By Betsy Parrell, Supervising Attorney
For this month’s post in State Support’s series highlighting what to expect from the upcoming LawHelpMN.org redesign, the focus is on a much-anticipated online triage system. In case you missed our earlier posts, the first post gave an overview of the plans for the redesign, and the second post took a deeper dive into an exciting new aspect of the project: a centralized referral portal.
The site’s “triage system” navigation will allow a person seeking civil legal resources to respond to a series of simple questions that are designed to guide that individual to the most relevant legal informational materials and referrals. This type of system has been successfully implemented by similar legal aid websites in other states, including Michigan and Connecticut.
One reason for creating the triage system is that people looking for legal resources are often unsure how to categorize their legal problem, especially to the degree of specificity that would connect them to the right legal information. To narrow and refine the legal issue, the triage system starts with a set of branching questions for users to click through. This process helps direct the person to a tailored set of the most relevant self-help materials without the person having to click around the website. These targeted results will prioritize State Support’s Education for Justice fact sheets as the first resource displayed, and cleanly display other materials such as videos, booklets, and guided form tools. If an individual using the website is only looking for self-help materials, the process will stop there.
If someone is looking for legal help, the next step in the triage process is to be “matched” with appropriate legal referrals by responding to an additional set of questions. This subsequent set of questions will address the individual’s potential eligibility for services such as location, income, and age, and whether the user is a person with a disability or a veteran. These questions will also incorporate several “soft factors” intended to help guide individuals toward the level and type of service that might work best for them. The system will then “match” an individual with the most appropriate legal referrals.
For those who may be eligible for legal aid services, this “matching” function of the triage system will depend heavily on the centralized referral portal described in our last blog post. Legal aid organizations across the state will maintain detailed eligibility criteria and case acceptance guidelines, as well as legal clinic information, in the password-protected referral portal. The triage system will in turn draw data from that portal to match the user to services based on the accurate, real-time information being kept up-to-date by the programs in the portal. In this way, the triage system is being designed to provide potential clients with referrals only to services for which they are likely to be eligible. By reducing staff time spent with potential clients who aren’t eligible for that program’s services and reducing potential clients’ time calling around to offices that can’t help, the system endeavors to increase the accuracy and quality of referrals while maximizing available resources.
Depending on the specific legal issue and the individual’s circumstances, referrals could include:
- clinics and other opportunities for legal information, advice, and brief service;
- legal aid programs that may be able to offer full representation;
- alternative dispute resolution services such as mediation; and
- private attorney referral services, including reduced fee programs and unbundled or limited scope options.
Those already familiar with LawHelpMN.org, such as legal aid staff and others in the justice community, will still be able to access materials and referral information by searching the self-help library and organization directory. The triage system will function as an additional tool to help a person in need connect fluidly to the most on-point civil legal resources.