Making a difference with data driven decision making
Using technology is a great way to
bridge the justice gap, but data-driven decision making helps shine a light
on where the needs are so efforts are appropriately
channeled from the start.
There's no denying that when itcomes to legal services, Louisiana is a high-needs state. Every single day,hundreds of people seek assistance from legal service providers across ourstate, and it's often impossible to meet every need. Similarly, building out acomprehensive platform that aggregates, classifies, and delivers informationon every single legal issue our community experiences is no small task. Inshort, it's best to lay the foundation and work your way up. So, the best placeto start is by asking the simple question: What will make the most impact? Tothat we say - followthe data.
Thanks to rigorous LSC reportingrequirements, legal service programs are already sitting on a wealth of data.Of course, using that data is a critical starting point. But beware - it'simportant to remember that this particular source of data has its own built-inbias. Namely that it largely focuses on the people that were actually served bythe program (at least in some capacity). And remember, this project and otherslike it are primarily driven by the desire to reduce the number of individualsin need that are un-or-underserved. Nonetheless, we can still drawmeaningful insights from the volume of cases our community partners serve. Iteffectively serves as a proxy for the needs of the larger, un-servedcommunity.
In Louisiana, we looked at casetype data from each of our LSC and specialty grantees from 2013-2017.
Overall, the data reflected (andconfirmed our suspicions!) that people most often seek legal help for theirfamily law issues. Divorce, spousal abuse, custody/visitation,"other" family law, and child support made up 5 of the top-10 case typeshandled in our evaluation period. It was interesting to view the data even moregranularly by year. In 2016-2017, divorce cases spiked among our grantees. Thestakeholder group attributed that rise to widespread flooding that occurred inSouth Louisiana in 2016 - and all of the stress that came with it. Thoughdivorce cases are always high, it was insightful to break down the data furtherand give ourselves a chance to normalize the occurrence of certain case typesand better understand their temporal context.
In our next quest for data, weremembered that in 2016, the Legal Services Corporation requested a widespreaddata collection effort on unmet needs - exactly what we need!
This data source, though small andcollected over a limited time-frame, also validated our intuition that familylaw issues are one of the most under-served in our community. While consumerlaw issues topped the charts, family law was not far behind.
Finally, we looked at statewide Louisiana LawHelp web traffic to better understand what information people arelooking for when they seek legal guidance online. What better way to understandhow and for what people would use our platform?
The data showed a drastic need forinformation on unpaid wages, followed closely by landlord-tenant issues, andfinally (you guessed it!) family law issues. Breaking down the data by yearhighlighted a spike in page views for unpaid wages, but overall supported ourconclusion that people looking for help online are largely affected bylandlord-tenant / eviction issues and unpaid wages.
So, with all of this data, it'stime to make some decisions! Doing that is not as easy as you'd hope. It'stempting to take the top areas and run with them. However it is equallyimportant to make sure you have adequate resources and subject matter expertsthat can devote time to the project. In our case, despite the data showing alarge unmet need for consumer law, we simply did not have the resources andhuman capital available to tackle that subject matter.
In the end, our stakeholder groupagreed on four Areas of Impact to kick off our project: Divorce, Child Custody/ Visitation, Landlord-Tenant / Eviction, and Unpaid Wages.
Choosing only one data source asgospel could have lead us down a different path. Of course, any chosen legalissue will be of at least some value - and one day we'd love to have thisplatform encompass all of these very important issues. However by stayingfocused and asking the right questions - How can we make the most impact? Where do we have themost support? - we are well on ourway to collecting information and building the infrastructure that will helpthe most vulnerable among us increase their chances of interacting with thejustice system in a fair and functional way.