On Wednesday, September 19, 2012, LSNTAP (Legal Services National Assistance Project) and Pro Bono Net conducted a community training that evaluated what the legal services community is learning about implementing online intake, including best practices, and discussed how this technology is transforming the delivery of legal services.  Participants were encouraged to tweet about the webinar under #LSNTAP.

You can find LSNTAP’s review of the webinar on their blog. Thanks to LSNTAP and the panelists, you can check out the various online intake systems in the recap.

Pro Bono Net’s Deputy Director Allison McDermott moderated the webinar and kicked things off by laying out the definition of online intake and conducting a few polls to see what participants are doing.  Online intake is used by approximately 30% of the

Over 50% of states have at least one legal aid program using online intake.

participants.  Those who had implemented online intake had, like the majority of our panelists, only done so recently.

A newbie to the community webinar trainings and online intake, I had the opportunity to attend the webinar, which LSNTAP reports was the best-attended yet.  The following are my top ten takeaways and tweets from the event. I quickly learned that with decreasing resources and increasing needs, many organizations are happy with their decision to implement an online intake program as it improves the effectiveness and efficiency of their program ultimately having improving services to the individuals in need of help.  Please feel free to share your top takeaways from the webinar in the comments.

The overall consensus?  Online intake is a #wisechoice.

  1. Tweeted during the program – “Will more online apps save FTE (full-time employee)?”  Yes, it appears from respondents.  Debra Jennings, of Legal Aid Line/ABLE/LAWO reported that her program saved roughly the time of one FTE.
  2. Online intake will level the playing field geographically.  Jennings says online intake has increased access points for her service area which is mostly rural.
  3. Online intake can function as triage.  Craige Harrison of Utah Legal Services could not hire more staff and says online intake acts as triage for his program.  Unlike Jennings’ program, Utah Legal Services requires all applicants to call them back.
  4. Online intake expands access beyond rural communities; Harrison says it also increases availability to those who are hard of hearing, victims of domestic violence, and those who are temporarily out of the country.  He encourages everyone to go to online intake because of the increased accessibility and efficiency.
  5. Systems need tweaking. Jennings says Advocates for Basic Legal Equality will continue to do online intake and tweak their systems as needed.  She adds that it allows them to provide more services and resources with fewer staff.
  6. Clients struggle with financial and income questions.  Robert Stroud of Legal Services Alabama said that clients often misinterpret financial and poverty guidelines. One tweeter suggested that someone study this to create a set of excellent questions to establish income requirements.
  7. Stroud suggests having good written policies so that the staff knows what is expected of them when starting online intake services.  His team tries to reach individuals 3 times and then refers them to the director.
  8. Stroud also says that people may prefer the online intake since the hold time on the phone is often 20 minutes.  This prompted a tweeter to respond “Online 24/7, follow up phone call is 9-5 (or less). That’s a problem.”
  9. Online intake applicants tend to be younger. And as Jennings reports suggest, mostly female. But most individuals are finding the technology, as older clients are going to the library. See our recent post on libraries and access to justice.
  10. Online intake is used 24/7. William Guyton, Jr., also from Legal Services Alabama, said that there is not a day that’s gone by in three years that they’ve not had a single intake.

This year, a number of projects were funded by TIG related to online intake, you can find the full list here.