An Evaluation of New Mexico's Online Intake System for Civil Legal Aid

by Shamena Anwar, Mauri Matsuda, Cassia Spohn, Meagan Cahill

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Research Questions

  1. What are the implementation issues associated with New Mexico's online intake system
  2. How did the processes for online and traditional intake methods compare?
  3. What was the usage of the online intake system?
  4. What can be said about how the online intake system affects access to justice?
  5. What are potential future changes New Mexico can make to its online intake system that will increase both the efficiency and the usage of the system?

Online intake systems for civil legal aid might affect access to justice in two ways: (1) allowing individuals who would not otherwise have access because they cannot use traditional intake methods to access civil legal aid and (2) allowing legal aid agencies to increase intake efficiency, thereby allowing them to serve more individuals overall with the same resources. To better assess the effects online intake systems might have in practice, researchers conducted an evaluation of the online intake system for civil legal aid that New Mexico implemented in April 2016.

Staff interviews, as well as analyses of administrative data, identified several implementation issues that indicate that the online intake system likely did not result in efficiency gains in the intake process during the eight-month period the researchers evaluated. Usage of the online system was also low. Survey results indicate that a relatively small fraction of online applicants were new users who would not have been able to access legal aid without the online intake option.

Due to contemporaneous staffing declines, this evaluation could not identify how the number of individuals receiving services changed in response to the implementation of the online intake system. However, because there was no real improvement in intake efficiency during this period, it is unrealistic to expect to see any real change in the number of individuals overall that receive service. Because the evaluation examined a short period after implementation, it is possible that the usage and efficiency of the system will increase as the system matures.

Key Findings

Usage and operation of New Mexico's online intake system

  • During the eight-month evaluation, usage of the online intake system was relatively low. Examining intakes conducted by New Mexico's two largest civil legal aid agencies indicated that 13 percent and 2 percent, respectively, of their intakes came through the online system.
  • Analyses indicate that clients who initiated intake through the online system had their cases treated similarly to cases initiated through traditional routes, although they tended to take a few extra days to resolve.

Implementation issues with New Mexico's online intake system

  • Applicant information from the online intake system did not feed directly into the civil legal aid agencies' case management systems.
  • Many individuals who initiated intake through the online system did not complete the intake process (which required them to complete intake through a phone call during regular business hours).
  • These implementation issues suggest the online system did not increase intake efficiency during our eight-month evaluation.

How does the online system affect access to justice?

  • A relatively small fraction of online applicants were new users who would not have been able to access legal aid without the online intake option.
  • Due to contemporaneous staffing declines, this evaluation could not identify how the number of individuals receiving services changed in response to the implementation of the online intake system. However, because there was no real improvement in intake efficiency during the period evaluated, it is unrealistic to expect to see any real change in the number of individuals overall who receive service.

Recommendations

  • Applicant information from the online system should feed directly into the legal aid agencies' case management systems.
  • The online system should make clear up front that the system is an online-phone hybrid system and will require the applicant to be available during normal business hours to complete intake and receive services.
  • The online system should request that applicants provide several time windows during which they would be available to receive a callback.
  • The online system should require individuals to complete certain fields in the online form before they can move on to the next field.
  • The online system should ensure that it correctly triages cases to the different aid agencies.
  • The online system should ask applicants what language they would like a callback in.
  • The online intake option should be widely advertised.
  • The online intake system should be made available in other languages commonly used by applicants.
  • It should be easy for staff to make changes to how the online intake system operates.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    The Triage and Intake Process at Baseline

  • Chapter Three

    The Implementation of the Online Intake System

  • Chapter Four

    Quantitative Data

  • Chapter Five

    The Impacts of New Mexico's Online Intake System

  • Chapter Six

    Conclusion

  • Appendix A

    Sample Restrictions and Matching Process for Administrative Data

  • Appendix B

    Surveys

The research described in this report was conducted by the Justice Policy Program within RAND Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment.

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