Blog Design Reviews

Website Redesign Report: ABA Free Legal Answers

This report is from our student group in the Spring 2023 class 806y, Justice By Design.

American Bar Association’s Free Legal Answers: User Experiences and Recommendations 

by Sonya Googins, Justin Iannacone, Kelsea Jeon, Shannon Lee, Ana Ribadeneira, Kevin Wang, June 9, 2023


Through interviews and research on how to improve access to free legal services, our team has come up with recommendations for ABA’s Free Legal Answers (FLA). Given that the ABA’s main objective is to improve outreach efforts for FLA, our team focused on enhancing the user’s experience with the site by boosting its accessibility, transparency, and trust. Our memo follows with the assumption that the first step to creating a strong outreach strategy is to improve the individual user experience with the existing site. That way, when prospective users eventually learn of the resource and use it, they are confident that FLA is a reliable and trustworthy source of help. 

Overview: User Experience with FLA 

This memo is organized through the lens of a user’s experience with FLA. We categorize this paper into four main steps:

(1) Arriving on the Home Page;

(2) Determining One’s Qualifications and Suitability;

(3) Submitting One’s Question(s);

(4) Receiving the Response.

The final section contains recommendations for data-driven next steps. 

Touchpoint: Arriving on the Home Page

This section of the memo focuses on the user’s experience when they arrive on the home page. First impressions are key; you never get a second chance to make a first impression. As website designs grow more sleek and modern, we think it is critical to greet users with a landing page that is visually welcoming, functionally accessible, and aesthetically professional. With these goals in mind, we propose changes to six aspects of the landing page.

Updated Home Page Cover Image and Text

Before: Current webpage visual

After: proposed new image

The existing FLA homepage displays a photo of raised hands. We recommend updating this background image and the bold text on the homepage. Regarding the background image, users during our interviews reported that the main page image of the raised hands could use updating; and we agree. We created a mock-up of a new homepage cover photo that emphasizes the strength of the previous cover photo–an emphasis on diversity and a message of being welcoming to all, regardless of background.

Hence, to maintain the welcoming feel of the site, while updating the image aesthetically, we substituted the image of the hands with a more modern image of a diverse group of people looking off in different directions for help.  During our interviews with stakeholders and potential users, interviewees also noted that the bold text, “Can’t Afford a Lawyer?” seemed to suggest that the site would offer users an attorney to represent them. To avoid confusion about what FLA offers and to more clearly state the site’s purpose, we recommend replacing the text with: “Get legal answers.”

Updating the Navigation Tabs to be User-Centered

Before: The Existing Navigation Tabs

After: New Possible Navigation Tabs

Another area on the main home page that we recommend updating is the tab bar. We suggest visually updating the tabs at the top of the home page, as well as modifying some of the pages, so that users are offered more information as they arrive. The “Legal FAQs,” “User Reviews,” and “About Our Volunteers” pages, all of which are new changes that we will discuss below, will be helpful for new users who are unsure about what the site offers and whether the site is suitable for their needs. Making sure such information is available immediately will also ideally increase user retention rates. We have grayed out the “Attorney Registration” tab to signal to users that the tab is not for their purposes. This slight modification will serve to make the site less attorney- and volunteer-centric and more user-based. 

Language Translation options

In an effort to better retain users of color, we recommend implementing page translation options. Many individuals who need pro bono legal help are first-generation immigrants, many of whom do not speak or read English. The languages we suggest including on the website are Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese, which are spoken by large immigrant groups in the United States with high percentages of non-English speakers.

Currently, there are several online programs and browser extensions that can translate pages from the user’s end, such as Google Translate. But because translation this way requires the user themself to download translation programs, we believe it would be more accessible for those who are less technologically savvy for translation options to already exist on the page like in the example above. Making sure that translation is just a visible click away will hopefully maximize retention rates for non-English speakers. Indeed, we realize that translation options will not be useful if the legal answers that users receive are still in English.

Thus, we recommend that the ABA make a concerted effort to try to attract volunteers that can speak–and write in–languages besides English.

