Assessing a Justice for All Strategic Plan

With a powerful tool kit out there to help states engage in 100% access to justice strategic planning, and with states now engaged in the process (and not only those with grants from the JFA Project), I thought it might be useful to lay out some thoughts on how to asses whether an emerging plan does all that it can do.  As you know, the process as laid out in the Guidance is component based, and so therefore are these self-assessment thoughts. (For an analysis of the Components, and of parallel suggestions in ABA ABA and Civil Justice Reports, see here.)

I wold suggest that each state should periodically ask itself:

Are we, and will we be, on an ongoing basis –

  • Able to identify how far we are in deploying all the key components,
  • Able to make choices about which components should be given greatest attention and what steps need to be taken to complete deployment of those components or to start deployments of those not deployed,
  • Know what needs to be done to put in place systems that will ensure that those in need of access services will be referred to, and in fact connect to the most appropriate and cost effective services, and have a plan for what will be done when resources are not sufficient,
  • Able to identify which deployments will need additional or diverted funds or resources, and be able to identify plans to raise needed funds and also to move forward regardless of whether additional resources can be raised in the short term,
  • Know what needs to be done to put in place measures of availability and delivery of services in comparison to need, and of the impact upon the extent to which the services impact upon the meeting of the “decision upon the facts and the law” standard,
  • Identify the tasks needed to complete these steps and be able to assign to different organizations the responsibility for the tasks needed to achieve the above,
  • Have a plan for making changes when tasks are not completed,
  • Know how to develop a legitimate governance system for the integrated components of this system.

Thanks again to the Public Welfare Foundation for their funding of the JFA Project.

 

 

Posted in 100% Access Strategy and Campaign, ABA, Access to Justice Boards, Funding

National Academy Report On Need for Strategy to Understand Impact of Technology on Economy and Employment Suggests Need to Go Further

As reported in the New York Times, and elaborated in Nature, a panel of the National Academies has called for a national approach to data to understand and manage the impact of technology on the economy and jobs.  As Nature puts it:

For instance, although digital technologies underpin many consumer services, standard US government data sources — such as the Current Population Survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics — don’t accurately capture the rise of the contingent or temporary workforce because they do not ask the right questions. Researchers and private-sector economists have tried to address this by commissioning their own surveys2, but these lack the scale, scope and credibility of government surveys. Government administrative data, such as tax forms, provide another potentially valuable data source, but these need to be integrated with government survey data to provide context and validation3.

Similarly lacking are metrics to track progress in the technologies and capabilities of AI. Moore’s law (that microprocessor performance doubles every two years or so) captures advances in the underlying semiconductors, but it does not cover rapid improvements in areas such as computer vision, speech and problem solving. A comprehensive index of AI would provide objective data on the pace and breadth of developments. Mapping such an index to a taxonomy of skills and tasks in various occupations would help educators to design programmes for the workforce of the future. Non-governmental groups, such as the One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence at Stanford University in California, are taking useful steps, but much more can and should be done at the federal level.

No argument there.  Indeed, this data will be hugely helpful in maximizing access to justice by helping move forward with the redeployment of roles and the focusing of higher skills on the situations in which they are needed.  In fact the data approach described above is very similar to our own triage data philisophy, that focuses on what tasks need to be done to present a case, and what role is appropriate to have that done.

But, as we also well know in the access to justice field, it is not enough to think in terms of automation and displacement of tasks by machines and AI, but to think of the restructuring of what is actually done.  Forms completion programs should be lessening the need for paralegals.  But taking conflict resolution out of individualized fact gathering is going to have far greater impact.

It is certainly the case that even without such a radical change, the job of court clerk, for example, is going to almost disappear in the next couple of decades, and be replaced with a data management and security role.  But what if technology lets us see conflicts in far broader contextual terms.  Will there be a need for people who can help people understand that.  To put it another way, what will legitimize decisions in the future?  Not paper flow, that is for sure.

I still think that the jobs will be there for overview thinkers and for human connectors.

