors with their emergency issues, in particular housing, consumer debt, and elder abuse cases. However, many seniors are homebound or face significant obstacles getting to legal help and a courthouse. In many ways they personify the broader justice gap in America.

In January, Donna Dougherty, Attorney-in-Charge at JASA, heard about Chief Judge Lippman’s new Court Navigator program and joined the Task Force to Expand Access to Civil Legal Services in New York to work on a model creating a similar pilot for social workers assisting seniors and the disabled. In February, we partnered with JASA and began working with Georgetown law students in Professor Tanina Rostain’s course, “Technology, Innovation, and Legal Practice” to develop the app. Our Executive Director, Mark O’Brien, had been invited by Professor Rostain to teach the spring semester along with Kevin Mulcahy, the Training Director for Neota Logic. A generous technology donation from Neota Logic allowed the students’ app design to become reality.*

App Development

Before beginning the development process, Donna asked JASA’s social workers what they wanted and just as importantly what they did not want in an app. The social workers were nervous about crossing the line between providing support and legal information and giving legal advice. They are in a client’s home for a limited time so the app had to be easy-to-use, quick to identify potential issues, and provide concise and clear suggestions for action.

The other crucial consideration was practical – many of JASA’s clients do not own computers and/or do not have Internet service. Initially JASA and PBN looked at using iPads – they’re portable, user friendly, and can access the Internet over a cellular network. However, the team quickly realized that they could also be limiting and that making a more universally accessible app was a better use of resources. Thus, they settled on a web app! Social workers would carry small, lightweight laptops and use iPhones as mobile hotspots to access the app.

With these needs in mind and a budget of about $5,000, Donna and Pro Bono Net’s Adam Friedl began working with the Georgetown students in March and had a completed app by the end of Spring Semester. Donna acquired all the tech equipment within two months of starting the project and so the project roll out was ready to begin within 6 months of the start-date. Over the summer, the app, christened the Debt & Eviction Navigator (or DEN), launched.

Roll-out

As the roll out began, the social workers were apprehensive and in some cases resistant about using technology – some had never used a laptop or a hotspot. After a small amount of training however, they quickly realized 1) how easy the DEN is to use and 2) its massive potential to help streamline services and allow JASA to provide more holistic assistance. They can now give their clients information easily, quickly, and clearly. Most importantly they can help people who otherwise cannot access the court system.

Over the past several months, JASA social workers have used the DEN to interview over two hundred people. About five were homebound and had an immediate legal issue (e.g. they had a lawsuit pending against them in court). Without the DEN, these clients might not have known that their issue was pressing. Without the new navigator program, they would not have been able to access the court system.

After identifying that a homebound client has a legal issue, JASA brings the situation to the court’s attention and the client is able to access the justice system remotely. For example, the social worker can assist a client to file an answer online, verify their identity and intentions with the court via VoIP and online video calling, and then have their filing marked as “homebound” and sent to judges who are familiar with the new system.

Future

Donna is really excited about the potential to use similar apps to increase access to justice for homebound and otherwise isolated Americans. The development process was fast, easy, and inexpensive. As providers and the courts gain experience they will be able to make more powerful and efficient apps in the future. Investments today will also decrease future development costs; iPads, hotspots, video conferencing technology only have to be bought once.

The combination of technological advancements and a court system willing to experiment enables gatekeepers – those with the most consistent contact with hard-to-reach people – to extend access to justice to often-neglected populations. Donna envisions apps that could help in foreclosure cases, disaster relief work (where computer access is often limited or non-existent), and with language issues. The DEN is just the first iteration in the exciting future of access to justice apps!

*Editor’s note: Michael Mills, President and Chief Strategy Officer of Neota Logic, is a Pro Bono Net board member.

About the Series

Richard Zorza, one of the founders and leaders of the access to justice (ATJ) movement, recently received the American Bar Association’s 2014 Louis M. Brown Award for Legal Access’ Lifetime Achievement Honor for decades of work on behalf of self-represented litigants. Not to be outdone, the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators passed a Resolution of Recognition “express[ing] their deep appreciation to Richard Zorza for his thoughtful, unique, and dedicated service, loyal support and guidance, and for his unfailing commitment to improving the state courts of this nation, and the Conferences extend to him their best wishes for the future.” Richard was at the Open Society Institute with Mark O’Brien and Michael Hertz when they formed Pro Bono Net, and had a profound influence on our founding and development. As we approach our 15th anniversary, we would like to extent our deepest gratitude and thanks for his tremendous guidance. I recently spoke with Richard, and we are excited to produce this five-part installment from that discussion. Our final post focuses on the future of the ATJ movement. And of course, read more of Richard’s always fascinating thoughts on his Access to Justice blog.

Where to Now?

After covering the successes and struggles of the access to justice movement, I asked Richard where we go from here. What are the areas to focus on and how can we build on our successes and respond to emerging areas of need? As we conclude Speaking with the Master, I encourage everyone to think about what Richard has said and share where they think we need to go next (and why).

Richard highlighted the non-lawyer initiatives in New York and the work that Judge Fern Fisher and Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman have done to highlight access to justice issues and encourage experimental efforts to close the justice gap. He has heard very positive reports and thinks that if they continue to go well, such initiatives will “spread like wildfire” and quickly become the norm across the country. In addition, he mentioned Bonne Hough’s work in California to increase the California courts’ responsiveness to pro se litigants and ensure that all litigants, not just those affluent enough to afford counsel, receive fair and equitable treatment. It is important that we consider what we can to do provide help – not just legal assistance, but help – to the millions who interact with the complicated court system every year. Richard stressed the importance of broadening our horizons and continuing to look for innovative solutions, both technologically and conceptually. Almost every great idea was once considered crazy and unrealistic.

