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June 03, 2024 HUMAN RIGHTS

Maximizing Efficiency and Equity: The Success of the Get Legal Help Platform

By Gwendelyn A. Daniels

In the 25+ years that I have worked in legal aid technology, I’ve seen so many things come and go—for better and for worse. Smartphones, social media, and Google all have made it possible to get information and help from anywhere at any time. Privacy concerns, data mining, bias built into algorithms, phishing, and other forms of scams that prey on consumers make us more cautious. I’ve also had the chance to see how it can be used to bridge the enormous gap between those individuals who have a legal problem and cannot or do not have a lawyer. 

Illinois Legal Aid Online (ILAO) and the “Get Legal Help” platform can bridge this access-to-justice gap.

Illinois Legal Aid Online (ILAO) and the “Get Legal Help” platform can bridge this access-to-justice gap.


Despite all of the technological advances over the last few decades, we’ve barely made a dent in increasing the percentage of individuals who contact civil legal aid getting representation; it’s been stuck around 20 percent for as long as I can remember. And the bulk of people who do get help get limited advice or brief services rather than full representation. While technology has made many lawyers more efficient, it can’t magically increase the number of lawyers or the amount of funding available to support free legal services.

And an even larger number of people never reach the front door of a legal aid office. More than half of the traffic to the website happens outside of regular business hours. In-person and telephone intake hours at legal aid offices are often only about four hours a day.

This is where Illinois Legal Aid Online (ILAO) and the “Get Legal Help” platform can bridge this access-to-justice gap. It started in 2013 with funding awarded to the Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation by the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) to create an online intake system for the three LSC-funded organizations. The concept was to guide individuals whose legal problems matched the case priorities of the organization that served them to an online intake application and divert those who didn’t to resources in the vast library of plain-language legal information and TurboTax™-style interviews that create court forms available on ILAO.

Fast-forward a decade, and the platform has expanded to 14 organizations in Illinois. The platform can now be delivered through text messaging in addition to being accessible 24/7 online. A series of standardized questions help determine the nature of the legal matter at issue. Behind the scenes, each organization selects its own case acceptance criteria and intake settings. For example, some organizations will serve only individuals seeking help with a divorce when domestic violence is involved, while others will serve seniors seeking a divorce when the person has a pension or other retirement assets. Platform settings can limit the number of applications allowed per day, per legal issue, and the type of contact—the platform can place the responsibility to follow up on the potential client or even set up an appointment time for a follow-up call.

Through a series of simple, plain-language questions, the platform determines which legal aid organization may take a case and provides a prioritized list of organizations. Individuals select one and answer a few questions, including their level of income. The platform does an initial analysis of whether income is likely to qualify for free legal aid and then creates an intake application and automatically transmits it to the case management system of the legal aid provider, who will either call the applicant at a selected appointment time or provide a fast-track path for the applicant to call them, bypassing the usual phone queue.

Today, Get Legal Help is used on average about 50,000 times a calendar quarter. About half of the individuals who access the system drop out before being screened. Another 25 percent are diverted to self-help resources because either their income is too high or no legal aid partner is taking cases that match their legal issues. About 6,500 people a quarter are offered intake. Half of those people complete the application and are transferred to a partner organization. Around 1,000 of those get served by an attorney; the others are rejected because of conflicts of interest, income limits, limited program resources, or outside of an organization’s priorities. Over 40 percent of those who use the system do so at night or on weekends when most organizations are closed.

Get Legal Help applicants are less likely to be rejected by legal aid programs for being outside of the organization’s priorities because of the screening process done online, with 24–26 percent rejected for priorities versus 35–40 percent for those who call or walk in the door. By diverting ineligible individuals and streamlining the application process, legal aid organizations estimate that they save about 1,760 hours of staff time a quarter.

The system’s success isn’t really in fancy technology. Yes, there’s an expert system that leverages triage logic, and, yes, there’s a bunch of code that matches user input against the case acceptance priorities of each participating organization. But the success comes in the form of conversations and data analysis. Each month, those responsible for intake at each organization and ILAO discuss case priorities and intake impediments to adjust settings and, on a quarterly basis, share data that highlights higher-than-expected rejection rates for case priority, compares service rates and outcomes for individuals who came through ILAO’s system and those who entered via phone intake or other means, and looks for anomalies that may indicate unintentional bias in the triage process.

These conversations have led to systemwide improvements like the ability for individuals to upload documents directly after their case is accepted or automating reminders via text message of an upcoming callback appointment or at a program level, like changing the maximum number of cases accepted per day, ensuring that callbacks are not scheduled when there is an all-day staff retreat, and managing case acceptance levels to be more restrictive when the program in fact is only taking a more select set of cases in a given legal issue.

ILAO is not alone in doing this work. Across the country, and with significant financial support from LSC, through its Technology Initiative Grant program, similar programs exist. offers a guide that will help triage a website visitor to one or more programs or legal information. has a similar triage tool. Through Pro Bono Net’s platform and Urban Insight’s DLAW platform, most states have some form of a legal information website designed to meet the needs of self-represented litigants and legal aid organizations.

These tools, along with plain language and accurate legal information—available at the swipe of a mobile device or a quick Google search—help ensure that everyone has access to some form of help when facing a legal problem. We will likely never be able to give everyone facing a civil legal problem a free lawyer or make it feasible for everyone to afford paid legal services, but through the use of technology, we are able to better prepare those who go it alone and direct those whose legal issues are so critical to their housing, financial, and family stability to those lawyers who can help them faster and more efficiently.

Gwendelyn A. Daniels

Deputy Director, Illinois Legal Aid Online

Gwendelyn A. Daniels is the deputy director of Illinois Legal Aid Online. She has spent her career at the intersection of law and technology to improve access to justice.