About the Lawyer Volunteers

Another homepage tab we suggest creating is a tab for our users to learn more about the lawyers who volunteer for FLA. One of the strengths of FLA–as opposed to other online resources of this nature–is that users can receive help from a real lawyer with real expertise.  However, this feature is not being marketed as clearly or broadly on the existing site. Once users realize that they are receiving human-centered, individualized assistance, they might be more included to trust the FLA services as well.We suggest curating a few biographies and personas about the attorneys to allow users to get to know more generally who is on the other end of the FLA service. The following images are examples of what a new “About Our Volunteers” tab could look like.

These new features could be integrated into the “Volunteer Recognition” tab that is already on the site. On these pages, FLA could include direct quotes and testimonials from lawyers who volunteer for FLA. In these testimonials, volunteer attorneys can answer questions that users we interviewed had, such as: Who are the lawyers volunteering with FLA? Why are they volunteering? Why do they think FLA is a good resource for me to use? Personal information about the volunteer attorneys can be anonymized to protect their privacy. 

User Testimonials

Our next recommendation is to include a “user testimonials” section in a separate tab on the website. One of the most common pieces of feedback we received from stakeholders and potential users was that while the website seemed to offer an excellent service, users wanted to know other users’ experiences with the website. For instance, a potential FLA user stated that she wished she could read Google reviews of others’ experiences with Free Legal Answers.

Because first-time users are likely unfamiliar with the website, user testimonials can be one way to gain users’ trust and reassure them that this is a legitimate service that helps real people. This is especially important given that FLA is a free service, and users have often expressed skepticism about such services, thinking that it is “too good to be true.” And of course, when posting these testimonials, the information on the website can be anonymized to protect individuals’ privacy. An example of one such user testimonial is included below. 

State-Specific Landing Pages

Before: current state landing page

After: proposed new state landing page

Finally, once the user gets past the home page and selects the state in which they reside, the current FLA page takes them to a state-specific landing page, which is the next page in the user’s journey. We suggest updating this landing page in three ways.

First, the “Get Started” button should be centered to better capture users’ attention as the way forward if they wish to proceed. Second, we suggest moving the “Other Places to Get Help” link into its own button on the bottom left. On the current site, the link is difficult to see—many users in our interviews did not see the link when exploring the page. Lastly, on the bottom right, we recommend incorporating a link to a new proposed feature, “Legal FAQs.” We describe the details of this new feature later in this report.

In response to potential concerns about search engine optimization, this FAQs page–or a more general version of it that is not specific to states, but can be applied to legal help and courts more generally, can also be put on the home page. 

Touchpoint: Determining Qualifications and Suitability

Once a user has decided that the website is trustworthy and suitable enough to go forward, the next stage is to help the user better understand how to use FLA. After a user clicks the “Get Started” button on the state-specific landing page, we propose that the page redirect the user to a new page. Currently, when one decides to “get started,” they are taken directly to a user agreement. But before that, we suggest the resource direct the user to a general overview section with information on how FLA works, how to submit a question, and how long the process takes. For instance, the current website does not indicate how long it takes to receive a response from a lawyer, making it difficult for users to have realistic expectations for how long they have to wait before receiving an answer. Providing greater transparency as to what happens to a user’s question once it is submitted will help build trust with users and allow them to better allocate their time if they know they may have to wait a set number of days before receiving an answer.

Now, after getting a broad understanding of how FLA works, the user decides to proceed with the service. They are then taken to a user agreement page to see if they qualify to use the service. The primary issue with the previous user agreement page was that users had difficulty determining whether or not they qualified to use FLA. Specifically, the biggest sources of confusion included determining whether or not someone was “low-income” and what it meant to have “low” balances in one’s financial accounts. The second issue with the previous user agreement page was that the agreement itself was too text-heavy, making it difficult for users to identify the important requirements in the agreement. 

In light of these concerns, we propose two main changes. The first change addresses specific areas that users pointed out during our interviews that caused confusion when determining whether one qualified, and the second change addresses the general readability and format of the user agreement. 

The above mock-up is our proposed version of the new user agreement. The areas circled in red represent new additions to the existing text of the qualifications. Below are explanations for these new additions. 

