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Increasing Efficiency and Access to Legal Aid


AUGUST 9, 2011

Increasing Efficiency and Access to Legal Aid

The following appeared in LSC's 2010 Annual Report. Read the article below or view the PDF version on LSC's website.

Legal aid programs across the country are always looking for new ways to improve efficiency and increase access to the client population in their service area. Because of limited staff and resources, the systems that LSC programs use to conduct client intake—most often telephone hotlines and in-person interviews—are often overwhelmed by the demand for legal services, resulting in frustrated clients who have pressing legal problems. Now, because of an LSC Technology Initiative Grant (TIG), an innovative model is providing LSC programs with an opportunity to augment traditional intake methods with online intake.

In the fall of 2007, LSC awarded TIG funding to Legal Aid of Western Ohio (LAWO) to develop a new, user-friendly online intake system designed for clients who need alternatives to the traditional 9-to-5 telephone and in-person application process. The online project began in 2008 and was completed in 2010.

AUGUST 9, 2011

Increasing Efficiency and Access to Legal Aid

The following appeared in LSC's 2010 Annual Report. Read the article below or view the PDF version on LSC's website.

Legal aid programs across the country are always looking for new ways to improve efficiency and increase access to the client population in their service area. Because of limited staff and resources, the systems that LSC programs use to conduct client intake—most often telephone hotlines and in-person interviews—are often overwhelmed by the demand for legal services, resulting in frustrated clients who have pressing legal problems. Now, because of an LSC Technology Initiative Grant (TIG), an innovative model is providing LSC programs with an opportunity to augment traditional intake methods with online intake.

In the fall of 2007, LSC awarded TIG funding to Legal Aid of Western Ohio (LAWO) to develop a new, user-friendly online intake system designed for clients who need alternatives to the traditional 9-to-5 telephone and in-person application process. The online project began in 2008 and was completed in 2010.

Using a technology program called A2J Author® (developed specifically to address the needs of self-represented litigants and supported in part by earlier TIG awards), LAWO created a user-friendly online interview that guides potential legal aid clients through a series of easy-to-follow questions that helps LAWO better understand their problems. Once the potential client completes the interview, the person receives suggestions on how to respond to emergency situations and printable information appropriate to their problem.

At the local LSC program, the information completed by the potential client goes into a holding queue outside the program’s case management system for checks of any potential conflict that would prohibit the program from representing the client. If it is determined no conflict exists, with the click of a button the intake worker imports all the information from the interview into the program’s case management system for review. The intake worker then contacts the potential client and the intake proceeds as if the client interview had been conducted by phone or in person.

The A2J online application and case management system integration has resulted in a significant savings of time and has made the intake process more efficient, saving approximately 10 to 15 minutes of staff time per application. It is estimated that the increased efficiency has resulted in time savings equivalent to 1 to 1.5 full-time employees.

Survey data indicate that more than 94 percent of potential clients find the A2J application easy to use and that the same high number would recommend it to a friend. The online web-based application is available 24/7. And online users receive immediate information with practical suggestions as to what they can do regarding their situation while they wait for a call about their application.

LAWO has found that it receives 33 percent of all intake applications online, and of those, almost two-thirds come from people in rural areas, demonstrating that providing an online application process can help increase access to legal services for clients who have historically faced geographic barriers.

In Ohio, the Legal Aid Society of Columbus launched its version of an A2J online intake application in March 2010, and three other legal aid programs are in various stages of development, including Community Legal Aid Services, Inc., the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, and Southeast Ohio Legal Services.

As of late 2010, at least 10 other legal aid programs across the country had started similar online intake projects, and more than 35 programs were in the process of researching future projects. LAWO is helping facilitate replication of this TIG project by providing technical support to other programs, conducting training for the legal aid community at national conferences and online webinars, and posting resource materials online at the A2J (www.a2jauthor.org) and National Technology Assistance Project (www.lsntap.org) websites.