Legal Portals are online & offline entry points for legal help. They could be a website that lists out all kinds of legal services a person might be able to access, issues they could address, and first steps to pursuing help. It could be in the form of a Google Search intervention, that catches legal-ish queries that a user enters into the Google search box, and then directs the user to good, quality, if not public & jurisdiction-specific legal resources. Or it could be real-world, situational entry-points — places in people’s everyday lives (in libraries, schools, hospitals, main streets) that allow them to get legal help in situations when they need it.
A person arrives with a problem looking for help, wants to find the right path to solve the problem. She wants context to understand what her problem is. She wants to see what options she has. She wants support to form a strategy that is best for her, to choose from options & serve her interests. The portal orients her in this terrain and points her towards paths to achieve the other functions.
We as the legal community need to build a new set of on-ramps for people with problems to realize there can be legal relief for their ‘life problems’. And to be quality, engaging on-ramps, we need to find those touchpoints where people are open to seeking out legal help, and their preferred modes of doing so.
Here are some key principles for a good portal to the legal system.
- Provide one central entry-point, not too many
- Structure resources alphabetically, or in coordinated families
- Do not present the user with a long, undifferentiated list of resources
- Provide multiple types of search
A well-designed legal portal will do the following functions.
- Orient the User: Introduce her to this terrain, what the ground rules and essential concepts/language are in this space, and give her a birds-eye view of it.
- Give Pathway Touchpoints: First present the most basic possible pathways (likely, categorize the type of legal situation you’re dealing with, choose a ‘type of law’ path)
- Provide Targeted, Bordered Resources for the Chosen Pathway: Then once you know which ‘Law Country’ in the universe the user wants to be in, wall off the other countries from her, so that she doesn’t accidentally cross over into another country that doesn’t apply to her
- If Necessary, Let User Choose the Sub-Pathway that fits: Depending on the complexity of the architecture
- Build a strong information architecture: Give guided & tiered information to the user
- Give one screen per goal: Don’t crowd with too many functions, make it clear what the goal is
- Build around use cases: Frame the solutions as responses to particular problems/personas
- Shortcuts: Give lots of shortcuts to find the right bit of information for the user who is coming to the site ‘with a bullet’. Right from the first page, let the user go to the Specific Tasks that she has already said is common to her (her past visits, her custom tasks, what she always does on this site). Or let her type in a quick search query to try to find exactly what she wants. Or give a short-cut list based on what the majority of your users want to do.
- Only Provide the Amount of Information Needed: Present very limited information in the first place, with a limited set of options that the user can pursue — and gradually uncover more specific, in-depth information she is seeking out
- Structured to the Use Case:
Person needs information: give an Information Structure application, that lets them browse, compare, comprehend information (like, maps, news readers, dashboards, media players, online stores, etc)
- Person needs to complete a task: give a Process Structure application, they need to provide information in a structured manner — (like, product configuration, setup, or installation; registration forms; tax preparation; checkout; booking travel.)
- Person needs to create content: give a Creation Structure application, that lets them create new content or modify existing content — (like, blogging, illustrating, coding, photo editing, diagramming)