Case Study: Illinois Legal Aid Online

In August 2016, Illinois Legal Aid Online (ILAO) consolidated its five websites—IllinoisLegalAid.org, IllinoisLegalAidOnline.org, IllinoisProBono.org, IllinoisLegalAdvocate.org, and AyudaLegalIL.org—into one mobile-friendly website: IllinoisLegalAid.org. This was the result of a 22-month project, which saw ILAO transform its cluster of websites into a clean and UX-friendly package.

It wasn’t so long ago, though, that ILAO found itself at a crossroads. In 2013, it couldn’t find a developer who still worked with ColdFusion, the web application development program implemented during the website’s last redesign in 2007. And then, around the same time, the website got hacked.

These events, and ILAO’s desire to get out of the business of managing its own servers as well as have a mobile-friendly website, precipitated the move to cloud technology and Drupal, an open-source content management system.

So ILAO rolled up its sleeves and started the structured process of remaking its website. Due to a lack of internal technology staffing bandwidth for the project, ILAO enlisted the help of six part-time or project-based contract developers to work on the website, in addition to its program director, technology director, UX—or user experience—manager, and UX research associate. And IllinoisLegalAid.org’s design and theming—now a clean, UX-friendly, and white-space and picture-filled product, which has even prompted the question, “Can a website redesign improve access to justice?”—was largely outsourced as well.

While the new website is an aesthetic success on its own, it hasn’t been without its share of challenges. In particular, one such challenge, according to ILAO Executive Director Lisa Colpoys, is that the website that was launched on August 1, 2016 was a “minimum viable product (MVP),” meaning, in this case, a website with a core yet incomplete set of features to test users’ interactions with the product, due to a lack of resources and an ambitious project scope. However, since August, a number of the missing features have been rolled out.

An old iteration of ILAO.

 

ILAO in 2017.

ILAO is also working to raise money to support the ongoing evolution of IllinoisLegalAid.org, as well as going through a significant backlog of fixes. It added multilingual support in February 2017 so that Spanish speakers can use the website, too. In order to make it functional, ILAO used both machine translations and volunteer translators to translate the content into Spanish.

While the organization has its work cut out for it, the website redesign as a whole and its ability to provide the public with accurate and detailed legal information has ILAO believing it can build on its high usage rates. In 2015 alone, there were 3 million visitors to the website. Nearly half came from mobile devices—a stark increase over previous years.

The mobile version of ILAO.

So, then, one takeaway from ILAO’s redesign is that organizations should prioritize making their websites mobile-friendly if they want to drive more traffic to them. Case in point: According to a 2015 study, nearly half of the traffic to 28 legal services websites came from mobile devices. Furthermore, the growth in web traffic across all the 159 legal services websites surveyed was due to more mobile users.

Especially in 2017, when outdated technology can impede the delivery or presentation of legal services or information, embracing and emphasizing innovation within an organization is key. “Investing in technology allows legal aid organizations to be efficient and better serve people,” Colpoys said. She also mentioned that while in the process of improving and expanding services, it might not feel like that’s actually happening—say, in the middle of a 22-month project, for example—which can coincide with the fact that change can be neither easy nor comfortable. But looking at the big picture and seeing the end result—the new IllinoisLegalAid.org—can make it all worth it.