Ohio Legal Help empowers low-income, underserved and vulnerable Ohioans to understand their legal options, make informed decisions, get connected to lawyers and legal information, and take action. Using technology and innovative solutions, we remove barriers to justice and help people improve their lives.

In 2023, we served 772,082 families from all 88 counties in Ohio, working to fulfill our mission to remove barriers to accessing justice.

An important part of our work is receiving feedback from our users. From listening to our users, we know that Ohioans have turned to Ohio Legal Help to solve core legal issues impacting their lives. We also know that the design of our website and the information it contains must be straightforward and action oriented to provide accessible legal help.

Every day, we incorporate concepts involved in user-centered design into our work. The heart of user-centered design is looking at problems from the prospective of the user: like a person confused about the divorce process, scared about facing a debt collection lawsuit, or navigating the stress of an eviction.

We also consider our users’ diverse needs through outreach to our partners who know firsthand the complexity and ever-evolving nature of our users’ legal issues. By being user-focused, we tailor solutions to problems impacting their lives.

Ohioans needing legal help must be empowered to move to resolve their problems. By providing our users with innovative tools that remove barriers to the civil justice system, we can begin to close the justice gap.

As we move forward into 2024 and beyond, we remain grateful for the Ohio Legal Help team and our partners and we are proud of what collectively we have accomplished. We invite you to read the 2023 Impact Report and learn more about the personal approach that Ohio Legal Help takes to innovation.

data

Our team and the partners that guide our work have always focused on data gathering and analysis to learn about barriers in accessing the justice system. We not only receive and analyze data from our website, but we also listen to the needs of our users through thousands of user feedback surveys. This information from multiple sources provides valuable insights into their preferences and needs and helps us identify problems and opportunities by understanding who they are.

Through our data gathering, we know that our typical user visits the website on their mobile phone at all hours of the day and night. They are often in a household of at least 3 people, and their household income is less than 200% of the federal poverty level. Nearly half of our users are facing homelessness, experiencing or have experienced violence or abuse, over the age of 60 or a veteran.

This past year, users turned to Ohio Legal Help to help navigate legal issues like getting a protection orderchanging their legal name, the divorce process and dissolution processes, and the eviction timeline in Ohio . By analyzing this data and listening to our users, we know that the design of our website and the information it contains must be straightforward and action oriented to provide accessible legal help.

One of our users wrote to us after finding the divorce information they were looking for and told us, “Your website is well written, easy-to-understand, and gives honest examples of what to anticipate. Thank you for sharing your knowledge to all of us confused by legal proceedings.” Feedback like this is invaluable to us as we work every day to improve and expand our website.

barriers

In addition to user feedback, our team met with countless partners across the state to learn more about our users’ needs. Our partners know firsthand the difficulties many Ohioans face with legal issues impacting their daily lives. They help guide the content and tools on our website so that we can deliver the best experience for our users. Through these partnerships and the guidance of our Advisory Committee and Board, we learned that there were several areas of need to expand on our website.

First, we worked with the Supreme Court of Ohio and the Franklin County Domestic Relations and Juvenile Court to create information and an action plan for kinship caregivers. Kinship care involves placing kids with grandparents, extended family members or close family friends, which can minimize trauma, provide more stability, and facilitate connections with siblings and other family members.

Next, we worked with a team of volunteer lawyer experts at BroadStreet Partners to expand our content on employment law. This information on the website will help employees and employers navigate their relationship and understand Ohio law.

Later in the year, the work requirements for SNAP benefits (also known as food stamps) underwent changes that affected many Ohioans. Working with the team at the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, we created a SNAP work requirements screening tool that helps Ohioans understand which requirements they may have to meet or if they meet an exemption. Navigating this system can be complicated, so creating a user-friendly tool like this can provide accurate information at the right time.

Recently, we conducted a survey of Black Ohioans to learn their views about and knowledge of the civil justice system. Debt collection was the legal issue most respondents had dealt with. Yet while 52% of respondents reported direct experience with debt collections, only 17% sought help from a lawyer. We considered how this information could be used to help Ohioans, with a focus on empowering Black Ohioans to access the court system and avoid the detrimental collateral impacts of inaction involving debt collection lawsuits.

Through generous funding provided by the Columbus Bar Foundation, we worked with the Franklin County Municipal Court Self Help Center this past year to add legal information, court forms and tools on our website to help Franklin County residents deal with civil legal issues related to debt collection.

One of our users wrote to us after visiting our page on fighting a debt collection lawsuit and told us, “I wanted to know more about what might happen with my debt collection now that it is with an attorney's office. I was scared but I feel better now that I have some idea what to expect and know what to do when I receive the letters.”

A guiding principle of our work is to meet users where they are. Sometimes our users need a connection to an in-person local resource that may be able to help them with the issues they are facing. In 2023, we made over 271,594 referrals to Ohio’s courts, legal aids, private bar associations, public defenders and court-appointed counsel, and local social service agencies.

solutions

More than 90% of low-income people facing legal issues receive no or inadequate legal help and often have no choice but to navigate complex legal issues on their own. Our users not only need up-to-date information, but they also need innovative tools to help them take action when it comes to their legal issues.

Using a generous grant from the Dayton Legal Heritage Foundation, a component fund of The Dayton Foundation, we spent the past couple of years designing, building, testing and evaluating a Virtual Self-Help Center in partnership with the Montgomery County Domestic Relations Court.

The free, online tool is available 24/7 and provides critical court information and allows users to fill out, edit, save and complete court forms on their mobile phones when it’s most convenient for them, whether it’s in the middle of the day or the middle of the night. In 2024, we will launch similar virtual self-help tools in both Cuyahoga County and Lorain County.

In keeping with our belief in continuous improvement to our website, we also added chatbot technology thanks to a grant from the Ohio State Bar Foundation. One of the pillars of accessible design is understanding that users interface with technology in different ways and want real-time support. In order to address our users’ need for real-time support while using OhioLegalHelp.org, Ohio Legal Help now provides a chatbot that helps users navigate the website.

This year in partnership with Community Legal Aid through a generous grant from the Legal Services Corporation, we created a Virtual Pro Bono Clinic. By offering a virtual platform for pro bono legal services, we are meeting Ohioans where they are by removing barriers like travel and childcare, making it easier for individuals to get the legal help they need. The Virtual Pro Bono Clinic also makes it more convenient for pro bono attorneys, allowing more attorneys to participate and assist clients .

We hope that tools like these will remove many of the barriers to justice that people face when they’re navigating the civil legal system on their own.

financials
board and advisory committee
our team

Our team

Susan Choe
Executive Director

Rachel Harris
Content Manager

Matthew Keister
Product Manager

Sangeetha Natarajan
Forms + Data Specialist

Diana Wiebe
Communications + Program Manager

thank you

We ended 2023 by being named the recipient of the Outstanding Organization Award from the Ohio State Bar Foundation. The award honors “the outstanding attorneys and organizations that have exemplified an unwavering dedication to building a better justice system, broadening access to justice, and advancing our collective understanding of the law.”

We are grateful for the continued support from all of our funders and partners of our mission and are committed to keeping our users at the forefront of our work, like our user from Butler County who was being evicted from their mobile home, who wrote to us to say “[The website] answered many questions about this stressful situation and helped me understand the process to navigate through it.

By gathering data and learning about barriers to accessing the justice system, we can create solutions through a personal approach to innovation and empower Ohioans to resolve their legal issues.