This summer for my Access to Justice Technology Fellowship I am working with Michigan Legal Help (MLH). I am also glad to say that joining me at MLH is my Michigan State University classmate LaDierdre McKinney! MLH is a website that operates under the wider-reaching Michigan Poverty Law Program. MLH gives legal information to people in Michigan who want to represent themselves in court or simply know more about the law. It covers simple civil matters including family law, housing, public assistance, taxes, and education, among many other subject areas. If you need help with a matter that requires forms, then chances are that we have the form. All you have to do is go through a simple interview process and at the end you will get a completed form ready for filing or mailing.
Currently there are 47 “Do-It-Yourself” tools offered, and users can generate 138 different forms from those tools. Additionally, there are over 150 articles and over 700 common questions and answers for all of the legal issues we cover. In the first quarter of this year there was an average of 338 forms generated per day through the website, helping make Michigan number two behind New York for most documents assembled on LawHelp Interactive. The website also has 8 videos to help clients, one of which you can watch below if you need to know how to serve divorce or custody papers. The scope of MLH truly is great, and it is expanding practically daily to help more people. That is part of the reason why I’m excited to be part of such a great program and help improve our ever-growing website!
I’ll be working on quite a few projects for MLH throughout the summer, including writing articles for the website, working as a live help chat agent, and doing user testing for a new version of the website.
The bulk of my summer will be spent doing research and writing. I’m working closely with the attorneys from Michigan Legal Help to create new content for the website. They always want to be expanding the scope of the website in order to help as many people as possible, and LaDierdre and I provide extra help for the attorneys to get even more articles live. The first article that I worked on took me into the fascinating world of ladybird deeds (spoiler alert: they were not named after “Lady Bird” Johnson). I’ve also worked on an article explaining the pros and cons of oral leases, and doubtlessly I will work on multiple other articles throughout the course of the summer. When writing articles we are expected to keep everything as close to a 6th grade level as possible so that the average reader will have little trouble understanding the information, which could be crucial for them. Because we want to maintain a 6th grade reading level, the Write Clearly Tool has been an absolutely invaluable asset to have. With it we can constantly check the complexity of what we’ve written. As law students, it’s easy not to recognize a difficult word or complex sentence, so the tool points that out for us.
We might also do some quality assurance protocols for articles already on the website. That means that we have to update the article to reflect the most recent laws, and check that the information presented is actually accurate.
Live Help Chat
We also have to get a handful of hours every week working as live chat agents for the website. So if you need some live help while you’re perusing Michigan Legal Help you might be talking to me! Our role in that capacity is largely to help people navigate the website or let them know if we don’t have what they are looking for, because we can’t give legal advice. If we don’t have the information we will usually refer them to outside sources for help. But sometimes the courts refer people to us with the apparent expectation that we can help with any legal problem they bring our way, and that simply isn’t the case. We offer a lot of services, but not nearly everything.
MLH is in the process of updating the website to have some new (hopefully) user friendly features, and they’re calling it triage. It will direct users straight to the most relevant legal information or to where they can contact a lawyer if the information is not on the website. We are working with that and have the opportunity to engage in multiple separate user testing events where people can give us feedback on what is working with the website and what is not. We did our first user testing event at Motor City Pride in Detroit, which was a lot of fun and led to some results we didn’t expect, which proved to us the importance of user testing.
Thank you so, so, much for making this part of the process so easy. It saved me money, frustration, and time.
-User Feedback on Michigan Legal Help
These projects are all vitally connected to expanding the delivery of legal services. Michigan Legal Help is designed to help in matters where a lawyer is not the end all be all and the client can’t afford a lawyer. While doing user testing for the website last weekend multiple people came up to us and asked how much we charge for various services. Many of them needed more explanation of why we don’t charge because that is such a foreign concept in the legal world. If not for us, most of the people we talked to over the weekend would have no help at all for their legal problems. MLH has important information for a lot of subject areas and we are always adding more, meaning that more and more people are getting access to legal services.