Class Blog Design Research

Eviction design class

In late April 2018, Daniel Bernal and Margaret Hagan taught the first part of the pop-up Design For Justice: Eviction. The class focused on how we might better empower people who have received eviction notices (specifically, in Arizona) to know their rights, their options, and to go to court to fight eviction.

In the class, our 2 teams focused on what intervention we might send in the mail to activate someone right after they have received an eviction notice, and what intervention we might point them to for greater support and guidance.

We worked in 2 phases. First, we did a recap of key insights, personas, players, and trends regarding the eviction process, user experience, and legal help resources in Arizona. We did this with calls to Arizona legal help leaders, a service designer who has been working on eviction help, and Daniel’s presentations on his research into eviction trends and strategies in Arizona.

Our second phase of work was brainstorming and prototyping. Our 2 teams focused on the different intervention points, to create an Idea Catalogue of possible ways to empower users through a mailer or a digital resource.

From this brainstorm, we critiqued the ideas with some help from our frequent collaborator, Kursat Ozenc, who is a design strategist. We will now write up these ideas, formalize them slightly, and invite a panel of legal, sociology, behavior change, technology, and design experts to give further feedback. From there, we will begin to develop first versions of several of the concepts that we will test with the public in our second half of the class.

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

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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Current Projects Work Product Tool

Document assembly tools to automatically create forms

There are many HotDocs and A2J document assembly projects that have been funded by TIG that have replication potential. Listed below is a brief synopsis of a couple of those projects.

From South Central Michigan: automated forms completion.

Legal Services of South Central Michigan developed information and resources for self-represented litigants throughout the state. The project team developed interactive document assembly interviews using technology platforms and applications developed through the TIG program — specifically LawHelp Interactive and A2J Author — and generous software donations from the HotDocs Corporation.

These interactive interviews guide users through otherwise complex legal documents. In total, seven automated interviews were created that help users complete 17 different forms or documents in the areas of housing law, public benefits law,family law, and consumer law. As of June 2014, website users accessed these interviews to compile 2700 sets of organized legal documents that clearly presented their legal arguments and enhanced their likelihood of meeting their legal need.

Here’s the LSC-TIG final report TIG 11017: Michigan Automated Forms

Automated forms from Legal Aid of Nebraska:

Legal Aid of Nebraska partnered with the Nebraska Supreme Court Pro Se Implementation Committee to increase access to justice through the creation of innovative, effective and efficient automated legal pleadings.

The primary goal of this project was to create guided interviews and court form templates to improve low income Nebraskans’ access to the court system. To accomplish this goal, the objective was to take existing “court-authorized” form pleadings and automate them using the HotDocs software.

Then, the project team would apply the Access to Justice Author (A2J Author) interface and guided interviews to ensure that the forms completion process was interactive and easy for the user. Finally, the forms would be stored on the Law Help Interactive (LHI) server and links to the forms would appear on the Virtual Self Help Center section of the Nebraska statewide website.

Leveraging a modest TIG investment ($29,100), the project team produced a very impressive list of forms for low-income Nebraskans.

See the LSC-TIG final report here, TIG 10047: Nebraska Automated Forms

Access Innovations - document assembly - Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 6.24.54 PM

In Louisville, Kentucky: a way to populate forms for people filing for divorce themselves.

Legal Aid Society Inc. (Louisville, KY) partnered with Jefferson County Family Court to develop a pro se divorce packet for Divorce With Children and for Divorce Without Children and to promote the establishment of statewide uniform forms through the development of document assembly products.

LAS created the Kentucky Online Self‐Help Assistant (KOSHA) to provide low‐income Kentuckians the forms needed to easily, accurately, and effectively produce pro se pleadings and increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the courts. They also translated the Divorce Without Children module into Spanish and added forms for small claims and criminal record expungement.

They began this project in Jefferson County and worked to expand it to 10 additional jurisdictions, since each of Kentucky’s 57 judicial districts had adopted local rules on what needed to be filed to obtain court review. As the forms became accepted by more jurisdictions, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Kentucky made the Jefferson County divorce forms (With‐ and Without‐ Children) the statewide standardized form packet for self‐represented litigants in Kentucky.

See the report from LSC-TIG here: TIG 07357: Kentucky HotDocs

Ideabook Training and Info

Access to Justice & self-representation tools

As I’ve been writing up a paper on new legal tools & an agenda for access to justice innovation — I keep coming back to the same point.
Margaret Hagan - what we need for access to justice

To really address the access problem, we should be focusing on scalable, modular tools.  They could be in the form of software & other tech — or they could take other forms: new roles, new organizations, new workshops, new services, new designs of forms & pamphlets.

But the basic point is the same: we don’t just need more lawyers (though this is certainly needed too), we need to be investing on ways to help people get informed about legal processes & give them tools to navigate them.  Even if we (as lawyers) would prefer people to only use lawyers to address their legal problems, this is not what most people want and they will try the DIY route.  We should be building the tools that allow for more responsible & competent self-representation.