AI + Access to Justice Current Projects Triage and Diagnosis access AI

Legal Server has a project Houston.AI, a new set of tools that allows for smarter intake of people, finding of their issues, and referring them to the right support.


Houston.AI is a web-based platform designed to help non-profit legal aid agencies more effectively serve those who cannot afford attorneys. Comprised of a series of micro-services leveraging machine learning, artificial intelligence and expert systems Houston.AI is designed to perform many of the simple and routine tasks that lawyers do throughout their day to serve clients.

Such services include:

  • Legal Issue Spotting
  • Entity Extraction
  • Document Analysis (using Computer Vision)
  • Tonal Analysis
  • Expert Systems to Analyze potential defenses or potential remedies
  • Attorney Necessity Scaling
  • Predictive Analytics (time and outcomes)
  • Intelligent Routing of Cases to Agencies or Attorneys (based on Open Referral)


In our war to provide meaningful access to justice, it is unrealistic to think that the current army of lawyers devoted to this cause could possibly address the overwhelming legal needs of the most vulnerable and underserved among us without a huge infusion of government funding, a highly unlikely scenario in today’s climate. As such, we must significantly change our strategy on the frontlines to exploit advances in technology.

Simply put: for many of the necessary but routine tasks that lawyers do every day, humans are too slow and too few compared to autonomous machines.

Achieving success on the (asymmetrical) battlefield requires careful coordination between generals (human lawyers) and a cavalry of autonomous foot soldiers (high-speed artificial intelligence applications, leveraging continuously advancing algorithms). In this sense, machine learning as envisioned by this project, is analogous to West Point, preparing and training Justice Bots to help individuals overcome access issues that so pervade the American judicial system.

In the end, these on-demand intelligent resources will allow lawyers to practice at the top of their license (i.e., in their highest and best roles as counselors and advocates) in a far more efficient and effective way, all the while empowering those in need through increased access and equipping them to make better choices, which is to everyone’s benefit.

Current Projects Innovations Triage and Diagnosis Work Product Tool

Robot Lawyer expert chat bot

The Robot Lawyer is a chatbot made to let people get legal options and screening — and even fill in documents by chatting through a messenger interface on a website.

Please note, since first posting about this project, it has now become the DoNotPay tool. This post was about the original version of the tool.

In its original form, the Robot Lawyer covered topics like traffic tickets, refugee asylum applications, and homeless benefits.

Current Projects Triage and Diagnosis

AirHelp: scan and claim for airline compensation

AirHelp scouts your flight details to see if you can make a claim for compensation. You can enter your flight details with airports and dates if your flight has been cancelled or overbooked. Then you can check your eligibility to see if you can apply for compensation.

Flight delayed? Canceled? Missed connection? You could receive up to €600 from the airline. Send AirHelp your flight details and get an answer in 3 minutes on compensation claims you could be owed!

The other option is to Email-Scan — in which you let the tool scan your emails for flight details and then make claims from there.

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Current Projects Triage and Diagnosis

Paribus: scraping your data to find claims

Paribus is a tool that finds you ways to get reimbursed in part from companies you’ve bought products from. You give them access to your emails where you get receipts, and then it looks for opportunities for you to get money back from that company when prices drop or there are other obligations for them to return money to you.

It’s shocking how often stores owe you money. Paribus gets you paid every time. Some have saved $500+ without lifting a finger. Trusted by 200,000+ members.

Even if this exact company is not necessarily about ‘access-to-justice’, its model can inspire other products that can scout legal issues and opportunities for people.

Could we build a screening tool, that has users get their personal data scanned (in the most data-privacy-respecting way possible) to spot legal issues or opportutnities.

Current Projects Triage and Diagnosis

Heat Seek: documenting violations with sensors

Can we use technology to seek out problems that have legal dimensions, that people aren’t aware of?

Heat Seek is a technology-based legal tool to help people see if heating code violations have occurred.

It uses sensor technology to watch whether and how homes are being heated in NYC, and identifying when violations happen. It can then track patterns of abuse and work with the landlords and the court system to get to a resolution.

Here is their information about their initial pilot.

Heat Seek helps tenants resolve their home heating issues by providing the objective, reliable temperature data they need to hold their landlords accountable. We do this by installing low cost, web connected temperature sensors in buildings across New York City. During the winter of 2016, Heat Seek ran a pilot program in 50 buildings throughout four boroughs. For this pilot program, we sought out buildings with the following criteria: (1) an organized tenant association, (2) at a high risk for continued landlord abuse, as identified by our partners, and (3) stated willingness to bring a group case to housing court.

By the numbers:

56 buildings received sensors
73 individual apartments served
16 community partners, including attorneys, community organizations, and tenant groups, as well as the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) the city agency responsible for enforcing the housing code.


While we are still analyzing the results of the winter 2015-2016 Pilot, a few initial trends have emerged:

Heat Seek data help clients achieve more favorable legal outcomes.
In three separate cases that spanned different attorneys and at least eight buildings, landlords made more concessions to their tenants and our clients.

