What would it look like if there was one major site online, that anyone searching out help for a life problem could use?
They would enter their problem, legal issues would be identified, and then the person would be directed to the legal org who can help them.
They will get a warm hand-off and introduction to that org, and maybe even schedule an appointment right there on the website.
All of this is opposed to the current status quo — searching for help, not being able to find local or available service providers on one site, and not figuring out how to actually make an appointment happen (if you are even eligible for an appointment).
This idea grew out of May 2015’s ABA Summit on Legal Innovation. Watching all the presentations, and participating in Blue Sky innovations — my main priorities and agenda items for innovating services all got boiled down to one blaring message:
Here are some of the people that called for centralizing, coordinating legal help from the users’ point of view:
There are a few initiatives that must happen to get the Internet to be a law-friendly, people-friendly resource for anyone who is going to type in a query seeking out help for their divorce, debt, bankruptcy, child custody, landlord-tenant issue (and beyond…). Here’s what I’m seeing as a shortlist of things to be working on:
- Deep, design-driven research into how lay people approach the Internet when seeking out help for their life (legal) problems (Note: I’ve been doing this, now I need to scale it up & publish the resources)
- Using understandings from this research to feed into new concept designs, principles/heuristics/guides for what better interventions could be, to get the Online Help Seeker to Quality Legal Services easily, directly, happily
- Partnering with the right organizations to get these interventions implemented:
- Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and other search engine companies — which are really the crucial portal for how a lay person will seek out and find legal help
- States’ Legal Help sites
- Courts’ Self-Help/Public-Facing sites
- Other social service/governmental groups that have adjacent, linked resources to legal services’ resources
- Legal Aid groups
- Consumer Law websites
For step 2 — what the right interventions are to get the Internet to serve legal help-seekers in a better way, I have my inclination about what some key things will be.
- Centralized Legal Help Portals: each state, or maybe even the whole country has one *strongly branded* website that does an issue-based, person-based, and jursidiction-based triage on the visitor, and funnels them to a legal help channel that works for them. Its one central, recognizable place that can warmly hand the person off to the right local resource — tells them what their legal issue is called — and whether they might qualify for legal help.
The LSC-TIG Summit last year listed centralized state-by-state legal portals as one of their central agenda items, and I want to see this happen!
- Smarter, More Directed Search Results: if people are always going to be typing in a query into a search engine (Google, Bing, Yahoo…) then why not intervene right there, at the search result list? Like I’ve written before, I want better legal help directions right there on the search results page.
- Coordinated Data & Service Offerings among legal aid groups, courts, pro bono, consumer sites, and any other service-provider — so that a person can see the relevant and applicable offerings for them. A site would be able to triage a general Internet-help-seeker to the right service provider and hand them off. To do this, we need to get the service providers all saving, structuring, and sharing their service-offering-info in a coordinated & open way — so that we can collect it and implement triage and hand-off tools on top of it. Look at what Open Referral (associated with Code For America) is doing along this line for general social service providers. Tools like Purple Binder and mRelief can be built on top of this coordinated system.
Okay, whew! That’s a lot of ideas and lists.
Now, to add on a few sketches of what I’m thinking about for these centralized legal portals, centralized triage, etc… They are all at the raw stage, but hopefully they offer some grounding to the ideas I’ve fired out above.
Looking back through my iPad sketchbooks, I came across this sketch of what an online legal help portal might look like. It’s a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot — what the right kind of entry point might be for a lay person trying to figure out what their legal issue is and how to deal with with.
The main points I was trying to make with this sketch were:
- Putting a very human-friendly search as the priority entry point: just let the user type in what their issue is, and then have the site be smart enough to direct them to what the legal categorization of their problem is
- Having back-up common choices: for those who don’t want to search, or who are in a browsing mood, they can see some common legal categorizations to browse through and see if any of them sounds like a good fit for what’s going on in their life
- Official marker: to show trustworthiness and encourage engagement, put the official connection front and center on the page, as a badge that declares “you, casual Internet browser, can trust this site! We are not trying to sell you anything, and we are official experts on the law”. This is what Internet-browsers want to see when they’re sizing up legal info sites.
- Upon search, visual card glimpses into resources: rather than show a straight text list, show search query results in distinct cards, that have a straightforward visual, a headline, and a glimpse into the content that awaits upon a click. For a person who doesn’t know exactly what legal terrain they’re in, the cards give them some quick glances at what might apply to them. The visitor can look through them before deciding which to click open & pursue.
Here are some more digital sketches that had come out of earlier design sprints on making courts more accessible.
Do you have any more thoughts on these action-plans, or these concept designs? Or do you have connections & resources for me? Send them along, please!