ABA unveils free online tool to help veterans identify legal needs

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Veterans who need help identifying legal needs in their lives can take advantage of a new online tool.

Legal Checkup for Veterans, a free website, is part of a signature initiative by ABA President Linda A. Klein to improve legal services for veterans, according to an ABA press release.

Legal technology company CuroLegal developed the website with the help of ARAG legal insurance and volunteer experts. A CuroLegal blog post is here.

The website currently focuses on family law, housing and employment. Users are asked to provide their ZIP code and are asked a series of questions. They include whether the user has stable housing, needs shelter, is getting divorced, has disputes over child custody and property, has a job, and is being discriminated against based on pay.

Underneath each question is a “more information” option. For example, the option underneath a question about unequal pay tells the user that federal law and the laws of most states don’t allow larger employers to pay workers differently because of gender, race, national origin, religion, color, disability, sexual orientation or age.

At the end of the survey, users are informed about areas of the law where they may have claims and action they can take. Those who have claims related to property distribution in a divorce, for example, are advised to gather documents to support the value of assets and debt.

Users can text or email a copy of the page summarizing their potential legal issues to themselves or others so it can be discussed with an advocate or family member.

Users can also click on a button that provides them with resources that can help with their legal issues, such as contact information for a free legal services provider or a lawyer referral service. Those with a potential employment claim are provided contact information for the local office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Contact information for the local veterans service organization may also be listed, depending on the legal issues identified.

Nicole Bradick, chief strategy officer for CuroLegal, says most people don’t know when their problems are legal issues with a remedy and that is one of the main causes of the justice gap. Her CuroLegal blog post cites recent findings by the Legal Services Corp. that found veterans only seek professional help for only 21 percent of of their civil legal problems.

The top reasons veterans don’t seek legal help are: Not knowing where to look for help or what resources are available (29 percent), opting to deal with the problem on their own (25 percent), and not being sure if the issue was a legal one (18 percent).

“There’s a misconception that the reason there is an access to justice gap in the U.S. is because people can’t afford lawyers,” Bradick told the ABA Journal in an interview. “One of the biggest components is that people don’t understand that a life problem they are having is a legal problem.” The online tool will help veterans identify issues and take action to resolve the problems.”

The website focuses on family law, housing and employment because experts in the veterans’ community identified those as the top legal problems, Bradick said.

It took less than four months to create the website. The hardest part was creating the content, Bradick says. The ABA helped provide contacts for subject matter experts who could help. ARAG associate general counsel Nicolle Schippers, a veteran, “played an innovation role” and helped connect the website developers to people who could help, Bradick said.

The website developers also wanted to make sure that its online tool would be easy to use, with language that can be understood by nonlawyers. “That is a big design challenge” when building websites, Bradick said. Too many questions, or difficulties in use, can create barriers that will discourage the user from completing the questionnaire.

The next iteration of the website will include consumer protection questions. But developers don’t want to add too many questions or subject matter areas because of fears the user won’t want to complete the lengthy questionnaire, Bradick said.




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