Posted in 100% Access Strategy and Campaign, Court Management, Document Assembly, Non-Lawyer Practice, Research and Evalation, Science, Simplification, Systematic Change, Technology, Triage

Prosecutors Getting Rid of the Independent Commission on Forensic Science is Short-Sighted as well as Incomprehensible.

I simply offer you this cross examination of every investigator or expert:

Q.   Thanks for your testimony, I am sure it will help the jury, but just a few things to clear up.  When did you get your training in the science of (whatver)?

A.  2005.

Q.  Twelve years ago?

A.  Yes.

Q.  And it is true, is it not, that you were told that it was accurate and up to date, and that you could rely on in in your investigations?

A.  Indeed.

Q.  And that you could and would rely on it in your testimony, including that you which you just gave, and in your responses to the detailed questions that will follow?

A. Absolutely.

Q.  Are you familiar with the questions that have been raised abut scientific testimony in general, and about the science of (whatever).

A.  Yes.

Q.  Good.  You are also familiar with the fact that the United States Department of Justice became so concerned about these issues, and their potential impact on the reliability and integrity of jury verdicts that they established an indepedent Commission to explore these issues?

A.  Of course.

Q.  And, is it possible that the results of the work of that Commission might have imapcted upon the conclusions that you have just offered?

A.  No.

Q.  Really, would you like to explain why such an exploration by the US Department of Justice would be of no use.  Never  mind.  Let me ask this:  Are you aware that the Commission has been closed down, and its functions brought directly into the Department and its command structure?

A.  Yes.

Q.  Do you have views about the wisdom of that?

A.  No.

Q.  Do you know who ordered the closure of the Commission?

A.  No.

Q.  Let me attempt to refresh you recollection.  It was the newly appointed Attorney General, wasn’t it?

A.  I guess so.

Q.  OK, with that clear, lets get into the detail of your conclusions, and the analysis upon which they were based.

.  .  .  .

I suspect that that will have some effect with most juries.  In some jurisdictions, will be quite devastating.

Posted in Criminal Law, Defender Programs, Dept. of Justice, Policing, Science, Technology, White House

ICE Policy Insults Courts by Not Treating Them as “Sensitive Locations.” This Calls for Far More Forceful Response By National Access and Court Organizations.

This from the ICE FAQ page says it all:

Are courthouses sensitive locations?

Courthouses do not fall under ICE or CBP’s policies concerning enforcement actions at or focused on sensitive locations.

In other words, courts are not the kind of places to which people should be able to go without being in fear.  In contrast, the following (described as “includ[ing], but not be[ing] limited to” is the listing of such locations:

  • Schools, such as known and licensed daycares, pre-schools and other early learning programs; primary schools; secondary schools; post-secondary schools up to and including colleges and universities; as well as scholastic or education-related activities or events, and school bus stops that are marked and/or known to the officer, during periods when school children are present at the stop;
  • Medical treatment and health care facilities, such as hospitals, doctors’ offices, accredited health clinics, and emergent or urgent care facilities;
  • Places of worship, such as churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples;
  • Religious or civil ceremonies or observances, such as funerals and weddings; and
  • During public demonstration, such as a march, rally, or parade.

It’s hard to figure the logic, and it gets worse.  It turns out that courts, are the only institutions explicitly listed as not being such “sensitive locations.”  (There are other kinds of exemptions, but they are not similarly institution focused.)

The Chief Justice of California responded appropriately by letter to the AG and Homelad Security:

Our courthouses serve as a vital forum for ensuring access to justice and protecting public safety. Courthouses should not be used as bait in the necessary enforcement of our country’s immigration laws.

Our courts are the main point of contact for millions of the most vulnerable Californians in times of anxiety, stress, and crises in their lives. Crime victims, victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence, witnesses to crimes who are aiding law enforcement, limited-English speakers, unrepresented litigants, and children and families all come to our courts seeking justice and due process of law. As finders of fact, trial courts strive to mitigate fear to ensure fairness and protect legal rights. Our work is critical for ensuring public safety and the efficient administration of justice.

But I would urge that the courts and their national organizations respond specifically to the singling out of courts for explicit exemption from being “sensitive locations.”  This, to me, is an implicit acknowledgement that many might reasonably have expected courts to be on the list, particularly given the length and comprehensiveness of the list.

