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Connecticut TIGs Enhance State's Web-Based Legal Resources

Statewide Legal Services of Connecticut recently completed two Technology Initiative Grants (TIGs) to increase the quality and quantity of web-based legal information and tools available throughout the state. The first project developed an online classroom module in Drupal that allows statewide websites to create and host web courses for self-represented parties and pro bono attorneys. These online classes package the program’s expertise on several key legal issues impacting low-income people and make them accessible through an interactive set of online tools. The second project created fotonovela-style videos to present useful, easy-to-understand legal information that can be adapted to accommodate other jurisdictions and be made available in other languages. Connecticut developed a total of fourteen videos in English and Spanish. They partnered with New Haven Legal Assistance Association and worked with the state's Web Manager on both TIGs.

TIG 12044 – Online Classroom Module

Connecticut’s Online Classroom Module project is part of an emerging trend of creating robust online learning environments. It builds upon concepts used on popular online education sites to guide self-represented parties through complex legal processes. Courses developed using the module cover several key legal topics, including requesting special education services, filing wage complaints, and appealing an unemployment decision. Many of the courses are available in both English and Spanish. 

Connecticut is also using the classroom module to provide in-depth online training experiences to pro bono attorneys across the state. The project team developed a consumer law training course designed for pro bono attorneys, and through an additional TIG, Connecticut is launching seven more pro bono training courses this year. Feedback from pro bono attorneys (captured in the final grant report) demonstrates the value of these tools: 

  • “The pace is very comfortable. It’s a good speed to follow the information, absorb it and take notes if needed. The class is very comprehensive. It goes into good detail when needed… It is a great resource for those who have never done this kind of work.” 
  • “Very manageable. I preferred this to a PowerPoint system that does not allow you to pause audio and rewind, as I was able to take notes that I will keep for future reference… Although it was thorough, I'd actually prefer it to be even more comprehensive, perhaps lasting closer to two hours…” 
  • “I feel confident in advising clients with a combination of the training and my additional research.”

Since the first courses launched in June 2013, the online classrooms have been viewed over 5,000 times.

TIG 12057 – Online Client Videos in Fotonovela Format

Connecticut’s fotonovela project developed videos that provide simple, important legal information on the following topics: 

  • Domestic Violence Victims’ Public Housing Rights
  • Rights of Special Education Students  (IEP and Discipline)
  • Social Security Overpayments (SSI and SSDI)
  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) – including military family leave issues
  • Applying and Appealing for Disability at Social Security

The fotonovela video format, which has its roots in Latino culture and has been adopted in health education, utilizes still photos with conversation bubbles that can easily be modified for different languages and legal topics. Many of the videos cover federal issues, making replication—a major goal of TIG-funded projects—even easier. Several other state sites have embedded the videos to date, including: Washington, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, North Carolina, and Illinois (as well as their Spanish site and their advocate site). Additionally, Stateside Legal and the Long Island Advocacy Center for students and individuals with disabilities have also embedded the videos.

The videos have also been made into PDFs, which are available in English, Spanish, Polish, Portuguese, and Chinese and can be downloaded from CTLawHelp.org. The photos and other materials are available on ShareLawVideo.org. Over the past year, Connecticut's fotonovela videos have been viewed over 4,000 times with an estimated total of over 11,000 minutes watched. The most popular videos cover FMLA, special education students, and Social Security Disability. 

Final Reports and Accompanying Resources

Statewide Legal Services of Connecticut and its project partners have emerged as national leaders in the innovative and effective use of technology in legal aid. With a total TIG investment of $89,000, these two projects serve as excellent examples of using robust, reasonably-inexpensive online resources to reach the significant portion of Americans who cannot otherwise afford an attorney. To learn more about the details of each project and their specific components please click below to view the final reports and several accompanying resources.

TIG Intern Alaa Chaker helped research and draft this blog post. 

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