Since 2000, when Congress first appropriated special funds for its Technology Initiative Grants (TIG) program, LSC has been a leader in the development and use of technology to more effectively meet the legal needs of low-income Americans. Thus far, TIG has awarded $40 million in grants that leverage technology to help meet the civil legal needs of low-income people. Here are some examples of what that investment has yielded:
The TIG program has played a critical role in the development of legal services websites in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories. These websites, nearly all of which were developed with TIG support and templates, provide information such as the locations of LSC-funded programs and their offices, information about pro bono and volunteer opportunities, and a broad range of legal resources for clients and legal services attorneys. Many are supported by Live Chat functionality, which allows users to interact with legal services staff to find the resources they need. Online videos, many created with TIG support, can be viewed from the websites, providing legal information in the areas most needed by low-income people. Surveys show that users of TIG-supported websites are highly satisfied: 76 percent find them "easy" or "very easy" to use and 88 percent find the information they provide "easy" or "very easy" to understand.
The interactive map on the frontpage of the TIG website connects users to the statewide website network.
LawHelp Interactive (LHI) is a TIG supported project of Ohio State Legal Services to improve, through technology, the legal form and document preparation process for low-income people and the attorneys who assist them. LHI uses web-based interviews to present users with a series of questions about a document or form, allowing them to input the required information in a logical and organized manner. These answers are then used to assemble a document or court form. In over 40 states and U.S. territories, legal aid advocates, pro bono lawyers, and people representing themselves have utilized this technology to create over 600,000 legal documents in a broad range of legal areas. LHI is available at https://lawhelpinteractive.org and through legal aid's statewide website network.
Pro Bono Net, the justice community partner responsible for maintaning LawHelp Interactive, received the College of Law Practice Management 2010 InnovAction Award for its work on this TIG-funded initiative.
The TIG program has helped LSC grantees use information technology to more effectively manage pro bono initiatives. Grants are currently underway to develop websites and other automated tools that make volunteering for a pro bono case and providing services to clients easier and more convenient for legal professionals. Recent pro bono focused TIGs include:
TIG has funded an increasing number of initiatives to provide online intake solutions for prospective clients. Online intake allows these individuals to apply for assistance at any time through the web. Online intake systems are also integrated into programs’ case management systems, which saves time and reduces mistakes by allowing intake staff to simply verify user information instead of inputting it manually into a client database.
Online intake systems have resulted in significant time and resource savings. By converting a data collection function to a data confirmation function, TIG grantee Legal Aid Of Western Ohio determined that it saved approximately 10 - 15 minutes of staff time per application acceptance. That amounts to a savings of about 1.0 – 1.5 intake staff FTE’s per year, allowing resources to be allocated more effectively in the program. Additionally, by offering a platform where applicants can utilize a smart system to be guided through the steps of inputting all the necessary issue and eligibility information, increased efficiency is realized through a decrease in the number of times an applicant must be re-contacted to complete the application process.
Recently Northwest Justice Project (WA) and Utah both completed significant online intake initiatives. Several other TIG grantees plan on launching online systems within the next year.
StatesideLegal.org, funded through LSC's TIG program since 2009, is a free resource for members of the military, veterans, their families and advocates. StatesideLegal.org helps this community access benefits, find free legal help, and better understand relevant legal issues. Users can access StatesideLegal's extensive library of original content, including interactive forms, videos, and legal analysis. Recent additions to the site include a "Women Who Serve" section focused on legal issues facing women veterans and an interative legal needs check-up tool that provides personalized legal information and referrals for servicemembers and veterans.
Funded through 2012, I-CAN!® E-File helped low-income people file their taxes and claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) at no cost. The program was written at a fifth-grade reading level in English, Spanish and Vietnamese in order to be accessible and easier for taxpayers to understand. It was created in 2002 by the Legal Aid Society of Orange County, California, with TIG support. In 2010 it helped return more than $178 million in refunds and credits nationwide to nearly 95,000 users.
The TIG Replicable Projects page highlights more initiatives that have impacted the legal services community. Additionally, a December 2012 article on Slate.com showcased many recently-funded TIGs and the Harvard Journal of Law and Technology published several articles that highlight TIG's impact in enhancing access to justice for low-income Americans.