Current Projects

Can a legal aid group send proactive texts to people who have been sued?

More legal aid and court groups are excited to use text message strategies to reach people facing lawsuits. Texting may help encourage participation, increase uptake of free services, and empower people to avoid defaults & other bad legal outcomes.

But the problem many of them face is how to legally & ethically reach out to members of the public through text. If they don’t already have a relationship with a person, can they initiate a texting relationship with them?

For example, if a legal aid group sees that a person has been sued for eviction in a local county court, can they proactively send them a text message (especially if they have the person’s phone number from the court docket info or from a phone-lookup service)?

The Legal Services Corporation recently published an Advisory Opinion that walks through guidance to this question, to show legal aid groups how they can do this proactive text message outreach on a topic like eviction services — and still be in compliance with the law. They also have a Program Letter that explains how legal aid groups can do proactive texting without violating federal anti-spam laws.

Advisory Opinion on legal aid proactive texting

See this 2020 Advisory opinion on proactive text message outreach from the LSC to legal aid groups.

Program Letter on legal aid proactive texting

Also see this 2022 Program Letter from the LSC that walks through explicitly how proactive text message out reach can be done, in compliance with federal laws. Our Lab had written to the LSC to ask this question, because we had many legal aid colleagues who were thinking about adopting a text message reminder strategy & we wanted to make sure that the community knew how to do this in compliance with laws against spam or other violations.

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.