Coming Soon: The New Year Brings a New LawHelpMN.org

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The highly anticipated launch of the recently rebuilt LawHelpMN.org is just around the corner! In a short time, site visitors will find a clean modern look, a new guided tool for gathering curated legal resources and referrals and familiar and thoughtfully improved features such as the self-help library and the provider and clinic directory. Months of feedback, user testing and behind the scenes work from the staff at State Support and our website developer, Electric Citizen, will soon become a reality for frequent users of the site, as well as those discovering it for the first time.

Here’s a preview of key features from the soon-to-be launched site:

  • Navigational Assistance/Targeted Resources and Referrals: The LawHelpMN Guide
    The LawHelpMN Guide (the Guide) is designed to deliver a customized set of self-help resources and referrals that address an individual’s specific legal concern or problem. These curated results are generated in response to an individual’s answers to a series of simple questions within the Guide intended to: 1) narrow their legal topic, and 2) assess their potential eligibility for services based on a variety of factors including location and income.

  • Password Protected Online Database: LOON (Legal Organizations Online Network)
    LOON was developed to house up-to-date information about legal services available across Minnesota.  Service listings in the database include information about case types and priorities, case acceptance guidelines, clinics, and eligibility criteria. LOON usage began late last year within the legal services community to enable legal services providers to make more accurate referrals amongst each other through password-protected access to detailed, real-time data. Once the rebuilt LawHelpMN.org site launches, LOON will also power the referral information available to site visitors using either the Guide or the providers and clinic directory.

  • Expanded Continuum of Services: Access to Justice for All Minnesotans
    Offering meaningful referrals along a continuum means including referrals that are tailored to the individual’s circumstances across a broad range of services, such as legal aid organizations, legal clinics, law libraries, self-help centers, alternative dispute resolution services, and private attorney referral programs. Some recently developed or expanded services that will now be available as referrals on LawHelpMN.org include the Minnesota Unbundled Project, Community Mediation Minnesota, and the Low Fee Family Law Project.

The LawHelpMN.org redesign was 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 grant funds from the Legal Services Corporation Technology Innovation Grant Program, the Minnesota Legal Services Advisory Committee, the Minnesota Court Technology Fund, and the Minnesota Justice for All Project.

Here at State Support, it is our sincere hope that as the legal services community begins using the new LawHelpMN.org, you will share your feedback with us. Let us know what’s working, what you love, or if you find technical bugs or glitches, at statesupport@mnlegalservices.org or through the contact form on the new site.

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.  

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.

St. Thomas Law School Dean Stresses Importance of Legal Aid Funding

Robert K. Vischer, dean of the University of St. Thomas Law School, and member of the Legal Services Corporation's leaders council, was featured in this week's op-ed section of the Star Tribune. Vischer makes a compelling case for the retention of the primary funding agency for civil legal aid by outlining LSC's measurable and meaningful contributions to individual self-reliance and empowerment, the nation's growing justice gap, and the agency's significant economic benefits for state and local governments. Read the full opinion.

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