Connecting Via Video: The Legal Assistance of Western New York Set Up Video Conferencing in Its Seven Offices, Benefiting Staff and Clients

In 2012, a Technology Initiative Grant (TIG) allowed the Legal Assistance of Western New York, Inc.® (LawNY®) to use video conferencing equipment to connect all of its offices, increasing advocates’ ability to connect with one another, problem solve, and share their experiences.

At the time, LawNY® had its sights set on moving from community-based practices out of individual offices to more region-wide communication and collaboration. This better suited LawNY’s® service area; it has 7 offices in 14 counties but the travel time between offices can run upwards of three hours.

As the basis of the TIG grant, LawNY® applied for and obtained approval from the Social Security Administration (SSA) to use TIG grant video conferencing equipment at its local offices for hearings. (Three of the offices are compatible for the SSA hearings: Bath, Olean, and Ithaca.) Allowing clients to attend hearings in the LawNY® offices closer to their homes saved them—disabled clients in particular—hours of travel time to the SSA regional offices, where hearings were conducted by video conference with judges in New York City and elsewhere in the state.

This new development expanded the number of places where SSA hearings could take place in Western New York, and also led to a noticeable time and cost savings, as well as less travel-related stress and anxiety for the clients. Not to mention that clients could now be in a familiar space with advocates for the hearings.

In a very real sense, the SSA hearing process for both LawNY® and the SSA changed. For example, advocates can do hearings from their own offices, resulting in a time and cost savings; take more hearings; and achieve more positive outcomes. On the other hand, for the SSA, hearings can be scheduled in a more timely manner.

Besides using video conferencing for the SSA hearings, LawNY® uses it to enhance client services, improve collaboration between its seven offices, hold regional interviews and practice work groups (such as an advocacy work group), and facilitate replication. It has also implemented video conferencing organization-wide so members of its board of directors can attend meetings at the office closest to them and avoid long trips to a central meeting location.

Following the adoption and implementation of video conferencing across LawNY® and its many positive outcomes, the organization produced a guide titled “Building Bridges: An Introduction to Video Conferencing for the Legal Services Community” in 2014. It’s a quick guide to getting started with video conferencing and contains a lot of great information on the many uses of video conferencing, as well as the costs, necessary equipment, and how to go about choosing a vendor and setting up the video conferencing space.