“[Heatseek] data are much more digestible than manual heat logs, especially for judges.” Attorney, Legal Services NYC

“With Heat Seek, I was able to submit proof of the lack of heat in my client’s apartment. Upon seeing the evidence, the landlord and his attorney conceded the issue and the landlord agreed to waive all rent claims and provide a rent-stabilized lease.” Edmund Witter, Attorney at Legal Aid Society

Landlords restore or increase heat provision when they know Heat Seek sensors have been deployed in their buildings.
In four buildings, tenants shared Heat Seek data directly with their landlords, who shortly thereafter turned up the heat. These increases in heat are reflected in our data.

Current Projects Triage and Diagnosis

Due Processr: evaluate eligibility for indigency status

The web-app Due Processr takes the user through an interactive questionnaire that helps the person to determine if they are eligible for the qualification of ‘Indigency’ in Massachusetts.

The app breaks apart the eligibility factors into distinct questions, and in one page of responses the user will get their answer about whether they qualify.

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Current Projects Triage and Diagnosis

Legal screeners and intake for medical providers

Mobile apps aimed at non-legal service providers help them screen for legal problems for their clients.

For example there is an app specifically designed for use in medical-legal partnerships, in which users have come to a medical facility to deal with a medical problem.

The app can be used by a service provider at the clinic or hospital to screen the patient for legal issues that might be going on, and perhaps related to the health issues.

This type of software is beneficial because it provides expert knowledge and an easy-to-use fashion and it can streamline the screening process especially for those who are not experts in law.

Example of such a mobile app screener: from the Legal Aid Society of Louisville,

Legal Aid Society of Louisville (LAS) leveraged mobile technologies to develop a legal assessment tool for medical/legal partnerships that effectively screens low‐income patients for legal problems and alerts medical professionals of the need to refer patients to a legal partner for timely assistance. The “Law and Health Screening Tool” consists of an iPad application and a companion web-based survey system. It has been successfully piloted at the University of Louisville Pediatrics Children and Youth Clinic, a high-traffic urban clinic with a high poverty, diverse patient population.

Access Innovation - medical legal screener alert screen

The tool has four main functions:

  1. A “law and health survey,” which parents/guardians of patients complete using a tablet. This is a quick legal screen meant to be easily completed by parents while waiting to be seen at the clinic. The survey uses question branching, so that the response to one question determines the next question posed.
  2. An “alert” function, which electronically notifies MLP staff when a survey response indicates a possible health-related legal need. MLP staff may then retrieve contact information from the administrative website for follow-up.
  3. A “resource” function, whereby a “yes” response to certain questions triggers an offer of a relevant resource, such as information about utility assistance, foreclosure prevention services or free tax-preparation assistance and the earned income tax credit.
  4. A data collection and reporting function, which aggregates survey answers for reporting and monitoring purposes. These metrics provide insight into the legal needs of the clinic’s patient population and how MLP resources might be tailored to address them effectively.

The final report from LSC-TIG is here: TIG 11094: LAS Medical Legal Partnership App

Ideabook Triage and Diagnosis

Legal Health Checkup concept sketch

An increasingly popular concept for access innovations is the Legal Health Checkup, that would serve as an initial outreach to laypeople. It would help them understand what issues they are currently dealing with that might have legal recourse — and then would give them resources to follow up on this.

For checkups, I’ve observed three types:

  • ones for a specific problem
  • ones for a specific type of person (of a certain age, profession, family situation, nationality)
  • ones that are generic for everyone

They can be administered online, through surveys, bots or checklists. Or they could be done at work, at a church/synagogue/mosque, at a school, or another community institution.

legal health checkup

There are some existing checkups, like one in Ontario. One concept idea is for a checkup is more mobile and resourceful than the current models. Here are some sketched notes exploring how there could be a richer type of checklist, with better:

  • outreach touchpoints
  • technology delivery
  • takeaways given after the checkup is done

legal health checkup 




Current Projects Triage and Diagnosis

Legal Health Check-ups online screener, from CLEO in Ontario

There is a lot of interest in developing new, and new modes of, legal health checkups. There are some such checkups currently in action — like this one from Ontario, which is delivered through a web survey.

This one, created by Halton Community Legal Services, is specifically for low-income individuals in Ontario to figure out what benefits and services they could receive to deal with their problems.

Many people do not think of their everyday problems as being “legal problems” and do not know that they can get help. People living in poverty are more likely to report multiple problems such as bad health, unemployment, low income, poor housing and family breakdown.

Halton Community Legal Services has created this check-up to help people who are living in poverty so they can identify legal problems and get help.

I got word of this checkup, after an earlier post on Legal Health checkups. Kristina Brousalis who works at CLEO, a public legal education and information organization in Toronto, Ontario, sent me a link to the Canadian online health checkup site, that serves consumers in Ontario.