It is particularly contemptuous (used colloquially) that agencies that are essentially prosecutorial should behave this way to courts, which are invested by our society and constitution with the highest expectation of neutrality as “safe spaces”.

From a political point of view, it is surely far easier to argue that courts are at least as critical as the forums listed above, than to argue that courts deserve special treatment.  This is simply a parity argument, and it should be much easier for courts and the legal profession, and their organizations and supporters to make such an appeal to common sense.

OK folks, let’s us, and they, hear from you.

 

Posted in Constitution, Court Management, Immigration, Judicial Supremacy, Self-Help Services, White House

A Contrarian View on Libel Law — Dealing with The Situation in Which The Courts Should Be Available to Establish The Truth, and Cheaply, While Making Sure that Libel Law Remains a Tool That Can Be Used By Truth Seekers To Counter Merchants of Hate

So the great and the good (and me, this time) get all upset when Trump talks about loosening libel law.  It not only fits with his ignorant aggrieved victim persona, but can be very effective at intimidating critics.

But maybe we should be thinking about it the other way.  Surely, if libel laws were easier to use, Trump would be the one in most trouble.  He is the one who shows the most contempt for the truth. the least consideration of the impact on others for his words, or tweets, the most propensity to state the impossible, the least willingness to back down, even when proven wrong, and the greatest tendency to make utterly inconsistent and destructive statements.

More importantly, while the increasing and consequence-free use of “false facts” is not caused by our current libel law, the difficulty of bringing libel cases against has made it much harder to stand up against such “facts” and to get social clarification and consensus for their falsity.

While public figure libel law has become more than a little technical over the years, the core reason remains the same, to prevent the victim of a good faith factual error from being held up to ransom and effectively silenced by litigation.  Its far more the cost of the litigation that acts as the deterrent (something Trump uses all the time) and so the effort is to cut this cases off quickly.

With 50 years of experience under our belts, and with the risks of lies in the political arena being far greater then they were then, maybe it is time for a nuanced look at the law, trying to make sense of a mix of goal, rather than see it as a matter of “loosening” or “tightening” them.

To be specific, I think most people would agree on the following:

Neither people or the media should be chilled from saying what they really believe to be true.

There IS a difference between a false fact and a misguided or wrong, or even maliious opinion.

The media should not bear huge litigation costs whenever someone does not like what they say.

Institutions to help in establishing truth are necessary function in a democracy.

When an assertion is beyond the bounds of reason, and the person responsible refuses to retract in any way, society needs mechanisms for establishing truth, and for doing so in a way perceived as legitimate by most.

Notwithstanding all the problems with the adversary system, the fact remains that the combination of a neutral fact finder, following formal rules, with presentation of evidence and confrontation of that evidence by all sides, and appropriate finality, is an amazing (if often expensive) engine for finding truth.

All of which leads me to the conclusion that the legal system needs some mechanisms for these situations, and that current mechanisms are failing.  Here is one thought:

A system of declaratory actions in which one who claims harm in a false statement about them can obtain a declaration of falsity, after a due process hearing.  State of mind is not in issue, and neither is damages, thus making this a far cheaper process for all sides.  A judgment would be subject to appeal, but not be res judicata in any subsequent damage action (Note to non legal jargon experts: this means that the truth or falsity finding can not be relied upon to obtain damages, even in a new case.)  As a practical matter, one found to have uttered a falsity is going to appeal to the court of public opinion to explain why they made the statement, but it is not at that point a legal matter.  Circumstances will be debated, but not at huge cost.  (Of course, truth can indeed change with new evidence over time.)

With such a new tool, no one would be precluded from attempting to obtain damages in a separate procedure, but current substantive legal standards for public figure libel would apply in that procedure.  Damages would depend on the level of culpability — i.e. contempt for the truth — as well as actual damage.  Thus a tool would continue to exist to use against that hate speech that was also libelous.  Such cases would be much rarer, much more expensive, and not used against the media, but against Nazi and hate groups that went beyond opinion.

I think that this would pass constitutional muster under New York Times v. Sullivan, given that nothing is being changed about speech-suppressing substantive standards.

