LawHelpMN: Information and Referral Breakthrough

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Legal Aid’s State Support team is proud to introduce a newly overhauled statewide legal website: LawHelpMN.

“We are so excited about this project,” says Communications Coordinator Mary Rea. “The old LawHelpMN had reams of useful information but it wasn’t filtered or curated. The new site delivers resources and referrals specific to the user’s situation and location.”

The central feature is the LawHelpMN Guide, which draws data from a Self-Help Library and a Provider/Clinic Directory. These two channels contain a comprehensive collection of information about legal resources in Minnesota.

The Guide uses a branching logic tree to streamline the data and provide the public with individualized answers to their legal questions. “It’s a user-centered design, based on years of experience and data from the old LawHelpMN,” says Legal Projects Manager Emily Good. “We also studied the triage logic used by other states and adapted it to the information and resources available in Minnesota.”

The Guide uses a bifurcated process. In the first step, the user chooses from twelve legal topics and then answers a couple of questions to narrow the issue. The Guide delivers a list of curated resources from the Self-Help Library.

“Our goal in developing the Guide was to be flexible, nimble, and responsive,” says Technology Projects Manager Jennifer Singleton. “For example, someone in a family dispute over an estate may think they have a family law problem, but the Guide will jump information strings and direct them to probate law.”

In addition to fact sheets and booklets, links to other websites and resources, and Q&A with in-depth answers from an attorney, the Library has 18 interactive forms. The forms are guided interviews, maintained in-house at State Support. They pull information from the client’s answers to populate court forms and planning documents.

“Education for Justice resources are front and center in the first step,” says Rea. “All materials are written by lawyers, working with non-lawyers to make the materials accessible to the general public. The fact sheets and booklets are vetted by attorneys and carefully reviewed for legal changes annually, and our forms have received national kudos.”

The second step of the Guide’s process directs the user to services. If they look over the self-help information and decide they need a lawyer, the Guide asks a few demographic questions. The answers are mapped onto federal poverty guidelines in the background, and pull from the statewide Provider/Clinic Directory to provide a listing, in order of relevance, of legal services offices and justice partners.

Legal services organizations have passwords that allow them to update their own information in real time. This ensures that referrals are current, and the public won’t be sent to a clinic where the time or location has changed.

The option to enter the Guide is prominent on the site’s home page in order to help first time users navigate to customized information. Attorneys and advocates more familiar with the state’s legal resources can bypass the Guide and go directly to the information they need.

“Low-income people, seniors, and people with disabilities are the populations that drive our design and focus,” Good says. “The site contains only legal help and resources. We direct users out to other links for social service referrals.”

Although at this point the Guide is only available in English, the rest of the site is available in Spanish, Hmong, and Somali. Many of the fact sheets and booklets show translations in multiple languages.

The LawHelpMN Guide is poised to offer Minnesotans resources and referrals targeted to their individual needs. That’s another step toward justice for all. Leykn Schmatz

Leykn Schmatz

Mid-Minnesota legal aid provides free civil legal advice and representation to Minnesotans who cannot afford an attorney. Legal aid serves people with low incomes in 20 counties and people with disabilities statewide.

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