Legal Aid BC (LABC) is a non-profit organization that provides legal information, advice, and representation to people who can’t afford lawyers. Every year hundreds of thousands of British Columbians rely on LABC to resolve their legal problems and LABC’s flagship digital property, the Family Law in BC website, is a leading online resource in BC for family law matters.
Over the course of 18 months, OXD completed 20 projects with Legal Aid BC to improve their delivery of public legal education and information.
In 2017, funding from the Law Foundation of BC and the Notary Foundation enabled LABC to implement innovative digital solutions. This was an opportunity for LABC to make progress towards its service goals, which included improving access to justice, advancing reconciliation with Aboriginal Peoples, tailoring services around people’s needs, and influencing systemic changes that improve legal outcomes.
LABC partnered with OXD on their digital transformation portfolio to explore, design, and build a number of solutions ranging from workshops and websites to chatbots, natural language processing, a digital strategy, and more.
LABC wanted to help British Columbians solve their problems online by developing and implementing a transformative response plan.
LABC pursued accessibility through technology.
The legal system is complicated and difficult to navigate. With over one million visitors to its websites annually, many of them trying to solve their legal problem without a lawyer, LABC wanted to provide online resources that were user-centric, with information that is easy to find, understand and use to take action.
A well-founded strategy was only the first step.
When we started working with Legal Aid BC they had initial ideas about which technologies, tools, and applications they wanted to explore. Before committing to any emerging technologies, we needed to understand how they could best use these to better deliver public legal education and help their clients. We worked with LABC to explore and develop a roadmap that supported LABC’s strategy while delivering better outcomes for their clients.
From DreamWeaver to Drupal, LABC realized it’s time for a drastic change.
Over the last decade LABC’s digital properties hadn’t kept pace with modern design and technology standards. For example, their most visited website was built using static HTML. Without the benefit of a modern content management system (CMS), each of the 1,000 pages had to be managed manually and required coordination to ensure that team members weren’t overwriting each others’ work when updating. These older systems had become a barrier for clients trying to interact with LABC online, in particular for people in remote areas with limited bandwidth.
How to enable digital transformation
Consult with people who use the service.
We kicked off our efforts by facilitating strategic possibilities and storytelling workshops with staff, clients, and other stakeholders. Including users in the design of solutions helped us gain valuable context and insight in what was or wasn’t working for LABC clients and stakeholders.
By hosting workshops with Aboriginal court workers, elders, advocates, and LABC staff we gained insight into where LABC’ Aboriginal Legal Aid website could be improved. Participants shared that legal jargon and historical injustices made solving legal problems difficult for some LABC clients. From there, the group generated more than 200 potential solutions to these barriers, from translating legal jargon to designing for different technology contexts.
Produce a digital strategy and create design principles.
The insights from our workshops, staff interviews, user tests, and literature review produced hundreds of ideas that would help define the digital strategy’s objectives. Equipped with an understanding of stakeholder needs, we set out to create a digital strategy.
We identified six strategic objectives that supported LABC’ mandate of providing legal aid and facilitating access to justice, including enhancing organizational capabilities and reducing roadblocks and dead ends. We created design principles to guide the staff responsible for bringing the digital strategy to life—principles like picking the “right” technologies for the user’s need and talking like regular people. Together the strategy and design principles inform what projects or ideas are worth pursuing and how they’re implemented.
Empower staff to deliver services in a modern way.
Our approach integrated the LABC team in the delivery of the first and biggest project in the portfolio—the Family Law in BC website. Their visual designers, programmers, writers, and subject matter experts were brought in as equal members of the project team that was accountable for execution. LABC staff worked alongside our teams, which gave them an opportunity to learn by doing. We coached them through Agile software development, product ownership, usability testing, taxonomy training that will help them maintain a taxonomy of legal terms, open-source code implementation, and basic developer training.
Introduce modern processes and technologies.
We introduced LABC to Agile software development and worked collaboratively under this framework. We worked together on prototyping, utilizing standard software engineering practices, and integrating quality assurance throughout the build. Following the SCRUM methodology, we worked with LABC in two week sprints.
Moving from manual coding to Drupal 8 was a process change that made content creation and editing easier for non-technical team members at LABC. To support this replatforming we used third party hosting sites like Carbon60. Introducing a modern CMS empowered editors to be more creative and efficient in their online content authoring. As an open-source system, Drupal has a well-supported community and a large repository of third party modules to quickly integrate needed features.
Emphasize sharing and collaboration.
Sharing information, consultation, collaboration, and working cross-functionally across their organization and the legal sector was important to LABC. They wanted to play an active role in the broader legal services community by using open source technology and sharing their project code so that other providers could reduce their own efforts and costs when working to increase access to justice. Our developers worked on a project replatforming LABC’s MyLawBC Pathways tool as a foundational piece preparing that technology to be made open source. We also used open source technologies to redevelop the Family Law Website.
Design for a multitude of legal journeys.
No two user paths are alike, just as there’s no single legal service provider or source of legal information. LABC recognized its role as just one of many stops in a person’s legal journey. They didn’t want a person’s situation, ability, location, or economic status to determine whether they could access legal information. For example, with the Virtual Legal Clinic (video conferencing on demand) project, we used user flows to help LABC understand how users might access legal information via video calls and how staff could support that channel. Our process diagrams walked through possible scenarios and informed our technical software evaluation. Considering user journeys across touchpoints and service providers was key to ensuring smooth transitions from one touchpoint or provider to another.
Prototype to test feasibility.
LABC wanted to take a leadership role in their sector by leveraging emerging technologies. Before committing to any of the proposed technologies, we honed in on their business requirements, conducted feasibility research, and created prototypes. We discovered that while some technical solutions were desirable, and even feasible, they would be difficult or costly to maintain.
We used prototyping to determine if a chatbot service would be an appealing alternative to LABC’s existing live-chat feature, which they offered during business hours when a Legal Information Outreach Worker was available. After exploring different software options and prototyping conversations, we chose a third party chatbot and made content updates. We also implemented voice search to improve the user experience.
Make content easier to understand.
Using legal jargon when writing about the law is inevitable. While LABC endeavored to make plain language content, further strides could be made in the name of accessibility, particularly for clients with lower literacy levels.
LABC staff made updates to ensure their content easier and faster to digest for all users, regardless of literacy levels. These content updates also contributed to improving the search experience online by using language that reflected the users’ experiences.
What access to justice means for British Columbians
Lowering the barriers to accessing legal aid
Thanks to their new digital strategy, design principles, and insights from research, consultation, and co-creation sessions, LABC addresses the real challenges their legal aid clients encounter. Using design and technology, they were able to make their digital service delivery more accessible. What’s more, these standards were built into their new content management system, ensuring that websites are accessible by default.
Progress towards reconciliation
One of LABC’s ongoing goals is to advance reconciliation with Aboriginal Peoples. When evaluating their delivery of the Aboriginal Legal Aid site we worked directly with Aboriginal court workers, the Indigenous Services department at LABC, elders, and advocates to improve LABC’s understanding of user needs. The solutions LABC invested in were informed by meaningful consultation and co-design with the Indigenous People who use their services.
Increased capabilities among LABC teams
By working alongside OXD practitioners, LABC staff members learned by doing. This approach increased the depth of their understanding because it was carried out over the course of months and tasked these team members with delivering components of a real project as part of their learning. Having worked with OXD, the LABC teams can now conduct usability testing and work in an Agile, sprint-based manner.
Solutions that contribute to the advancement of the justice sector
LABC staff have not only improved their service delivery, but they can more-easily integrate emerging technologies. Legal Aid BC now has the digital foundation they need to implement their digital strategy.