For all the talk about using technology to enhance access to justice, it puts things in perspective to see tangible examples. One of the best sources of such examples is the annual set of Technology Initiative Grants awarded by the Legal Services Corporation.
Established in 2000, the TIG program distributes grants annual to LSC-funded legal aid organizations around the country. The grants are made to fund technology projects that provide greater access to legal assistance and information for low-income Americans.
In total over the years, LSC has made grants of more than 65 million to fund more than 720 technology projects. Grant recipients have used this funding to create new ways to serve clients, strengthen program capacity, and support the work of pro bono attorneys.
Recently, the LSC announced this year’s grants — a total of $4,230,718 awarded to 30 legal services organizations. The programs that received grants range from several designed to improve online self-help resources to others that will seek to increase access to justice for vulnerable populations, including those with limited English proficiency and, in other case, individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.
“LSC’s Technology Initiative Grants increase access to justice for low-income people with critical civil legal needs,” LSC President Jim Sandman said in a statement announcing this year’s grants. “These technology projects improve the delivery of legal services and information to the millions of Americans who would otherwise have to navigate the legal system alone.”
The 2019 TIG projects are:
Alaska Legal Services Corporation
Alaska Legal Services Corporation will receive $283,089 to create a web application, BeneFactor, to inform and assist individuals applying for social security disability benefits. Users will receive the knowledge and assistance necessary to take control of their disability application throughout the process, including during a reconsideration or appeal. If they need additional help, users will be able to submit their case file to a legal representative.
American Samoa Legal Aid
American Samoa Legal Aid will receive $73,200 to upgrade the organization’s website. Improvements include adding more relevant legal information, creating interactive online tools for self-represented litigants with high-demand case types, and improving online accessibility for disabled and non-English speaking individuals.
Inland Counties Legal Services, Inc.
Inland Counties Legal Services will receive $97,464 to expand and modify its existing online legal help tools for litigants with consumer debt cases. The project will automate aspects of legal document preparation to improve efficiency for legal professionals, including through an integration with the program’s case management system.
Legal Aid Society of San Diego, Inc.
The Legal Aid Society of San Diego will receive $90,000 to deploy an enhanced data migration system for the Health Consumer Alliance (HCA) of California. This will allow for HCA’s seamless transmission of client health advocacy data to a new database and to HCA’s partners, including the state’s nine other LSC grantees.
Colorado Legal Services
Colorado Legal Services will receive $100,200 to implement a virtual video or walk-through of going to a Colorado courthouse.
Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Inc.
Atlanta Legal Aid Society will receive $90,650 to make AyudaLegalGeorgia.org, its Spanish-language, self-help website, more accessible to online visitors. The organization will also improve online intake for Spanish-speaking clients through its integrated case management system.
Georgia Legal Services Program
Georgia Legal Services Program will receive $218,007 to build online, interactive tutorials on landlord-tenant law. The focus will be on teaching self-represented tenants their rights and the steps for proceeding with a case, as well as training pro bono attorneys and legal aid staff. The tutorials will require participants to answer multiple-choice questions to ensure understanding and to maximize effectiveness.
Legal Aid Chicago
Legal Aid Chicago will receive $184,200 to improve online legal content by coordinating with Illinois Legal Aid Online and legal experts. The project will employ a new content-organization model for delivering legal information that is accurate and up-to-date. Improved information distribution and sharing between different platforms will enhance accessibility for users.
Prairie State Legal Services, Inc.
Prairie State Legal Services will receive $27,500 to conduct an evaluation of the organization’s technological capabilities. The evaluation will identify weaknesses and needs regarding hardware, software, and security. The findings will be used to create a prioritized plan for system upgrades.
Kentucky Legal Aid
Kentucky Legal Aid will receive $26,500 to retain an independent consultant to perform a technology assessment of the organization. The consultant will then help develop a technology improvement plan with Kentucky Legal Aid staff, including plan implementation priorities.
Legal Aid of the Bluegrass
Legal Aid of the Bluegrass will receive $176,966 to redesign the state’s legal information website, kyjustice.org. The goal is to make the website more user-friendly and to add new content, including easy-to-use guides and templates. The new content will have search functions so self-represented litigants can easily learn about laws relevant to their cases
Legal Services of Eastern Michigan
Legal Services of Eastern Michigan will receive to $180,838 to launch a mobile-friendly, web application that will provide users with Fair Housing Act information, allow Legal Services of Eastern Michigan to administer fair housing tests, and provide both testers and the organization with timely reports on test results. The project has the potential for nationwide implementation.
Michigan Advocacy Program
Michigan Advocacy Program will receive two grants. The first grant, for $114,300, will allow the organization to enhance its ability to engage in simple, automated text conversations with users of Michigan Legal Help, an online resource for people with civil legal problems. The project will include text conversations focused on follow-up assistance and tracking user outcomes. A second grant, for $177,500, will allow the organization to improve online, guided client interviews and other key client-facing applications. A professional user-experience reviewer will provide feedback on individual applications and lead in-depth user-experience training.
