The Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute is dedicated to bringing together thought leaders from the legal industry to encourage discussion and debate. As part of their blog commentary they interview industry leaders and promising individuals within the industry. This July, the Legal Executive Institute interviewed NextGen Fellow, Amanda Brown, who is currently working on the statewide portals project.
To potential clients, navigating civil legal aid is often an opaque, confusing, and inefficient process. Last year, Microsoft, Pro Bono Net, and the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) set out to change that, announcing a partnership to direct low-income persons to appropriate legal aid resources through statewide online justice portals.
As a NextGen Fellow, Amanda joined with the ABA Center for Innovation to assist Microsoft, Pro Bono Net and the LSC on the statewide online justice portals. Read her interview to learn more about her experience working on the project.
Increasingly, collaborations are emerging as an effective strategy to address civil legal needs in underserved communities. The current system for accessing legal assistance is complex and difficult to navigate. This portal project aims to rectify this by integrating and amplifying existing efforts by legal aid organizations, courts and other service providers to help more people facing eviction, domestic violence and other civil law issues. Collaboration between the organizations working in the access to justice sphere is essential to these efforts.
Alaska and Hawaii were selected as pilot states in part because of the collaborative relationships between legal access to justice partners in those states.
“We are delighted to have found legal aid, court, and community partners in Alaska and Hawaii who are committed to innovation designed to help individuals find the appropriate level of assistance to meet their legal needs, and that will allow state justice communities to deliver services more efficiently and effectively,” – Mark O’Brien, Pro Bono Net Executive Director
To learn more about why these states were selected, visit the Incubating Innovation along the Pacific Rim posts for Alaska and Hawaii.
From the orginal partners, Pro Bono Net, Microsoft and LSC, to the organizations in our pilot states of Hawaii and Alaska, each organization we partner with plays a significant role in the development of a comprehensive approach to civil legal assistance across the country.
We would like to introduce one of our technology partners and their role in the pilot portals. Avanade is a joint venture between Microsoft Corporation and Accenture LLP. They have recently participated in listening sessions in Hawaii and Alaska to identify real-life barriers to legal support. Based on those findings, Avanade is helping the project to create a portal that uses artificial intelligence technologies such as natural language processing and machine learning to help understand the needs and requirements of an individual in a natural and plain manner, in the context of their situation and help them to be able to assist them quickly, safely, and in an inclusive manner.
We are thrilled to have the Avanade team working closely with us on the portal pilots in Hawaii and Alaska.
We are thrilled to announce a brand new webpage on the progress of the Statewide Justice Portal Project. The new page was created to provide more information and resources related to Simplifying Legal Help.
Read the latest project news, view photos and videos about the project, and stay connected as the Legal Services Corporation, Microsoft and Pro Bono Net partner with justice communities in Alaska and Hawaii to develop statewide legal access portals that simplify the process of finding legal help.
A companion piece to Simplifying Legal Help Blog, www.lsc.gov/simplifying-legal-help is hosted on the Legal Services Corporation’s website. The page will feature information on the project and share the progress of the partnership and pilots in Hawaii and Alaska. It will serve as a helpful repository of information and links to resources and related information.
We encourage you to stop by and take a look at the new page and don’t forget to check back for updates.
Subscribe to this blog to get the latest updates on the new webpage and status of this innovative project to increase access to legal help.
In January, two-day Ideation Workshops were held in Alaska and Hawaii, drawing on Microsoft’s Inclusive Design methodology. The goal of the workshops was to engage local community members and project stakeholders in generating ideas and insights about the real-life experience of people seeking legal help to inform the user experience design of the Legal Access Platform.
“The Inclusive Design principle is a broad-spectrum idea meant to produce products that are inherently accessible to all, people with disabilities and people without. Microsoft believes strongly that this human-centric design results in products that benefit people universally. As such, it has been mandated as a key tenant for all product development across the company.” Carly Ichiki, Lead Project Manager for the Initiative, Microsoft
The Ideation workshops incorporated findings from user immersion studies conducted in the fall 2017 in Alaska and Hawaii. Using a toolkit developed by Microsoft, local community engagement firms in each state conducted surveys and interviews of individuals who had experienced legal needs themselves or knew people who had. The user immersion studies helped us gain a more personalized understanding of the problem space, the people we are trying to help, and the challenges they face in learning about and navigating the legal system.
Participants in the Ideation Workshops included local community members who had either experienced legal needs themselves, or who are frequently sought out as “navigators” for others in their community seeking legal help. Additional participants included members of the national project team, and representatives from the Alaska Court System and Justice for All project, Alaska Legal Services Corporation, United Way / 211, the Alaska public library system and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, among other groups. Organizational participants in Hawaii included the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii, Family Court on Oahu and Aloha United Way / 211.
The first day of each workshop drew on personal stories shared by these individuals to prioritize key user needs and wants in the Legal Access Platform. During the second day, designers from Fell Swoop, a user experience design firm, assisted small groups in storyboarding examples of how people might access the Platform and engage with resources available on it to find solutions to their legal problems.
The Microsoft and Fell Swoop teams now have the exciting – and daunting! – task of synthesizing the rich and varied feedback from these workshops into a design brief, and ultimately, prototype designs that will be user-tested in Anchorage and Honolulu in the next month.
