Innovations for Clients: It’s a Community Effort!

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by Emily Good, Legal Projects Manager

November marks a season of reflection and gratitude. Here at State Support, we are incredibly grateful for the people who have supported and helped us with the launch of LOON, and the ongoing redesign of LawHelpMN.  

An important feature of the new LawHelpMN will be the “LawHelp Guide,” designed to help site visitors better pinpoint their legal issue and receive targeted fact sheets, resources and referrals by answering a series of branching questions. To create this innovative and responsive tool, we relied on expert legal review from Kara Rieke, Ann Cofell, Beth Goodell, Lars Markeson, Laura Wilson and Mark Iris. Their suggestions led to changes in how questions were structured to make the system both more accurate and easier to navigate.  

On October 1, staff from sixteen Minnesota legal services organizations began utilizing LOON (Legal Organizations Online Network) in their daily work. LOON enables legal services providers to make more accurate referrals through access to detailed, real-time data. LOON will also power the referral information that will be available to everyone on the new LawHelpMN.org, once launched. Our LOON ambassadors provided ongoing feedback as the platform was designed and implemented, participated in user testing, and communicated within their programs about LOON. They also spent many hours updating their organizations’ service listings to prepare for implementation, and are continuing to make adjustments and changes. We are incredibly grateful for your time, participation and enthusiasm.  

Earlier this fall, State Support worked with a consultant who conducted LawHelp Guide focus groups comprised of trusted intermediaries –  social workers, public librarians, and faith-based community members and leaders – in order to document their unique and important perspective as gateways to legal information and services for the communities they serve. In both Bemidji and St. Paul, we relied on a number of volunteers to guide participants through the site and document their experiences. Thank you to the following volunteers for their help: Josie Adkins, Debra Lawton, Madeline Buck, Pauline Afuso, Rebecca Hare, Sandy Nguyen, Anna Beadle, and Dr. Sue Ricker and her Social Work Research Methods course students from Bemidji State University. And thank you to the focus group participants, who took time out of their busy days to discuss and test the LawHelp Guide.

Because improved navigability and a more user-friendly experience are important goals of the website redesign, State Support’s website development vendor recently conducted “usability testing," a form of user testing that involves watching a user attempt to perform a series of defined tasks on the site. By observing users’ interactions with the site, we are better able to make improvements that address their needs.  Our user testers, including program staff from the HCBA and Greater Twin Cities United Way, provided time and critical feedback for which we are grateful. We are also thankful for the programs and individuals who helped us reach out to recruit users from the public, including Volunteer Lawyers Network, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, the Dakota and Ramsey County Law Libraries, the Minnesota State Law Library, and other partners who posted flyers and connected us with user testers.

Our steering committee is guiding implementation of the LawHelpMN rebuild project by asking questions and providing suggestions through regular meetings. Thank you to Luci Russell, Lisa Cohen, Bridget Gernander, Tom Walsh, Claire Comstock-Gay, Luce Guillén-Givins and Anne Hoefgen.

In addition, the advisory committee established by the Minnesota Supreme Court as the governance structure for the LawHelp Guide, provides vital support through its efforts to foster partnerships that ensure the stability of the project, as well as to establish evaluation criteria, data privacy and other important policies, and by securing funding to support the long-term success of the project in delivering effective civil legal assistance. Many thanks to the chair of the advisory committee, Jordan Martell, and its members, including Hon. Lucinda Jesson, Donna Gies, Olivia Jefferson, Melissa Kantola, Steven Marchese, Larry McDonough, Sharon Press, Liz Reppe, Drew Schaffer, Kelly Tautges, and Tom Walsh.

And finally, thank you also to those who have assisted State Support in the LawHelpMN redesign process and the creation of LOON whose names we may have missed.  This really has been a community-wide effort, and we are grateful to all those involved.