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ORBIT targets legal assistance clients

ORBIT targets legal assistance clients

By Karin Derkley

Access to Justice Technology 


An online tool is helping legal assistance providers get their clients off the "referral roundabout" and matched up with the right service provider to deal with their legal problems.

Built by not-for-profit consultancy Code for Australia in conjunction with Victoria Legal Aid, the Online Referral Booking Information Tool (ORBIT) is halving the time it previously took to help refer clients seeking legal assistance, says VLA senior policy and project officer, client access Toby Verey.
Operating as a triage service, ORBIT uses simple conditional logic to assess the nature of a client’s legal problem and match them to relevant services based on the type of legal issue, location and eligibility.
The technology is straightforward, using a simple decision tree to narrow down outputs and then sends out referral and booking information via SMS or email. “That dramatically reduces the points of contact for a client, and reduces the chance that we will lose clients along the way,” Mr Verey says.
Information about the capacity of community legal centres (CLCs) and other service providers to deal with certain matters is updated within the tool in real time, using crowdsourcing technology. “That gets around the problem of ‘bad referrals’, where in the past people would be referred to CLCs that were not appropriate or could not deal with a particular matter,” he says.
Principal lawyer at Moonee Valley Legal Service (MVLS) and LIV Councillor Brendan Lacota says ORBIT is making it easier for its staff and volunteers to more accurately direct clients to the right agency when the service is unable to help. Along with other CLCs, the MVLS has provided input over the past six months to improve and refine the service. 
“It's been incredibly helpful for staff and also for volunteers who don't have knowledge of all the intricacies of the legal sector and all the different services that are out there. It gets around that referral roundabout where in the past clients would get sent from one service provider to another because it was difficult to know who was best able to help with what."
Code for Australia service designer Rikke Winther-Sørensen says the development team spent around four months researching the legal sector and how it worked before releasing the first iteration of the tool. “It was really important to base the design of the tool on a deep understanding of the sector.
“The tool needed to meet the needs of the whole sector and we learned early on that different parts operate very differently and within different contexts.” That involved “shadowing” different users, she says. “We’d sit down with people for half a day or even more to see how they work and what tools they use.”
Rather than imposing a finished product on users, the developer used Agile methodology that takes an incremental approach to providing a new product or application that is highly responsive to the needs and feedback of users.
“It means you have transparency and strong ownership of the project rather than imposing a finished solution on people that might not suit their needs and that they may then be less willing to use.” 

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