Legal Services Corporation has released a new video on the statewide access to justice portals. Watch it here to see highlights from the project announcement at the white house and hear from Brad Smith, President and Chief Legal Officer of Microsoft Corporation, LSC’s President Jim Sandman, and Mark O’Brien, Pro Bono Net’s Executive Director.
Similar to Alaska, Hawaii, with one large urban center in Honolulu, on the island of Oahu, and the rest of the population spread among the other seven islands, experiences geographic and infrastructure challenges to traditional modes of legal services delivery. Like Alaska, the justice community in Hawaii has developed some key strengths to compensate for these challenges:
Hawaii has a large consortium of service providers – cutting across the legal, health and human services sectors – that has evolved to meet the growing needs of a geographically dispersed community.
Beginning in 2011, the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii, Volunteer Legal Services Hawaii, the Hawaii State Bar Association, local bar associations, and the Hawaii State Judiciary have collaborated to establish self-help centers now located in every circuit court in the state. These centers are staffed by volunteer attorneys and LASH’s AmeriCorps advocates.
The Legal Aid Society of Hawai’i has developed over 40 online interactive pro se interviews utilizing Pro Bono Net’s LawHelp Interactive, along with a robust collection of legal rights guides and videos for LawHelp.org/HI. These resources have been integrated with Legal Aid’s service delivery, and promoted to pro se litigants through partnerships with public libraries and the Hawaii State Judiciary, Legal Aid also recently worked with its justice community partners to develop a guided triage tool for people searching for legal assistance to more easily identify resources and referrals. The service provider analysis undertaken for this project will provide an important foundation for the Portal initiative.
The community has innovated in other ways to meet needs across the state, including through hotlines, nonprofit mediation programs such as the Mediation Center for the Pacific (one of the first established in the country) and pop-up legal clinics in the more remote areas. In 2017, the National Center for Access to Justice ranked Hawaii as among the top three states in the country with practices aimed at making access to justice a reality for all people, and Hawaii was ranked first in the country for providing support to litigants with Limited English Proficiency.
With these attributes and its strong grounding in local community needs, it’s easy to see why the Aloha state’s justice community earned this recognition and is such fertile ground for this pilot initiative.
Because of this demonstrated spirit of innovation, out-of-the-box thinking, and robust networks of providers, each offers a unique ideal environment to pilot the concept of the portal project.
We recently conducted kickoff meetings in both states to connect with local stakeholders and providers. It was an excellent opportunity to discuss many of the unique challenges and needs faced by these states, again reaffirming that we have the right partners on board to pilot the Legal Assist project.
Word is getting out about our Legal Assist pilots in Hawaii and Alaska. Watch our recent coverage on Hawaii’s KHON2 where Microsoft’s Dave Heiner explains how the portal will help people in Hawaii who are looking for assistance with their legal issues.
New System Being Built for Legal Help- Thu 9-14-17 KHON 5pm
At the 2016 White House Access to Justice Summit, Microsoft, the Legal Services Corporation and Pro Bono Net announced a new partnership to develop statewide “justice portals” to help people navigate to the right resources in their state. The goal of the Portal initiative, dubbed Simplifying Legal Help, is to enable justice partners to collaborate in new and creative ways to provide some form of effective assistance to everyone with a civil legal problem.
“Many people find it difficult to access legal services,” said LSC President James J. Sandman. “The goal of the portals is to simplify that process by providing a single, statewide point of access to effective help for people needing civil legal assistance. Each user will be guided to available resources based on the nature of the matter and the user’s personal circumstances.”
Following a competitive application process, Alaska and Hawaii were selected as the jurisdictions to serve as pilots in the portal development. The pilots aim to integrate and amplify existing efforts by legal aid organizations, courts and other service providers to help more people facing eviction, domestic violence and other civil law issues. The technology will utilize innovative machine learning/AI technology to assist people in identifying what resources and services are best-suited to help them resolve their legal problem.
“We are delighted to have found legal aid, court, and community partners in Alaska and Hawaii who are committed to innovation designed to help individuals find the appropriate level of assistance to meet their legal needs, and that will allow state justice communities to deliver services more efficiently and effectively,” said Pro Bono Net Executive Director Mark O’Brien.
Developing access to justice portals in every state was one of the recommendations of LSC’s 2013 “Report of the Summit on the Use of Technology to Expand Access to Justice.” In 2015, the Conference of Chief Justices and Conference of State Court Administrators adopted a resolution supporting “the aspirational goal of 100 percent access to effective assistance for essential civil legal needs.” Technology strategies such as Legal Assist that expand access to justice are a widely viewed as central component of that vision.
“If you can’t afford a lawyer, then you can’t solve crippling housing, child custody, or civil litigation disputes,” said Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith. “Technology can help bridge this justice gap by empowering people with the advice and services they need to lead fruitful lives.”
Last month, kick-off meetings were held in Alaska and Hawaii. Representatives from Microsoft and Pro Bono Net traveled to meet with the state partners and other community stakeholders, solicit community feedback, and begin planning key steps in the development process.
We excited to share our progress, and what we learn along the way, with the broader justice and legal technology communities. We’ll be blogging here once or twice a month, with regular contributions from our partners in Alaska and Hawaii. Bookmark this blog or sign up for email updates to stay in touch!
Interested in learning more about the project? Contact: Mark McGrath at firstname.lastname@example.org