Login | August 20, 2019

Legal Aid’s online intakes have tripled with help of new technology

Legal News Reporter

Published: February 7, 2019

Community Legal Aid’s old online application system was clunky and outdated.

“We realized there were flaws to our old online intake system,” Dawn Spriggs, Legal Aid’s helpline supervisor, said. “You had to have certain browsers before, and you couldn’t use a smart phone.”

In addition, would-be clients sometimes wouldn’t find out their issues wasn’t something Legal Aid could help with until going through a lengthy process trying to sign up for services.

But all that has changed since the non-profit law firm completed technology upgrades to its online application system.

In the first three months since going live, online intakes have tripled – going from an average of 266 per month to more than 800 a month, Spriggs said.

“We’re so excited it’s here,” Executive Director Steven McGarrity said. “We really think it’s going to be a game-changer for our clients.

“We see tens of thousands of applications each year. We would love to help everyone, but unfortunately, it’s just not possible. But this lets us at least let people know earlier in the process if we can’t help them.”

McGarrity said the organization – which serves low-income people in central and northeast Ohio - wanted the new system to be more respectful of people’s time and help them find assistance elsewhere if necessary.

“One of the ways we’ve done that is by building in educational resources and community referrals directly into the system,” he said.

When someone completes an application, they now get notified of next steps, information to read about their particular legal situation and a list of other community resources.

“Our goal is to do the best we can do for any client who comes to us,” he added. “Even if we don’t have an attorney to help with their particular issue, we want to be able to help them in some way. Helping them learn about their issue and what other resources are out there is at least a start.”

Spriggs said employees love the new system because they can help more people.

“I like that it gives people information about their legal problem to other community partners, whether or not we can assist you,” she said. “Community referrals are built right in. We try to get back to people now within two days, and the system tells you exactly how long it will be until we get back to you. And even though the staff still has to verify all their information, it’s still faster than regular phone intake.”

The project was funded by the Legal Services Corp. to bring legal aid application processes into the 21st century.

“In this day and age, for use not to have a platform that can be used on a cell phone is just not useful,” McGarrity said. “We’re so thankful to be able to have this funding, which has allowed us to design a system truly meant to meet our clients where they are.”

Spriggs noted it was important that the new system be smartphone friendly.

“A lot of our clients don’t have computers but they do have smart phones,” she said.

Oddly enough, the increase in online applications has not meant a decrease in phone intakes.

“The strange thing is we thought our phone intakes would go down, but they haven’t,” Spriggs said. “They’ve remained at about 900 per month.”