Simplifying Legal Help

Simplifying Legal Help

Introducing the Initiative

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. 

Left to Right: Brad Smith, Microsoft; Mark O'Brien, Pro Bono Net; Jim Sandman, LSC


“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.

Watch David Heiner, Strategic Policy Advisor for Microsoft, describe the project in the video below at the July 2018 Board Meeting in Boise, Idaho. 

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.


John Levi introducing Statewide Legal Access Portal Project.

“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.”

Work is well under way in both Alaska and Hawaii. To stay on top of developments, read the blog below.

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Read more about the State Portal Project and the Ideation Workshops in Alaska and Hawaii here.


Alaska and Hawaii were chosen for this pilot for a variety of reasons. Explore the challenges and opportunities faced in simplifying legal help in these two states by following the links below.

Incubating Innovation along the Pacific Rim - Part I: Alaska

Incubating Innovation along the Pacific Rim - Part II: Hawaii 

Gain a more in-depth understanding of the access to justice portal project.

Meet Avanade, a new partner in the portal project

New video on Statewide Access to Justice Portals

Hawaii's KHON2 Reports on Legal Assist Project


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. To offer feedback or comments, click below. 

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