Michigan Legal Help (MLH), a program of the Michigan Advocacy Program, is launching its What’s Next Text program, leveraging technology to better serve Michigan litigants representing themselves in court. Made possible by funding from the Legal Services Corporation, What’s Next Text will improve the delivery of legal information via automated text messaging to those who are unable to be represented by traditional legal aid programs. What’s Next Text will lead to a new and improved understanding of how online legal information can be used to help people achieve better outcomes when handling their own legal problems.
According to the Michigan State Bar Foundation, there is only one Michigan legal aid attorney for every 8,177 Michiganders living in poverty. The COVID-19 pandemic and the devastating impact it has had on families in poverty has put even more strain on legal aid programs that were already unable to serve everyone in need of services. Many clients receive only advice or brief services, while others turn to online legal help websites, like MichiganLegalHelp.org. Legal aid programs and self-help information websites across the country lack the resources needed to follow up with clients who receive these more limited services, making it difficult to judge whether those clients and visitors were actually able to solve their legal problems. What’s Next Text addresses that problem by texting clients who opt in to find out whether they were able to use the information they received to bring resolution to their legal issues while also providing visitors with reminders and more information on the next steps they need to take.
Partnering with other civil legal aid programs throughout Michigan, Michigan Legal Help spent nearly a year and a half developing, testing, and perfecting the text flows to ensure easy user engagement. With the first texts going out in July 2021, MLH and its partners are already beginning to evaluate the data to better understand where people are struggling, and make adjustments based on the feedback. Michigan’s What’s Next Text program was designed to be shared with other organizations and states, with the goal of continuing to improve the ability of self-help legal websites to resolve the legal issues of those relying on them.
Web visitors can use What’s Next Text if they are handling the following legal problems:
- Medical Power of Attorney
- Objection to Garnishment
- Changing a Child Support Order
- Divorce Without Children
- Starting a Small Claims Complaint
- Answer to Divorce Without Children
- Starting a Custody Case
- Divorce With Children
Information on how to join is readily available on MLH’s resources in those areas. Please help us spread the word about this new feature!