Posted in Constitution, Libel Law, Supreme Court, White House

Mary McClymont’s Governing Magazine Op-Ed Moves the Chief’s Resolution and Justice For All Message to the Other Branches

I suspect that most in the non-judicial branches are still largely unaware of the the Chiefs’ 100% Resolution, making access to justice the office bi-partisan policy of the United States, let alone that they have thought about the implications for their governing and policy missions.

So, it is excellent that Governing Magazine has just published Mary McClymont’s piece, A Solution for the Access Crisis in Our Civil Justice System.

As the piece puts it, after summarizing the access crisis:

Two years ago, in an unheralded but path-breaking move, the Conference of Chief Justices of the United States and the Conference of State Court Administrators unanimously passed a resolution supporting the goal of 100 percent access to effective assistance for people with “essential civil legal needs.”

The resolution calls on states to develop systems in which everyone can get legal help through a comprehensive approach that provides a continuum of meaningful and appropriate services. It also calls on core players — courts, Access to Justice commissions, civil legal aid organizations, the private bar and other essential partners — to work together across organizational boundaries in their states to find solutions. Now, Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota and New York are seizing the opportunity to bring the vision expressed by the resolution closer to reality through what’s known as the Justice for All Project.

Housed at the National Center for State Courts, overseen by a distinguished advisory committee and funded by the Public Welfare Foundation with others on deck, the project will assist the seven states with resources to assess their systems’ strengths and weaknesses, make coherent action plans that integrate services to close the gaps, and begin making changes. They will harness an array of practical solutions — such as self-help services, automated court forms, and limited scope representation — to better match users who have specific needs to the appropriate level of help.  .  .  .  The potential benefits for our communities are substantial.

This spreads the word throughout the judiciary that “this train is leaving the station,” unless you want to be way behind the curve of the rest of the country (It later tells of the 25 state applications for grants).

Perhaps more importantly it puts the other branches of government on notice that something is going on here — something that impacts a broad range of their missions, and to which they can contribute.  This perfectly lays the groundwork for bringing the US DOJ Legal Aid Inter agency Roundtable approach to the state level.

Posted in 100% Access Strategy and Campaign, Access to Justice Boards, Communications Strategy, Dept. of Justice, Funding, LAIR, Systematic Change | 1 Comment

Guest Blogger Claudia Johnson: What I’ve learned in the past 9 years of helping legal aid, courts, and other non-profits create online forms to promote Access for All

What I’ve learned in the past 9 years of helping legal aid, courts, and other non-profits create online forms to promote Access for All

Claudia C. Johnson*

While working across the U.S. in supporting states and courts adapt online forms to increase access to justice, I have learned multiple universal lessons. Although each state, and each legal aid community has unique factors and a unique mix of legal resources and cultures, I share these observations based on experience in seeing a multitude of projects succeed on their document assembly projects. I some of the main take away lessons learned over almost 9 years. For an online form project to succeed these are some of the dos of online form projects.