First, the phrase “cannot afford a lawyer” clarifies what it means to be low-income in a way that is relevant for using FLA, because it emphasizes that an individual is considered to be low-income when they cannot afford an attorney. Although some stakeholders have expressed concern that the “cannot afford a lawyer” phrase is also ambiguous, we believe it is clear enough for users to determine whether the service is right for them. Ultimately, the ABA is balancing the desire to help those with pressing civil legal needs with concerns from attorneys who would otherwise serve clients who are able to pay for legal services.

FLA can balance both interests by asking people whether they are low-income and unable to afford an attorney. If someone cannot afford an attorney, they would not be able to hire an attorney in the first place and would thus not be unfairly taking advantage of FLA. Another reason why the “cannot afford a lawyer” qualification is preferred is because it takes into account the cost and availability of lawyers in an individual’s state. Legal markets can look very different across the country, and by allowing users to determine whether they can afford a lawyer, it allows those in the best position–users themselves–to determine whether they can afford representation. Furthermore, the requirement also implicitly recognizes that the justice gap exists not just for those with incomes close to the Federal Poverty Level, but in some areas, more than triple or quadruple that level. Thus, by associating the low-income requirement with the ability to afford an attorney requirement, FLA is increasing access to people who might have otherwise self-selected out of the process and is focusing its help on those with unmet legal needs.  

Second, this proposed qualifications checklist will not replace the entire user agreement; it will simply be at the top of the existing user agreement and will be the focus of the page. While the other information on the user agreement page is also important (what FLA offers, Google Translate, about the lawyers, rules lawyers must abide by, and confidentiality), it is arguably more imperative that individuals know whether they qualify to use the service in the first place. Hence, the qualifications should be in larger print and easier to read. For users interested in learning more about the service before deciding to proceed, they can read the remaining information on the webpage. 

Touchpoint: Submitting the Question

Question Intake

Once site visitors determine that they qualify for the service and want to submit a question, we propose a redesigned question intake process that immediately filters users into legal issue areas before they ask their specific question. We understand that this is a more substantive change that might be more resource-intensive than other suggestions. But this redesign addresses two important concerns. First, it addresses the FLA-side concern about not having the capacity to respond to all the inquiries that attorneys currently receive promptly and efficiently. Increasing outreach, particularly to communities of color, will only increase the volume of inquiries that FLA receives.

Second, from the users’ perspective, many of our interviewees found the question intake process to be cumbersome and, at times, overwhelming before they were even prompted to ask their question.

Our recommendation is modeled off of digital customer service platforms, particularly Amazon customer service. Amazon minimizes the burden on its customer service staff without compromising quality by filtering inquiries through prompted questions and different site branches that direct users to pre-prepared, common responses. We have a similar vision for FLA (see below).  

First proposal: triage questions by high-level categories

Second part: Have people select from common languages in the broad category

Through this system, users who have common legal questions can receive immediate, verified information without having to wait for a response from an attorney. Many of our interviewees indicated the importance of receiving quality information quickly. And for users whose questions are not answered through the pre-prepared question-answer system, they can proceed to ask their question via the question submission process. In implementing this plan, we suggest FLA’s pro bono attorneys work with state and local legal aid groups to draft responses to common legal inquiries. Such responses can be informational in nature, which would not violate rules regarding the restrictions to providing formal legal advice.

This new design is ultimately more efficient and cost-effective for FLA. While it requires an upfront investment to build out the new site features and populate the site with legal information, in the long run, it will minimize the number of repeat questions and overall volume of inquiries that have to be responded to by a human attorney.

Touchpoint: Receiving the Response 

Selecting Response Method

 In the spirit of continuing to streamline the user experience and to eliminate unnecessary barriers to access, we propose that FLA consider giving users a say in how they wish to receive answers to their questions. As one of our interviewees noted, users should not have to create an account or log into Google merely to ask a question. In some of the stakeholder and user interviews we conducted, people expressed frustration with having to log back in to retrieve their answer. To some users, a password-protected answer on a separate platform seemed unnecessary and inconvenient. 

