What are the essential elements of legal assistance portals?
When people turn to the Internet for legal help, they can quickly become overwhelmed by the amount of information available and uncertainty about reliable sources. To make it easier for users to access timely, relevant, and accurate advice, legal service organizations and court self-help centers in some states have launched legal assistance portals.
In 2019, The Pew Charitable Trusts published a factsheet outlining the promise of legal assistance portals. These portals,1 which are part of a rapidly changing landscape of online legal resources, until now lacked a unified way of describing what they are and how they work. To fill this gap, Pew reviewed available research on portals and consulted with legal and technology leaders on the different types of portals and how they work.
With this information, Pew created a framework that outlines the four essential elements a portal must provide to help users navigate a legal issue and take informed action. Portals should to permit users to ask questions about a legal issue, in an interactive way refine their requests, to learn about their options, and connect with relevant resources, such as legal aid and social service organizations or court websites, that can help you.
The Four Essential Elements of Online Legal Portals
- Interrogate. Provide keyword research, natural language processing, i.e. technology that enables plain language questions2– or similar functionality that allows users to interact with the tool by asking questions about their legal issue or selecting an appropriate option from a list of issues. For example, someone looking for information about a housing issue would start an investigation on the Illinois Legal Aid Online (ILAO) portal by typing “housing” in the keyword search. ILAO would then generate a list of content relevant to the user’s problem. Alaska and Hawaii both use Legal Navigator, a legal assistance portal run by Legal Services Corporation, complemented by Spot, an artificial intelligence tool that helps people understand legal issues they might face.3
- Refine. Initiate guided interviews or a series of questions that prompt the user to refine questions to clarify the issue and generate more personalized answers. For example, the Minnesota LawHelpMN portal would present a user asking a question about divorce with a series of questions, such as “Do you have children in the marriage?”, to generate responses that target specific needs and legal issues. of the user.
- To learn. Provide relevant legal information through multiple formats, such as text and video, that help users better understand their legal issues. Michigan’s Legal Aid Portal, for example, directs users looking for foreclosure information to a foreclosure prevention toolkit that includes self-help videos and links to relevant court forms. , a property tax credit checklist and other documents.
- Connect. Make referrals to legal and social services so users can contact organizations or access other resources that can help them with their legal issues. The Massachusetts Legal Resource Finder, for example, connects eligible users to their local legal aid office. And because legal issues often arise at the same time as other problems, some portals offer even more possibilities for assistance. The Ohio Legal Help portal, for example, connects users to health and social services, such as local food banks.
As part of Pew, portals must be usable by members of the public without requiring the disclosure of personally identifiable information. To this end, a portal should incorporate structural and design features, such as mobile responsiveness, data privacy, and accessibility, to ensure access for all users on a variety of electronic devices. For example, the Connecticut Legal Help Finder uses a responsive design to adapt to the screen size of any device, and the Minnesota LawHelpMN portal adheres to multiple accessibility standards, including optimizing for screen reading software and high color contrast.
Pew focused its analysis on 15 publicly available, statewide, multi-issue portals, meaning they allow users to get information and resources on a variety of civil law issues all in one place. place online. The framework was then used to review each portal, and 10 met the criteria:
- Alaska Legal Navigator, www.legalnav.org (select Alaska)
- Connecticut Legal Aid Search, https://ctlawhelp.org/en/legal-help
- Hawaii Legal Navigator, www.legalnav.org (select Hawaii)
- Illinois Online Legal Aid, www.illinoislegalaid.org
- Legal Assistance Pine Tree (Maine), http://ptla.org/triage/me_triage
- Massachusetts Legal Resource Finder, https://www.masslegalservices.org/FindLegalAid
- Michigan Legal Aid, https://michiganlegalhelp.org/guide-to-legal-help
- LawHelp MN (Minnesota), https://www.lawhelpmn.org/lawhelpmn-guide
- Ohio Legal Aid, https://www.ohiolegalhelp.org/
- Legal Aid Tool (Vermont), https://vtlawhelp.org/triage/vt_triage
- The Pew Charitable Trusts, “Interactive online portals offer targeted legal resources on demand” (2019), https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/fact-sheets/2019/01/ interactive-online-portals-offer-targeted-legal-resources-on-demand.
- The Pew Charitable Trusts, “How Artificial Intelligence Could Improve Access to Legal Information,” accessed July 21, 2020, https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/articles/2019/01/24/how -artificial-intelligence-could-improve-access-to-legal-information.
- The Pew Charitable Trusts, “Online Tool Will Help ‘Spot’ Legal Issues That People Face,” accessed July 21, 2020, https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/articles/2020/02/ 14/online-tool-will-help-identify-the-legal-problems-people-are-facing.