  1. Do pick a stable form. Pick a form that is not going to be changing frequently as you automate. If the law is likely to change—don’t build a project around that form or statute. If the form language is not fully developed and accepted by all who use the form—first create consensus on the form and then automate it. As much as possible get to agreement on having the forms and instructions come out in Plain Language. As much as possible, create gender neutral forms, particularly for family law forms.
  1. Do automate even if you state has not yet adopted uniform forms. Many states do not have uniform forms—this should not be a barrier to automate. Instead, view this as an opportunity to get multiple counties to buy in accepting the form. Eventually this might lead to the adoption of uniform online forms. In Illinois, for example ILAO automated online forms and eventually some of those forms became statewide forms. http://www.illinoiscourts.gov/forms/approved/divorce/financial_affidavit.asp
  1. Do pick a small, even modest group of forms to automate for your first project. If this is the first time you are doing a project—don’t select a large group of forms to automate. Some forms, even just a simple form, might need to accommodate multiple factual scenarios, so for your first projects, keep the number of form and attachments, simple. If the forms can be bundled into multiple outputs/packages pick the simplest set of case use scenario. If a form can support 80 different user types—don’t pick that form for your first project. Choose something that is simple and easier to test. However, if you pick a form that it is too simple—that might be overkill. In some states, they don’t automate forms that are less than 1 page, as automation is best when the user has to enter the same information over, and over, and over. The computer can focus on entering captions and information that repeats itself over and over, while the person can focus on what orders they need to request and prepare their materials and strategy for each remedy requested.  If this is your first project start with a package that will not require complicated logic or multiple calculations. So for example, don’t start with a child support modification project, instead target a simple probate form, or an adult change modification. This will save you time and money in many ways: including reducing the costs of 1) writing instructions, 2) plain language review 3) testing 4) hosting and 5) support once the forms go live. If your funding or highest area of need is for a complex form and process—keep it as simple as you can. Don’t promise to handle every single factual case that can use that form or proceeding, and don’t promise to create the language in more than 1 language. You can do these next steps—once you have completed the plain language English form—and you have it out and it is getting positive feedback and good usage before you move to more complex variations on that form/proceeding. The 2013 Document Assembly Programs, Best Practice Guide, for Court System Development and Implementation, by Judge Fisher and Rochelle Klempner, has helpful guidance on choosing forms starting at page 13. See http://www.nycourts.gov/ip/nya2j/pdfs/bestpractices_courtsystemdocument_assemblyprograms.pdf.  No matter how good your team is, or how great your partnerships are—less is better. As you build competency and deepen your understanding of the needs of user for your forms, you can increase the complexity. Once you have done a full form roll out then move to larger more complex forms and projects. If you must start with a very complex form/process—then do only 1 at a time.
  1. Do talk to others to identify what forms to pick for automation. Make sure you talk to other groups or organizations with different missions—and develop criteria to select your forms. Form selection will make or break a project. Criteria might include collecting data and information on:

1) What forms are filed the most by those without lawyers if the project is for forms that are filed with courts

2) Complexity and stability of a form (see point 1 and number 2),

3) is it a form that has the two parties filing or only one—don’t overlook the other side if you are doing self-help based work

4) Is it an area of law or demographic where there are no other resources or help? Or are there multiple stakeholders serving similar communities with this or similar issues? If so, include them in the conversation.

5) How will each form under consideration benefit different audiences? Can those benefits be measured?

6) Talk with your partners and your team about what you would want to know after the forms are done? What would you define as success coming directly from using the form—and how would you measure it? Be realistic in these conversations and don’t underestimate the complexity of measuring outcomes.

If you pick forms that only your group wants then use volume of your forms might be limited from the get go and you won’t maximize the benefit of the project, investment. If you pick forms that multiple communities can use (for example adult name change, or powers of attorney)—those forms might get more referrals than forms that fit only a very discrete user need.

  1. Do measure before and after the online form goes live. Measure time, lines, number of people helped before and after the online form goes live.  Before you select a form, measure the amount of time it takes the lawyer, volunteer, and or self-helper to create the documents. Find out who is involved in giving out information on the process, and estimate how many FTEs are involved in the process. Do this before you release your online form. Then measure again after the form rolls out. For example, if it is a form that is going to be filed with a court, or administrative agency, find out how much time or how many times a day a clerk or court staff spend giving information to people in line. Notice the peak line length times—find out if people are getting turned away—on a daily or weekly basis. Keep track of what is happening at the location where people go for help. This will be greatly beneficial once the form is in use. This information will also help you design an online interview that hopefully only asks information once—and that reduces the amount of time it takes to produce a quality complex document. As much as you can, streamline the work flow around the forms—so that you are not put in the position to have one form for a clinic, for a pro bono placement, and for use by people at court or at home. Aim to have one online interview that works across county lines and case use scenarios that can be used used across in multiple work flows. Over time—and online form will let you provide assistance in different ways. Try to design a form that can be quickly modified or where the instructions can be redone—for use in other contexts or with other partners.

