Innovations for Clients: Made in Minnesota - The New LawHelpMN.org

by Emily Good, Legal Projects Manager

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Since the launch of LawHelpMN.org over a decade ago, State Support has worked to improve the site’s usefulness and responsiveness as part of our commitment to access to justice for all Minnesotans. The redesign of the site – currently in progress – takes that commitment further than ever before, with the adoption of a completely new platform that will allow State Support more control over the technical aspects of the site. Goals of the redesign include better user experience and search functions, an online triage system, and a pilot of an improved online intake system. By building our own site, we’re able to fully customize LawHelpMN.org to meet the needs of the Minnesota community. 

Through legal aid technology networks and the annual LSC Innovations in Technology Conference, State Support staff learned about the Drupal web content management platform. States including Illinois, Michigan, and Connecticut use Drupal for their legal information sites, and their experiences helped inform our decision to use Drupal for the new LawHelpMN.org. The opportunity to leverage the work done by other states on the Drupal platform, and the existing expertise in the legal aid community, is helping make the transition to a new site more fluid.

Drupal is a free, open source software that grows and evolves as web developers build sites with it. The open source environment means a community of sharing and innovation, which reflects the values of both LawHelpMN.org and the Minnesota civil legal justice community. The continuing iteration within the larger Drupal community will benefit LawHelpMN.org with new ideas and options from a variety of sources.

Drupal sites use “modules” which are like building blocks. There are standard modules for forms, text boxes, search and other common elements of a site. Because of the open source nature of Drupal, modules created for one site and purpose are available and can be directly used or reconfigured to fit the needs of our site, saving time and energy in the development process. As developers create new modules, additional features and capabilities can be integrated.

Our hope is that by choosing to build the new site in Drupal, we can continue to make timely improvements and changes while making LawHelpMN.org more user centered than ever.  

Access to Justice in Minnesota: An MSBA Report

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The Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA) and its Legal Assistance to the Disadvantaged (LAD) Committee published the 2017-18 Access to Justice Report for Minnesota. The report highlights initiatives undertaken by the MSBA and LAD Committee in partnership with the Minnesota Judicial Branch, legal aid providers, volunteer attorney programs, and other stakeholders.

Among the highlights:

  • Minnesota partners are creating an interactive online portal to direct people to resources to meet their civil legal needs.
  • An amended Minnesota rule promotes legal aid's receipt of unclaimed funds in state class actions.
  • An MSBA delegation opposes elimination of the federal Legal Services Corporation which funds legal aid programs. 
  • A new statewide Low Fee Family Law Project matches clients of modest means with attorneys.
  • A coordinated response to legal needs in the event of a natural or human-made crises in Minnesota is being developed. 

Read more about these initiatives and other activities that help improve equal justice for all in our state.

Innovations for Clients: Referral Portal on the New LawHelpMN.org

by Emily Good, Legal Projects Manager

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State Support is moving forward behind the curtain on the LawHelpMN.org redesign. This is the second post in our series highlighting what to expect and anticipate in the coming months. 

One of the motivations for redesigning the site is to improve legal services provider listings and make each organization's information more targeted to the individual legal needs of users. In particular, a new centralized referral portal will enable easier referrals between legal services providers, a key recommendation in the “Analysis of the Civil Legal Aid Intake Infrastructure in Minnesota” report from June 2017. The  report recommended an “up-to-date database maintained of the case acceptance standards of each LSAC funded program, available to all programs to minimize referral of applicants to other legal aid organizations that will not serve them.” 

Legal services provider listings will be password protected, and organizations will be responsible for updating their own information about case priorities and contact information on the site. When a provider receives a grant to expand services, or target services to a particular population, they can enter the parameters for those types of cases into the referral portal themselves, and subsequently receive the targeted referrals they need. In turn, they will be able to log in and view information about each of the other LSAC-funded programs in order to make accurate referrals to clients they’re unable to serve. 

The information entered will also be used in the legal services provider directory that is visible to the public (although some detailed information will only be visible to fellow LSAC grantees). Having a centralized place where organizations update their own intake and contact information will help minimize the time individual offices spend calling around to verify what other offices are doing. 

State Support has shadowed intake staff at Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid and the Volunteer Lawyers Network in order to better understand the work flow and referral processes at these organizations. The referral portal will function as an additional tool to support the busy work of intake staff, and will especially help newer intake staff learn the priorities and work of other organizations.

Innovations for Clients: What to Expect from the New LawHelpMN.org

by Jenny Singleton, Legal/Technology Projects Manager

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State Support is excited to announce that work is underway to redesign LawHelpMN.org, Minnesota’s acclaimed legal information website for the public. The redesigned LawHelpMN.org  will improve client services by enhancing Minnesota’s online and client referral tools. We’ll keep you updated on our progress via periodic blog posts highlighting what to expect and anticipate in the coming months. 

A key feature of the new site will be a  “triage” system to more fully integrate self-help resources, like State Support’s library of fact sheets, with referrals to legal aid organizations. After users answer a series of questions about their legal problem and eligibility criteria, the site will display the most relevant self-help resources and the organizations and legal clinics most likely to help. For an example of a triage system, visit Michigan’s Guide to Legal Help

In addition to using triage to better connect the public with legal resources, the new site will pilot an improved online intake system for two organizations in Hennepin County (Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid and the Volunteer Lawyers Network). Clients whose legal problem and eligibility criteria match them with one of these organizations will be able to seamlessly submit an online application to the organizations, right from LawHelpMN.org.

Finally, the site will debut a centralized user-friendly portal that legal aid organizations can use when making client referrals. Legal aid organizations will be able to update their organizational profiles to reflect changes in the services they offer, which will give the legal aid community, and the public, real-time, accurate information about the types of cases legal aid offices in Minnesota can handle. The portal will use the OpenReferral data standard, which will facilitate future integrations with other databases, like United Way 2-1-1.

The LawHelpMN.org redesign is being conducted in partnership with Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, the Volunteer Lawyers Network, and the Minnesota Judicial Branch. The project is made possible through grants from the Legal Services Corporation Technology Innovation Grant Program, the Minnesota Legal Services Advisory Committee, and the Minnesota Court Technology Fund.