Central Minnesota Legal Services Inc.
Central Minnesota Legal Services will receive $102,478 to upgrade the statewide legal information website, www.lawhelpmn.org, with better interactive content to improve user learning. The new content will integrate short videos and tests within the site’s existing fact sheets. This project will also incorporate real-time feedback for the online test-takers through live chat and other tools.
Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota
Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota will receive $177,500 to develop a large business improvement process project for the state’s regional client intake system. It will work with two LSC-funded technology improvement projects at Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services and Legal Aid of Western Missouri.
Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services, Inc.
Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services will receive $27,500 to improve its intake, workflow, staffing, and technology configurations. Better intake processes will enable clients to access information and resources they need quickly and easily.
Legal Aid of Western Missouri
Legal Aid of Western Missouri will receive $27,500 to consult with process improvement professionals to address the organization’s intake, workflow, and technology systems.
Mississippi Center for Legal Services
Mississippi Center for Legal Services will receive $27,500 to conduct a comprehensive technology assessment and develop a strategic technology plan. Prioritized recommendations will address the immediate needs of both LSC grantees in the state, North Mississippi Rural Legal Services and Mississippi Center for Legal Services.
Legal Advice & Referral Center, Inc.
Legal Advice & Referral Center will receive $62,290 to create an online self-help pilot project for self-represented litigants. The project will focus on low-income individuals with housing and consumer law problems. It will employ legal document assembly software and other technology tools to assist individuals who have to navigate the justice system without the help of an attorney.
Northeast New Jersey Legal Services Corporation
Northeast New Jersey Legal Services Corporation will receive $27,500 to review the technology behind its client intake system and to develop a plan to improve intake efficiency. The plan will reduce wait times and assist people with the most pressing legal needs. The plan will also address the needs of people with limited English proficiency.
Community Legal Aid Services, Inc.
Community Legal Aid Services will receive $162,500 to partner with Ohio Legal Help to develop better functionality for the state’s legal information website, www.ohiolegalhelp.org, and provide mobile access for users. Users will be able to create a personalized dashboard where they can save and retrieve assembled documents, articles, and other ongoing tasks. The new functionality will allow the system to send out text reminders to users about actions to take.
Ohio State Legal Services
Ohio State Legal Services will receive $790,000 to continue growing the capability and reliability of LawHelp Interactive (LHI), a free online resource for drafting legal forms and documents in over 40 states. LHI is a partnership with Pro Bono Net, a nonprofit that uses technology to increase access to justice.
North Penn Legal Services, Inc.
North Penn Legal Services will receive $195,000 to create a statewide, online system for conducting quick intake and referrals. The system will connect low-income individuals to a legal aid provider or resource that can best meet their needs. It will take account of the case priorities of project partners, adding needed flexibility when directing users to an appropriate provider during intake.
Philadelphia Legal Assistance Center
Philadelphia Legal Assistance Center will receive $298,500 to partner with Upsolve.org to develop artificial intelligence-enabled tools to help individuals filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. These tools will guide users throughout the bankruptcy process, translating court filings into plain language, setting appointment reminders, and monitoring court schedules for case activity. Users will be able to access these services through the national Upsolve.org platform.
South Carolina Legal Services, Inc.
South Carolina Legal Services will receive $155,940 to expand the number of online “classrooms” they offer. Six new courses will focus on eviction, criminal records expungement, foreclosure, heir’s property, education rights, and debt collection. South Carolina Legal Services is partnering with the South Carolina Pro Bono Board on the project.
Legal Services Vermont
Legal Services Vermont will receive $152,940 to create more online content for self-represented litigants. The organization will add tutorials for high-demand legal issues, including evictions cases and temporary restraining orders in domestic violence cases. The expanded library of online tutorials will feature a series of instructional videos informing viewers how to fill out court forms or initiate certain legal actions.
Northwest Justice Project
Northwest Justice Project will receive $51,330 to implement technologies that increase access to legal services for deaf, hard-of hearing, and deaf-blind individuals. Tablets with unique software will be placed in each of the field offices so that these clients can immediately communicate with staff or an attorney without having to wait for an interpreter.
Neighborhood Legal Services Program
Neighborhood Legal Services Program will receive $27,500 to conduct a full assessment of its current technology systems and identify areas for improvement and investment.
Legal Aid of Wyoming, Inc.
Legal Aid of Wyoming will receive $105,000 to develop a triage system to guide people to the best resources for their situation. The system, which builds on a previous TIG award, will have built-in features that improve the effectiveness of the client experience, like automated messaging. Legal Aid of Wyoming will also implement a comprehensive outreach plan to publicize the legal services and the resources they offer.