The site asks some questions to get a profile of the user, and then connects them with possible help & understanding of what next steps could be.

It is an interesting model of intake & of public education.  It can be an activation experience, to get people to start thinking of what problems in their life have a legal component — and a possible legal solution.  After going through the questions, the site provides some path to follow up & get possible problems taken care of.  Presumably, it also is able to send on the user’s profile to a legal clinic, for a relatively warm hand-off to the service provider.

I love to see new models of intake & activation.  I was recently speaking with my colleague Briane Cornish about how to set up a pop-up legal activation — getting legal checklists, education materials, and risk profiles out into the community.  I want to experiment with how we can devolve legal resources out of courthouses & self-help centers, and into the communities day-to-day locations.  Like in Costcos, train stations, schools, libraries, and other public touchpoints.

One of the ideas that Briane had was to to have a checklist for different age ranges.  The user would be asked the checklist of questions, and then be given a personalized legal risk profile. From there, we could possibly give them contact details for legal services and self-help centers — or well-designed paper-based resources to help them understand what processes and resources are available to them.

Online models, like the Canadian health check-up site, are another way of devolving intake.  The open question is how many people will end up on the website. I would love to see a combination of online & in-person *Legal Activation* experiences.

Here are some screenshots of the Canadian checkup site, to get a sense of the experience:


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Advocates Current Projects Triage and Diagnosis

Online Intake systems

Online intake is an always-on service, that lets anyone with an internet connection enter their information and find what services they might qualify for. The advantage of an online intake system is that it prevents the need for a person from having to figure out how to connect to an intake service during business hours, or having to go through costly and confusing voice calls.

One example of an online intake system comes from Western Ohio — with a project funded by LSC-TIG.

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Legal Aid of Western Ohio (LAWO) became the first program in the country to create an A2J online intake application module. The LAWO system enables Ohioans to request legal assistance 24/7, and data integrates directly with the program’s Pika case management system. LAWO determined that online intake applications saved approximately 10 – 15 minutes of staff time per application acceptance. That amounts to a savings of about 1.0 – 1.5 intake staff FTE’s per year, allowing resources to be allocated more effectively in the program.

Additionally, by offering a platform where applicants can utilize a smart system to be guided through the steps of inputting all the necessary issue and eligibility information, increased efficiency is realized through a decrease in the number of times an applicant must be re-contacted to complete the application process.

Single statewide online intake

Even better than a single organization doing intake online, is for a coordinated set of groups to use hte same intake point to route people to the right service-provider and support.

A Statewide centralized intake system, in which users can contact one phone number or site, and after they enter their information there, then the site is smart enough to know whether and how to refer them to the appropriate and local service. The advantage of this centralized intake system is that it is a big wide open door or lay people, giving them a clear path to find help, and relieving them of having to call a wide number of services and go through a very painful scouting process to try to find the right contact point.

An example of this comes from the Northwest Justice Project, again supported by LSC-TIG.

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Northwest Justice Project (NJP) has been operating a toll-free intake and referral hotline (CLEAR – Coordinated Legal Education Advice and Referral) since 1996 and handles more than 20,000 calls per year. CLEAR serves as the statewide, centralized point of access for Washington State’s low-income population seeking free legal help. Due to the high volume of calls on CLEAR, NJP recognized the need for an alternative to telephone applications and developed its online intake system with an A2J interface and triage tool. The system enhances clients’ access to services and improves the assistance NJP provides clients on high priority eviction and benefits cases. An e-transfer module moves data from the online interview into LegalServer, NJP’s case management system, thereby increasing the efficiency of the intake process. The result has been a reduction in the numbers of ineligible applicants calling for assistance, and 86% of the screeners reported faster intake screenings.


Online intake integrated with case management

One relatively new access innovation is an online intake system that integrates directly into a case management system for a legal clinic. With this type of software, a user can enter their personal and case information once, and then it populates the organization’s database about the person, relieving the person or the staff from duplicating this entry.

One example of this type of integrated Online Intake – Case Management platform is from Utah, as funded by LSC-TIG.
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Utah designed an A2J online intake application that is directly integrated with its Kemps case management system. The online intake system enables prospective clients to apply for services 24/7 and includes the option of live web chat assistance. The system also allows staff to directly import intake data from the online application into the Kemps database — turning a data entry process into a more efficient data review task.
Staff can conduct multiple online chats simultaneously and give clients immediate responses, many of them based on prepared answers to frequently asked questions. ULS has also customized the online intake system to address the particular needs of hearing impaired individuals. The result has been a far more efficient and higher quality intake procedure that saves staff time and yields enhanced results and services to clients. Of the 78 users surveyed, 96% said they found the system easy to use and 98% said they would recommend it to others.

ULS later expanded its online intake project through TIG 12005 by creating a Spanish version of the A2J online intake system. The new system enables Spanish speaking applicants to apply 24/7, effectively screens out ineligible applicants, and imports data directly into the case management system for increased efficiency.