People have short attention spans.  Always feed your video crew.   User test everything – your assumptions are probably wrong.

These were among the tips shared by participants in the Aug. 15 webinar, “Online Resources for Self-represented Litigants,” part of the Pro Bono Net/LSNTAP Community Training series. Five  court and legal services programs shared lessons learned in developing online resources for those without lawyers.  Below are some of the highlights.

Claudia Johnson, LawHelp Interactive Program Manager at Pro Bono Net, kicked off the webinar with some reminders about how people learn, some taken from Brain Rules.  Anyone designing online resources should remember that people lose focus after about 10 minutes, that recall is better with more use of visuals, and that people like the opportunity to learn by exploring.

Illinois Legal Aid Online is trying to make it easier for people to find what they need with “GuideMe” modules that bundle online content into a one-stop shop for a particular legal problem.  The goal, said ILAO’s Teri Ross, is to put content into easily digestible chunks.  Her tips:

  • Focus on readability, including plain language.
  • Take the time to incorporate usability testing, because your assumptions about how an online tool will be used may well be wrong.
  • Be intentional about how you present your content.  ILAO heard from courts that people using online forms were often filling out the wrong form.  This led them to couch the online forms in other content that offers additional context.
  • Think about evaluation from the beginning – how will you know if a new tool is effective?
  • It’s imperative today to build for mobile.  Many low-income people access the web only from their phones.

Daniel Ediger of the Northwest Justice Project is creating a series of online videos meant to educate people about common civil legal issues.  [See related post.]  His tips for a successful script:

  • Speak in second person.
  • Avoid passive voice.
  • Use concrete words.
  • Delete needless words.
  • Make sure each sentence states a simple fact and is essential.

The Texas Legal Services Center (TLSC) is also creating public legal education videos, in partnership with the Texas Office of Court Administration and Lone Star Legal Aid.  The project will ultimately produce a series of 14 short videos to help people navigate the court system.  TLSC’s Colton Lawrence shared his tips for video production:

  • Setup will go slower than you think.
  • Have a point person to keep you on schedule.
  • Food is essential!  It shows you are looking out for your crew and it gets people to the set and keeps them there.
  • It is possible to produce videos on a tight budget with some creativity.

At Napa County Superior Court, Neil Bowman-Davis livens up the self-help portion of the website with online presentations created using Prezi, a free, web-based application.  The presentations help users understand that a seemingly overwhelming legal issue such as divorce is a process with a beginning and an end.

Pro Seniors in Ohio recently developed an online, interactive interview, built using Pro Bono Net’s LawHelp Interactive system, that lets people create a document for power of attorney. According to Pro Seniors’ Michael Walters, the form was used more than 1,200 times in the first two months after its May 1 launch.  To make the development process easier, Pro Seniors started with a similar form that had been created in Idaho and adapted it.  Michael and his colleagues wanted to include warnings about potential abuse; their solution was to include this in a cover letter that prints out with the completed form.

Materials from the webinar will soon be posted on the LSNTAP site.  Join us for the next Community Training, on Online Intake, Sept. 12 at 1 p.m. Eastern.