16:07, July 05 907 0 law.com

2017-07-05 16:07:04
Veterans Get a Legal Checkup with New Online Tool

The “Veterans Legal Checkup” aims to help veterans diagnose potential legal issues, particularly in employment, family law and housing.

“Checkups” are obviously common in health care, but the idea of doing a preventive screening for potential issues has applications in law as well, especially in access to justice efforts. A new legal “checkup” tool for veterans, a collaborative project between the American Bar Association (ABA), legal insurance group ARAG Legal and legal innovation group CuroLegal, aims to help veterans “check up” some of the legal issues they may be facing.

Nicole Bradick, chief strategy officer at CuroLegal, said the tool, called Veterans Legal Checkup, was designed in alignment with current ABA president Linda Klein’s institution of the ABA Veterans Legal Services Initiative.

Who it serves: The tool, as its name plainly suggests, is designed for veterans, but Bradick explained that it looks at a few different service areas in particular. “We spoke with a lot of veterans’ legal experts, and they highlighted employment, family law and housing as the three biggies,” Bradick said. Accordingly, the tool’s questionnaire steps users through questions that could bring to light issues veterans face in these areas, like eviction, emergency housing, fair pay, and spousal support.

The tool is designed for nationwide access, which has the benefit of creating broad access to information, but the cost is specificity in the information it can offer. Bradick noted that this was one of the challenges CuroLegal had in putting the tool together, but the team is hoping to flesh out features like income thresholds for certain legal aid jurisdictions that can help ensure users are actually connecting to the resources they’re pointed to. “I see all those as potential things we can work out down the line,” she noted.

What it does: Veterans Legal Checkup is essentially a guided interview; users who access the tool are taken through a number of potential legal issues one question at a time to see if they may have an outstanding legal matter. If the tool can identify a potential claim, it provides a step-by-step walkthrough of the actions users can take to remedy the matter, including useful resources on how to prepare documents and scaffolding for what to say if you call a local legal aid organization. If the tool is unable to identify a particular legal concern, it provides some contact information for a local legal aid agency, paired for some suggestions for what to say when you call.

What it doesn’t do: Assessment tools aren’t always comprehensive, and the Veterans Legal Checkup tool certainly doesn’t claim to be a full-scale assessment of all possible legal issues veterans can have. Bradick said the team behind the tool is exploring adding an assessment section around some consumer protection issues that veterans face but may steer clear of benefits issues.

“Benefits for veterans is such a gigantic thing all on its own, and there are some sites that tackle that, so I don’t know that we’ll ever go to benefits,” Bradick said.

Why use a web app? Part of the reason that technology, especially web-based technology, comes up so often in conversations about access to justice efforts is its ability to be widely deployed and easily customized.

“We believe technology is the right way to deal with something like this because of the ability to scale,” Bradick explained.

The infrastructure underlying the tool is intended to be flexible, providing a window for other attorneys and technologists to build out similar checkup tools around other legally underserved communities.

Reframing access to justice: Bradick said at times, the conversation around access to justice can get so bogged down in law practice-centric efforts that some of the barriers to accessing legally underserved communities can get lost in the shuffle. Many times, these communities struggle to identify their hardships as legal violations, even when they are.

There’s this misconception that the access to justice gap is because lawyers are too expensive. That’s certainly a problem, but people don’t understand that their life problem may be a legal problem that has a remedy,” Bradick said.

To make the checkup as effective as possible, designers tried to make the information provided as actionable as possible. It’s certainly reflected in the tool, which features information chunked out chronologically and in small steps.

“We’re making accessing your rights more bite-sized, more accessible, things you can easily take action on. People don’t like pulling that rein of hiring the lawyer, so we wanted to give people action items,” Bradick explained.