When low-income New Yorkers need help with a consumer issue, they often don’t know where to turn. To make accessing legal aid easier and more efficient, a consortium of New York-based agencies recently created the NYC Consumer Help Finder.
This online intake and triage system - accessible 24/7 via any web browser - acts like a decision tree to help determine a client’s needs and eligibility, then connects them with self help information from sources like LawHelpNY or the right legal aid firm. The project is the brainchild of five 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.
The NYC Consumer Help Finder was made possible via a grant from The New York Community Trust, while LegalServer donated the underlying technology.
How the NYC Consumer Help Finder Works
Applicants access a secure web portal where they enter information about themselves and their legal needs. Based on the input, the application will ask a custom series of questions. Behind the scenes, the Automated Routing Tool (ART) processes the answers and refers the client to the appropriate legal organization based on factors like the applicant’s spoken language, where they live, the type of consumer issue they’re facing, and the availability of partner agencies.
The system also provides applicants with legal information on their particular issues, which in some cases is sufficient to satisfy their needs. Those requiring additional assistance are referred to a live legal services provider that can provide direct legal representation, and those cases are automatically entered into the agencies’ case management systems.
This technology saves immense time and effort for both the applicants and the attorneys. Consumers in need can tap legal help faster and easier than ever before, while legal aid agencies are provided with cases tailored to their specialized abilities.