Despite the vast amounts of information on the Web, finding reliable information about legal services through internet searches is harder than many expect. Basic searches — for needs like assistance with evictions, help with public benefits, or protection from domestic violence — often turn bewildering as results on Google, among other search engines, typically seem unhelpful and untrustworthy.
Every U.S. state has legal aid organizations to help people who can’t afford private law firms. But these organizations rarely have the capacity to specialize in Search Engine Optimization that can compete with private firms and even scammy operations that tend to dominate search results.
Search results don’t have to be as hit-or-miss as they are today. One promising method of improving search results is by adding specialized tags – i.e. “web markup” – to legal aid websites that help web engines better identify and index their information.
Schema.org – which represents a coalition of the major web platforms – produces such web markup for smarter search results. With schema.org’s standardized vocabulary, websites can ‘mark up’ otherwise unstructured text into structured data that can be semantically ‘understood’ by search engines.
When Open Referral first began, we worked in collaboration with the team that developed the first version of the ‘Civic Services schema’ at schema.org. We were particularly motivated by their vision of a future in which anyone could use colloquial language in their searches and easily get reliable, richly detailed results. Finally, through partnership with legal aid providers in Florida and around the country, we now have our first glimpse of that future. Continue reading
Minnesota’s Legal Services State Support project seeks to improve access to justice for all Minnesotans. An integral part of “State Support’s” work is managing LawHelpMN.org, a comprehensive website that provides free information about legal resources and services.
Throughout 2018, State Support has worked to create a centralized portal of legal services available in Minnesota– the Legal Organizations Online Network (LOON) – and a redesign for the LawHelpMN.org website. Both LOON, which launched in October 2018, and the redesigned LawHelpMN, which will launch in early 2019, leverage Open Referral’s data standards to ensure clients receive more accurate information about the legal resources that are available to help them. Continue reading
After two years of development, we’re pleased to share details of our successful Florida Legal Aid Resource Federation pilot!
Initiated in 2016 (see our original post here) and completed in 2018, with support from the Legal Services Corporation and the Florida Bar Foundation, the Florida Legal Aid Resource Federation (FLARF) was a complex project with a simple goal:
We aimed to ensure that accurate information about Florida’s legal aid providers can be reliably updated by those providers in one place – one official record! – and subsequently shared as standardized, canonical open data. (This pilot goal was directly in the service of our ultimate goal: to ensure that this information can be found and used in any given channel through which someone might look for it.)
The pilot phase of this project has concluded successfully!
The FLARF pilot yielded a functioning ‘beta’ system through which resource data can be shared among every organization that receives grants from the project’s primary funders. (This includes about 90% of the legal aid resources in the state!) This information is now accessible to each legal aid provider in Florida within their own case management system – improving their ability to refer clients from one legal aid provider to another.
We’re now beginning work on additional implementations that will make this data accessible through more and more channels (such as through integration with resource referral call centers, medical-legal partnership programs, even just better search results in Google, etc).
Read our complete final report on this project here. Continue reading
Abhijeet Chavan is the Chief Technology Officer of Urban Insight, a digital solutions agency that produces platforms like DLAW, a Drupal-based legal aid resource platform. In this post, he describes the recent adoption of Open Referral for DLAW’s legal aid resource websites, which are in use in over a dozen states across the country. Welcome, Abhijeet! –ed
Many organizations provide health, legal, and other social services to people in need. If organizations can publish information about the services they provide in a common format, this data can be aggregated and searchable so that people needing assistance can find right organization for their needs. The Open Referral initiative has developed a data interchange format called the Human Service Data Specification (HSDS) for publishing machine-readable data about service providers, their locations, and the services they provide.
For organizations that use the Drupal content management system for maintaining their websites, we have developed <em”>openreferral-drupal (ORD), an open source Drupal module to make it possible to publish resource directory data in HSDS format. The ORD module was developed as part of the Drupal for Legal Aid Websites (DLAW) project. Continue reading
[Update: This pilot has come to a successful conclusion! Read our final report here.]
Legal problems: sometimes you don’t even know you have one until it’s too late.
When it comes to people with low incomes, legal problems of various kinds — issues with landlords, family disputes, rejected benefits, etc — can be outright debilitating. Yet while there are many legal resources available to people in need, these kinds of services tend to be some of the hardest for people to find and access.
That’s why we’re excited to be starting an Open Referral pilot project with legal service providers across the state of Florida.
With support from the Florida Bar Foundation, the Legal Services Corporation, and LegalServer — and in coordination with multiple other implementations of the Open Referral format in legal aid networks across the country — Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida will pilot a new, replicable approach to publishing directory information about legal services as standardized, machine-readable data that will be freely accessible to an ecosystem of tools and services that help people find help.
NB: we are soliciting proposals for technical leadership on this project. See this RFP.
To learn more, read this post from Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida’s Executive Director, Kimberly Sanchez, below — and you can also reach out to [email protected] to inquire about starting a similar pilot projects in your community. Continue reading