 

  1. Do test your forms and consider doing a soft launch before you stop editing them. Once you are testing an online form—measure how much time it takes your testers to use the form. Ask them how they feel about the task—was it too long? Too short? Ask them what other information they wish they had before they sat down on the form.  Make sure you do this also with people using mobile forms. Find out how they print out the forms. This will help you craft the instructions for your different user groups and fine tune the form for effective use. Pro Bono Net released a guide which might be helpful when thinking about how to set up computer terminals for users who need to create forms: http://www.connectingjusticecommunities.com/computer-station-best-practices-a-new-resource-from-lawhelp-interactive/2013/01/.   After you deploy, keep track of the length of the interview session. Find out how many people leave and come back to work on the online form. As more people move to mobile devices—time to completion will raise in importance. Be prepared to shorten the forms and stream line the process to meet the expectation of new emerging users. Be ready to provide support on saving, printing, and coming back to continue working on a form—and make sure your instructions provide that information also. So test the instructions as you test the form.
  1. Do think of the setting where the forms will be used. Make sure your locations have reliable and robust internet connectivity and printers. For mobile phone users make sure you have electric outlets so they can charge their phones as needed. Often times—computers/terminals, printers, paper and ink are not factored in whenever a new kiosk is being created where forms can be used. Make sure you cover these needs with your partners and there is a way to make sure these are available on demand. For mobile users—be prepared to provide printing support from mobile devices. See: http://www.connectingjusticecommunities.com/computer-station-best-practices-a-new-resource-from-lawhelp-interactive/2013/01/.  If you are providing a public space where people can sit down and use the form—think of what your patrons will need to use the form. Set up the desk and materials with an eye of encouraging privacy and concentration.
  1. Choose the right project lead. Do select a project lead who has the time to run the project and understands the end users and partner’s needs. Make sure that your lead person is someone who has strong relationships with other partners and has time to focus on the project.  If you give the project to someone who can’t allocate time to the project, the project will be at peril. The project lead does not need to be a lawyer, but does need to be a strong communicator and have basic project management skills. It has to be someone who has credibility and the backup of your administration. Your top leadership needs to believe in the project and support it.  Keep in mind, online form projects are change/innovation projects. See: https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2016/09/13/are-these-the-real-reasons-why-tech-projects-fail/#138411e17320.  If you give your project to someone who does not understand end users, the needs, the resources available, how to work with other groups and agencies, how to measure success, your project will face unnecessary hurdles and the implementation will be limited. If the project is approached as a technology project only—it will fail to leverage the positive changes that come from savings in time from using the form that can be put to provide other needed services, or create other work flows that promote access to justice. The best project lead is someone who has a vision to serve more people better, who is in a practice that faces serious constraints, and that can work with attorneys to help them adopt the form and change the way they produce legal documents.
  1. Do create an outreach plan. As you work on your forms plan, develop an outreach plan. Identify all the groups that can refer users to the form. Identify all the places where people go to ask for help—and let them know that the form is ready. Set up referral agreements. For some forms, your greatest referral source might be friends and family. For others, Court Clerks. Each problem area might require a unique outreach approach. Work with your web masters to post the form in easy to use and find webpages.
  1. Don’t burry the form urls deep into a page. When presenting your forms, design matters. The page, instructions where your users will find the online form—are important. Consider adapting best practices when designing those pages. For example, some stats have been successful in getting their forms used by making them part of a problem specific “mini-portal”. A mini portal has in 1 urls, essential resources a person will need to resolved one common and specific legal problem, for example, eviction, or divorce. It contains referrals, forms, videos, in one well designed page. Examples: htp://www.washingtonlawhelp.org/dissolution or http://www.lawhelpny.org/consumer.
  1. Do think about safeguarding your end user’s information. When someone is creating a legal form they will be entering a lot of sensitive data. They might be entering information about their credit, their marriage, their relationships, debt and accounts, assets health care information, income, etc. It might include children’s information. Make safety a top priority. Read privacy policies carefully. This ABA page summarizes ABA cloud ethics decisions that apply to attorneys, which might be helpful as you look at standards of care: https://www.americanbar.org/groups/departments_offices/legal_technology_resources/resources/charts_fyis/cloud-ethics-chart.html