Of course, some traditional solutions are incredibly effective (eat your veggies!) and Richard said that non-lawyer programs must be paired with efforts to increase the supply of lawyers working to meet the ever-growing demand for legal services. As discussed previously on this blog, the economic theory of supply and demand is not an accurate description of the issues facing the legal profession and the justice system. America has both an oversupply of lawyers and an unmet demand for legal services. We must encourage more young lawyers to help increase access to justice and make it economically sustainable for them to do so.

Lastly, Richard pointed to the importance of ongoing research assessing the size of the justice gap, where it is most prevalent, and what remedies are most effective. In the early years of the movement, research was too often neglected, but thankfully that has begun to change. Increased research leads to increase knowledge, which leads to the efficient resource allocation necessary for effective resource utilization, and finally the narrowing of the justice gap (it is like the path to the Dark Side, only the exact opposite).

And on that wonderful joke, I am going to conclude Speaking with the Master. I want to thank Richard Zorza for his generosity and time, and all of you for continuing for bearing with me as I repeatedly expanded this series. Personally, I blame Richard for being too interesting and insightful, but I understand if others feel differently.

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.

 

by Xander Karsten and Jillian Theil

As part of our work with Pro Bono Net, we frequently attend conferences, which offer us the opportunity to connect with colleagues as well as learn and share trending topics, information and new tools.  This year’s Nonprofit Technology Conference

From L-R: Michael Smolens, Matthew Burnett, Xander Karsten, and Teri Ross at NTC 2013

(NTC) in Minneapolis, Minnesota was no different. But what sets NTC apart is that it draws non-profit professionals from a number of fields – not just the legal sector. Meeting and learning from medical service providers, parent advocate associations, and more, provides us with invaluable insights as to how other nonprofits approach common problems, such as how to increase access to much needed services.

One of the trending topics at NTC was the digital divide, and how we close the inequality gap that exists between those who have access to technology and those who do not. Today, nonprofits are relying more and more on technology to efficiently and effectively achieve their goals and deliver services.

The digital divide was the main focus of a presentation by Elizabeth Pope, senior researcher at Idealware in her session called, From Digital Divide to Digital Inclusion: Technology as an Equalizing Force. In this session, strategies for closing the divide were discussed, such as identifying barriers to technology access (mobility barriers, language barriers, economic barriers, etc). Two organizations that have made progress on increasing technology access – the Pacer Center and the Skokie Public Library– were discussed as exemplary organizations working on how to create effective resources for clients who have a limited understanding of technology. At Pro Bono Net, this is a particularly important issue for us as we develop technology tools to increase access to justice, such as our LawHelp  and LawHelp Interactive platforms. Additionally, it is helpful in thinking through our partnerships with public libraries, important partners in closing justice and technology gaps.

Consequently, access to content via mobile was also a focus of discussions around the digital divide. With a growing number of low income and young users accessing websites and direct services organizations on mobile devices, this is yet another key topic for nonprofits. At Pro Bono Net, developing mobile optimized versions of our LawHelp site is a key priority in enabling access to legal services to a broader demographic, and CitizenshipWorks.org offers a mobile app that helps immigrants understand the naturalization process. SMS and Derek Olson, Vice President of Foraker Labs and Michele Zwiebel, Director of Programs and Content at Breastcancer.org provided exceptional insights into the process of translating a full site into a mobile accessible site in their presentation Designing a Mobile User Experience for Breast Cancer Survivors. Even though the mobile site is health oriented, there were many takeaways for non-health organizations, such as how to mobile optimize a content-heavy site and the importance of observing your audience’s needs when designing for mobile. The panel also reflected the growing sentiment that designing for mobile users should be a primary consideration in all platform development, allowing for maximum accessibility across all devices.

Echoing the mantra of accessibility, mobile platforms and multilingual content were also examined in a panel moderated by Pro Bono Net’s Xander Karsten, Breaking through Language Barriers with Technology with panelists Teri Ross, Program Director of Ayuda Legal Illinois; Michael Smolens, Founder of DotSub and Board Member of Translators without Borders; and Matthew Burnett, Director of Immigration Advocates Network. This breakout session highlighted the work and strategies of each organization in making their online presence meaningful to those with limited English proficiency, such as addressing how to translate a site that offers a large amount of content, how to approach translation projects in communities where multiple languages are spoken, translation of multimedia resources and much more. Interestingly, the session was particularly unique in that it was the only conference panel to directly focus on language access rights, something that we work towards at Pro Bono Net by offering the ability to translate our LawHelp sites into multiple languages.

In much of our day–to-day work we are often confronted with figuring out how to  provide meaningful access to those who face incredible barriers when trying to access resources and information. Within our own communities we talk about language access, mobile access, literacy access, economic access, physical access and more. Utilizing the principle of accessibility when designing sites and services can change the life of a disadvantaged individual facing legal challenges.  NTC is a great opportunity to look at these issues from outside the legal services perspective, see these common access issues in a different light, and bring back new and innovative solutions to the legal technology community.