Illinois Legal Aid Online (ILAO) is one of the best legal aid websites in the United States. According to ABA Journal, “If Oscars were awarded for legal aid websites, Lisa Colpoys might be working on her acceptance speech.” ILAO offers useful legal information on daily topics like divorce, guardianship, eviction and small claim suits. To help users navigate through the website, it categories the content into: Family & Safety, House & Apartment, Money & Debt, Business & Work, School & Education, Health & Benefits, Citizens & Immigration, and Crime & Traffic. You can literally find every daily legal issue there! As a foreign student living in Chicago, I have no idea how I can ride a bicycle here. Guess what? I find an article talking about Can I ride a bicycle on the sidewalk?!
You may notice that no advanced legal term like “consumer law” is used as can usually seen on legal websites. This is because ILAO focuses on using plain language to make all the content more readable. Besides, ILAO is a mobile friendly website so that people do not have to own a laptop to access the legal information. Although not providing legal advice itself, ILAO can connect its users to other legal aid organizations or legal aid attorneys if they click “Get Legal Aid” on the website.
One of the projects I will work on throughout this summer is the automation of state-wide forms. Starting November 28, 2012, the Illinois Supreme Court will develop and approve a series of standardized forms for use in Illinois court to promote equal access to justice, especially access to the Civil Court and administrative agencies. Our projects will further enhance the access by transferring these forms into question-oriented interviews. The transformation happens not only at the format level, but also at the language and logical level. A final interview will direct users to well-prepared court forms after they answer all the questions.
These interviews help pro-se litigants prepare their court forms smoothly without getting stuck in obscure legal provisions. For example, the statutes for the expungement or seal of a criminal record are so complicated that a lay person can hardly find out by themselves whether their criminal records can be expunged or sealed. However, if they answer questions in the Criminal record expungement or sealing program, the interview will tell the applicant when their criminal records are not eligible for expungement or sealing. The interviews are also helpful in that they can help legal aid attorney help people in a more efficient way.