Technology Initiative Grant Highlights and Impact
Since 2000, when Congress first appropriated special funds for the Technology Initiative Grants (TIG) program, LSC has been a leader in the development and use of technology to more effectively meet the legal needs of low-income Americans. Thus far, TIG has awarded over $53 million in grants that leverage technology to help meet the civil legal needs of low-income people. Here are some examples of what that investment has yielded:
National Network of Legal Aid Websites
The TIG program has played a critical role in the development of legal services websites in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories. These websites, nearly all of which were developed with TIG support and templates, provide information such as the locations of LSC-funded programs and their offices, information about pro bono and volunteer opportunities, and a broad range of legal resources for clients and legal services attorneys. Many are supported by Live Chat functionality, which allows users to interact with legal services staff to find the resources they need. Online videos, many created with TIG support, can be viewed from the websites, providing legal information in the areas most needed by low-income people. Surveys show that users of TIG-supported websites are highly satisfied: 76 percent find them "easy" or "very easy" to use and 88 percent find the information they provide "easy" or "very easy" to understand.
LawHelp.org connects users to the statewide website network. Examples of leading statewide websites supported through the TIG program include:
Automating Legal Form and Document Preparation
LawHelp Interactive (LHI) uses technology to improve the legal form and document preparation process for low-income people and the attorneys who assist them. Using web-based interviews, LHI presents users with a series of questions about a particular legal issue. By collecting the information in a logical and organized way, the answers enable users to create high-quality court forms and other legal documents on their own. Used in over 40 states and U.S. territories, this technology has helped legal aid advocates, pro bono lawyers, and self-represented litigants create over 2.3 million legal documents since 2005 that address a broad range of legal issues. Interviews are available in multiple languages and can include video and sound to support a broader range of individuals with legal needs. Top states in assemblies are New York, California, Michigan, Illinois, and Texas.
LawHelp Interactive is available through many of the statewide legal aid websites. Pro Bono Net, a non profit based in NY, manages the LawHelp Interactive platform. In 2010 it received the College of Law Practice Management InnovAction Award for its work on this TIG-funded initiative. LHI is funded by LSC TIG grants, through court fees, and other grants and donations.
Using Technology to Support Pro Bono
The TIG program has helped LSC grantees use information technology to more effectively manage pro bono initiatives. Overall, TIG has devoted more than $1.2 million to projects that use technology to support and manage pro bono efforts. Grants are currently underway to develop websites and other automated tools that make volunteering for a pro bono case and providing services to clients easier and more convenient for legal professionals. Recent pro bono focused TIGs include:
In 2014, the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association, in partnership with the Massachusetts Bar Association and other state and national pro bono organizations, launched the TIG-funded MassProBono website, a new portal that enhances the delivery of pro bono legal services to people of limited means in Massachusetts. The site supports and encourages pro bono work, matching volunteers across the state with a wide variety of opportunities that fit their interests, location, and schedules. It also raises awareness of the need for pro bono and highlights the pro bono work of the Massachusetts legal community. Lawyers can utilize interactive tools for finding pro bono cases and projects, an event calendar, email groups, news feeds, and a resource library. The centerpiece of the site, the Pro Bono Opportunities Guide, builds on the Boston Bar Association’s pro bono catalogue and incorporates interactive functions to create a robust new tool to promote pro bono engagement.
- TIG funding led to the development of the first statewide pro bono mobile application in 2011 (TIG 10015). Illinois Pro Bono provides Illinois attorneys and other legal professionals with a volunteer opportunity search tool, a calendar of upcoming events, and instructional legal content. The app is available for both iOS and Android and has been downloaded and installed over 2700 times since its launch.
- The A2J Clinic Project (TIG 11035) helped establish law school clinics focused on the development of automated document assembly applications using A2J Author and HotDocs, as well as other content for statewide legal aid websites. The project piloted and supported six law school A2J Clinics in the fall 2013 semester, and the team plans to double the number of law school clinics by 2016. The clinics allow future lawyers to make significant pro bono contributions while also developing technology skills crucial to the future of the practice of law.
Enhancing the Legal Services Gateway with Online Intake
TIG has funded an increasing number of initiatives to provide online intake solutions for prospective clients. Online intake allows these individuals to apply for assistance at any time through the web. Online intake systems are also integrated into programs’ case management systems, which saves time and reduces mistakes by allowing intake staff to simply verify user information instead of inputting it manually into a client database.
Online intake systems have resulted in significant time and resource savings. By converting a data collection function to a data confirmation function, TIG grantee Legal Aid Of Western Ohio determined that it saved approximately 10 - 15 minutes of staff time per application acceptance. That amounts to a savings of about 1.0 – 1.5 intake staff FTE’s per year, allowing resources to be allocated more effectively in the program. Additionally, by offering a platform where applicants can utilize a smart system to be guided through the steps of inputting all the necessary issue and eligibility information, increased efficiency is realized through a decrease in the number of times an applicant must be re-contacted to complete the application process.
Helping Military Members, Veterans, and Their Families
StatesideLegal.org, funded through LSC's TIG program since 2009, is a free resource for members of the military, veterans, their families and advocates. StatesideLegal.org helps this community access benefits, find free legal help, and better understand relevant legal issues. Users can access StatesideLegal's extensive library of original content, including interactive forms, videos, and legal analysis. Recent additions to the site include a "Women Who Serve" section focused on legal issues facing women veterans and an interactive legal needs check-up tool that provides personalized legal information and referrals for service members and veterans. In 2014, the website had more than 400,000 visitors from all 50 states and several countries including Afghanistan and Iraq. The website recorded nearly 1 million page views. Currently, the website has 10,000 visitors each week.
The TIG Replicable Projects page highlights more initiatives that have impacted the legal services community. Additionally, a December 2012 article on Slate.com showcased many recently-funded TIGs and the Harvard Journal of Law and Technology published several articles that highlight TIG's impact in enhancing access to justice for low-income Americans.
Finally, TIG highlights successful projects through its blog: