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: User Feedback and the New LawHelpMN.org

by Jenny Singleton, Legal/Technology Projects Manager

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State Support is excited to announce that its new centralized referral portal has been named LOON (Legal Organizations Online Network), and is in the final stages of development. LOON will enable easier referrals between legal services providers and support the busy work of intake staff. Read more about LOON in our March blog post, and about the development of an Online Triage System for LawHelpMN in our April blog post.

Most recently, our developers have begun creating the blueprints (known as “wireframes”) that will be used to guide what the public sees when visiting the newly designed LawHelpMN.org

For all aspects of the new site, State Support is focused on making sure our users’ needs are addressed. To do that, we have made a conscious effort to get user feedback and perform user testing at various stages of the site’s development. Following are some of the ways we are gathering feedback and when we will use each method. If you are interested in learning more about user testing and other methods of gathering user feedback, Usability.gov and LSNTAP both have a wealth of information on the subject.

Planning Stage: Task Analysis
Task analysis is observing users doing the tasks we hope they will use LawHelpMN to do. Early in the project, we wanted to know how intake staff might use LOON, so we observed four different intake staff as they made phone referrals. Being able to see first-hand the different processes intake staff use allowed us to provide direction to our developer as we explained what LOON must be able to do.

Wireframe Stage: Focus Groups
Focus groups are moderated group discussions designed to solicit stakeholders’ reactions to concepts. State Support has conducted three focus groups to get staff feedback at the organizations that will be using LOON. We previewed LOON’s wireframes and were able to get valuable suggestions from staff members about how the site should be structured, what information should be most prominent, and which features would make LOON most useful.

Development Stage: Card Sorting
Card sorting involves asking users to put a topic into the category in which they think it belongs. In its simplest form, card sorting involves labeling index cards with different topics and categories, and having a user physically place each topic card with the category card where they think it belongs. State Support will use this method to answer two questions. First, how do users categorize their legal issues? For example, do users think that learning how to handle a deceased parent’s estate fits under “Family Law” or under “Seniors?” With this information we’ll refine our triage questions to reflect which legal categories a person might start with when looking for answers to their legal questions. Next, we’ll use card sorting to gauge our users understanding of different legal categories, and establish the best labels based on that understanding. For example, do users understand that the “Seniors” category includes topics like Powers of Attorney and Health Care Directives, or should this topic be relabeled “End of Life Planning?”

Development Stage: Usability Testing
Usability testing typically involves watching a user attempt to perform defined tasks on a website. Experts typically recommend testing about 6 participants in order to obtain sufficient information. State Support recently completed observation testing on LOON. Six participants, all of whom will be using LOON in the near future, were given scenarios and asked to perform related tasks such as finding a referral for a caller. As the participants navigated the site, our moderator asked questions to illicit more information about what worked well and what was challenging. Based on this user testing, we created a prioritized list of issues to be addressed prior to the release of LOON. We plan to carry out similar user testing with a variety of user groups as the redesign of LawHelpMN progresses.

Post-Launch: A/B Testing
A/B testing is a feedback mechanism that will allow us to compare how two options impact a user’s behavior. With this testing, each user is randomly presented with one of two versions of the website. Metrics are then collected about how each user interacts with the site to measure the effectiveness of the two versions. State Support used A/B testing to help us make decisions about the style and placement of content on our current LawHelpMN site, and we’ll likely use this method again after the redesigned LawHelpMN has launched.

Great websites must be responsive to users’ needs. Our work on LawHelpMN and LOON will not end at launch. For these sites to progressively improve and evolve to meet user needs and expectations, we must continue to gather user feedback after launch. In addition to getting that user feedback, we need to plan for the staff time and expenses associated with responding to and implementing user suggestions. With this iterative approach, we hope to create resources for the community that will meet user needs long into the future.

Innovations for Clients: Online Triage System on the New LawHelpMN.org

By Betsy Parrell, Supervising Attorney

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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.   

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.