Innovative Online Portal Provides Help to Low-Income New Yorkers with Consumer Issues
New York, January 25, 2018 – Low-income consumers in New York City now have a dynamic new tool for obtaining legal help on a consumer issue. The NYC Consumer Help Finder is an online portal through which low-income New Yorkers can apply for legal help with a consumer problem and be assured a prompt call-back from an attorney or authorized case handler.
Led by City Bar Justice Center Hotline Deputy Director Christopher Schwartz and Managing Attorney Alice Morey, a team from five legal services organizations (the City Bar Justice Center, CAMBA Legal Services, Mobilization for Justice, the Feerick Center for Social Justice at Fordham Law School and the Urban Justice Center) collaboratively designed the Consumer Help Finder. Supported by a grant from the New York Community Trust, and with technology donated by LegalServer, a case management software company, the team developed a common portal that operates like a decision tree to determine clients’ eligibility and needs, categorizing the kind of assistance to provide them, and referring them to the most appropriate source of further legal services through an “Automated Routing Tool.”
Previously, New Yorkers seeking help with a consumer issue often had to contact the intake programs of multiple legal services offices. Each program would require the applicant to provide basic demographic information, financial information and a description of the legal issue in order to be assessed for eligibility. With the NYC Consumer Help Finder’s Automated Routing Tool, an applicant only has to enter this information once. Once a case has been received by the “referred to” organization, the information entered by the applicant is automatically entered into that organization’s case management system and a case handler from that organization contacts the applicant within two business days. This intelligent routing of applicants frees up resources on the organizational end, and eliminates the need for applicants to seek assistance with each partner organization separately, thus saving every applicant an immense amount of time and frustration.
Over a secure connection, applicants enter information about themselves and the legal matter they want help with into the portal interface. Using “branch logic,” the portal asks questions that the client answers electronically, triggering either responsive legal information or additional questions. Using the Automated Routing Tool, the portal triages this information and intelligently refers each applicant to the appropriate partner organization based on a combination of factors that may include the type of consumer issue, where the applicant resides, the language spoken by the applicant and how many referrals an organization has recently taken.
Aware that applicants for assistance are often concerned about providing too much personal information online, the Consumer Help Finder was designed to employ a ‘less is more’ approach, gathering as little information as needed to determine basic eligibility before asking about all the necessary facts. This style of design helps build trust in the system, as applicants are provided with procedural feedback while they complete the application. For example, someone who is entirely ineligible for services, because he or she resides out of state, will not be forced to proceed through a full intake before learning this information, and someone who is looking for assistance with a criminal law matter (and not a consumer issue) will not be asked to input financial information, but rather will be diverted earlier in the process.
As the Justice Center’s Chris Schwartz points out, “the Consumer Help Finder gives us a better presence in the first place that our clients often look – which is on the web on their smart phone. And, clients can apply across the five separate organizations with just one application, regardless of whether the offices are open or closed.”
In addition to obtaining a referral to an actual human legal services provider, the Consumer Help Finder provides applicants with legal information about their issue. Using branch logic and a series of short questions, the Consumer Help Finder provides limited legal information on particular consumer issues, and there are links between the application site and LawHelpNY.org. For some applicants, that information might be sufficient help; for those needing more assistance, the Consumer Help Finder refers each eligible applicant to a live legal services provider who will provide the applicant with direct legal representation.
With the goal of enhancing easy access to legal assistance to NYC consumers, the five partner organizations view the Consumer Help Finder as a powerful organic tool that will allow more organizations to be added to the rotation schedule. Most importantly, it will enable the partner organizations to spend less time routing consumer cases to the right place and more time on the substantive legal work that benefits their clients.
The NYC Consumer Help Finder can be accessed: http://bit.ly/2n9gAiD
About the City Bar Justice Center
The City Bar Justice Center increases access to justice by leveraging the resources of the New York City legal community. CBJC operates the city’s busiest legal hotline and annually provides direct legal representation, information and advocacy to over 20,000 New Yorkers in areas including immigration, homelessness, veterans assistance, foreclosure, bankruptcy, elderlaw, cancer advocacy and micro-entrepreneurship.