  1. Do request user feedback and act on it. Once your forms are live, give the users the opportunity to give you feedback. In the LHI platform, owners can post their own survey tool to the end of a form, to get survey feedback. In addition, Pro Bono Net shares end user feedback that comes through LHI w/the project owners on a routine basis as part of their support.  Read the feedback. Often times, feedback can alert you of changes in areas where you don’t have staff or offices. So for example, if a court changes a procedure, or address,—and end user might let you know about it, which is helpful if you don’t have staff in that office giving you updates and there is no standard way of being notified of local changes. Sometimes the forms or questions can be confusing to end users. That feedback can help you improve your forms and instructions as you maintain them. If your users can’t use the forms you have made available because their facts don’t fit the form’s topic, that feedback can help you garner resources to create forms in those areas of need.
  1. Use the online form to simplify the process. Creating an online form will give you the opportunity to simplify local processes and rules and remove barriers to access. For every question in a form—ask if that question is necessary? For every step in the process of getting a decision, ask if you need another form for that. Use the form as a magnifying glass to ID barriers for people without lawyers. Consider and identify anything that can be simplified before automating the form. Eliminate fees, simplify or eliminate notary requirements, bundle the fee waiver with the online form, eliminate any extra step that is a burden for the person without the lawyer if possible. As you create the form, simplify the process, simplify the instructions, simplify the number of steps and visits that it takes to complete the process. Use the form to reduce barriers as much as possible and focus on the process, not just the forms.
  1. Once you roll out the forms—set up a budget to sustain the form. Over and over we learn that states that continue investing in their forms, their design, their instructions, their videos, their work flow maps, their staging pages, the partnerships behind the forms, generally end up having more utilization of their forms, and wider form collections that states that do not plan or set aside a small budget to sustain their forms projects. So once your form goes live and the form creation part of a project is over, continue talking to your partners, continue monitoring what benefits use of the form brings. If you developed the ability to create new forms in house, consider adding online forms to other areas of need. Your staff can continue learning and increasing their capacity to create and manage online form projects on an ongoing basis by joining monthly calls and video remote trainings and calls through both Pro Bono Net, LSNTAP, and SRLN. These calls happen once a month—and don’t take a lot of time. If your staff continue to see other examples of how forms are increasing access, that capacity will lead to new forms, better forms or both. LSNTAP trainings can be found here: http://lsntap.org/trainings. You can find more information about SRLN here: http://www.srln.org and about LawHelp Interactive here: http://www.probono.net/lhi
  1. Reach out. Regardless of how many times you have done and rolled a successful online form project, there will be bumps in the road. When you find yourself in that situation, reach out. At Pro Bono Net, we have been supporting online form projects since 2006—and have helped many states grow to their collections over time. We are always interested in sharing best practices, supporting online forms—and helping those use online forms design and develop a successful project. So please reach out. You can visit http://www.probono.net/lhi to find resources you might find helpful as you plan and budget or evaluate an online form project or join the list serves: https://www.probono.net/dasupport/login/?membersonly&returnto=%2Fdasupport%2Fgroups%2F (will need to join the page).  You can also visit and join the SRLN, http://www.srln.org/taxonomy/term/97. SRLN has a forms and technology working group. For example, they have a listing of SRL interactive forms by state: http://www.srln.org/node/850/srl-interactive-court-forms-state-ncsc-2016 (password needed)–that lists the web pages and the platform that is used to make the forms available.

* About Claudia: Claudia is the Program Manager for LawHelp Interactive. Since 2008 Claudia has been working in motivating and supporting legal non profits, courts and other non profits to use online forms to help people with out attorneys create their own legal documents and resolved their legal problems. Part of her work includes working with resource constrained legal services providers and helping them use online forms to streamline their internal work flows for document creationg. Claudia’s work with LawHelp Interactive was featured in the NY Times in 2016: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/01/opinion/legal-aid-with-a-digital-twist.html?_r=0 https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/06/opinion/a-year-of-big-ideas-in-social-change.html Claudia is an innovator that works and supports multiple groups and multiple states in using technology. for good and improve access to justice for all. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family and dog.

Posted in Document Assembly, Guest Bloggers, Self-Help Services, SRLN, Technology, Tools | 2 Comments