As it currently stands, requiring users to log back in to their FLA account to retrieve their answer could create a number of issues. First, some users may simply never log back in. Second, having a password-protected service may contribute to this sense that FLA is gatekeeping access to legal advice. Many individuals find the FLA website intimidating; it is  a “lawyer” website, where users are instructed not to lie, and to attest to the fact that they qualify for the service. Requiring users to formally create an account may dissuade them from using the service entirely. 

As modeled in the above image, we propose that users be given the option to receive their answer by email, text, or via the FLA portal (as is the current practice). Many people rely heavily on their email and, especially for younger generations, their text messages. Allowing users to choose their desired response method ensures that legal answers are not just received but seen by those asking the questions. Moreover, adding the option to be contacted by email or by text message does not require FLA to eliminate password protection entirely.

FLA could still require all users to create an account before asking a question. And some users may still elect to receive their answer via their FLA account. Preserving the option for a password-protected response would cater to users who have particular concerns regarding the privacy of their communications with FLA. In particular, people facing any kind of violence or abuse in the home may be particularly concerned that a response to their question be kept private. 

A more radical change would be to eliminate password protection entirely, so that no one is required to create an account. However, we do not recommend this practice as such an alteration may compromise the privacy of those who may not want or cannot risk having their communications with FLA be so easily viewable by others. 

Auto-Reply Confirmation

After users submit their question, ABA Free Legal Answers should send users a confirmation message. This confirmation message serves two main purposes: (1) it builds trust and transparency; and (2) it empowers users with information about other resources while they wait to receive a response.

In this confirmation message, we also recommend including an estimated time frame in to help guide users’ next steps. Users will know when to expect a reply and whether to look for other resources for support and assistance in the meantime. Even if the wait time is lengthy, FLA should still include the wait time information so as not to mislead users. It is critical to provide accurate information to users so that they maintain realistic expectations with the service. Additionally, if the data does show that FLA has a longer response time, this would also be useful information for the ABA and its stakeholders to have.

However, if there is too much variability in the estimated response times to provide users with an accurate time frame, FLA can send a more general confirmation message. The message can simply acknowledge that the question was received and assure users that a response will arrive shortly. Even without an estimated time frame, the confirmation message will provide assurance to users that the FLA service is a legitimate and active service. In addition to providing assurance to users that a response is on its way, the confirmation message can also serve to educate users about other resources they can turn to while they wait for a response. Such resources can include other ABA resources, FLA’s Legal FAQs page (described in detail below), state legal aid groups, and court self-help websites. The links to the latter two resources—the state legal aid pages and court self-help resources—would not only help to facilitate a more unified ecosystem of legal help resources, but also potentially encourage the more reluctant state legal aid groups to agree to partner with FLA in their state.

By including links to external organizations, such external groups are more likely to see FLA as a supplemental resource in the broader legal aid ecosystem.   

In addition to providing a legal question and answer service, we recommend FLA consider consolidating frequently asked questions across a range of civil legal topics and publishing the answers to these questions in a separate tab on the website titled, “Legal FAQs.” The purpose of this feature is to provide users with a directory of pre-answered questions so individuals can get their basic questions answered in one place. The directory may answer all of a user’s questions, or it may be a starting point so a user can gain more familiarity with a legal issue they are dealing with. On the attorney side, we anticipate volunteer attorneys will have fewer repeat questions to answer after the implementation of Legal FAQs. Attorneys will then be able to devote more time and energy to answering questions that are not already answered in the directory or questions that may include more unique personal circumstances that require greater individualized attention.

It would also help to reduce the response time for attorney answers to questions, thus making FLA a more reliable and timely service. The lower volume of questions may also give volunteer attorneys greater capacity to answer more than three questions per year for each user, which is a current limitation to the service. In addition to providing information about common civil legal issues, the Legal FAQs could also include resources to help individuals prepare for court. A salient issue for pro se litigants surrounds the mechanics behind showing up to court. In a system made by and for attorneys, non-lawyer pro se litigants could feel scared and uncomfortable navigating the legal system.

Thus, providing those unfamiliar with court “culture” with practical advice on how to conduct oneself in court, how to address a judge, and how to prepare beforehand can help equip people with information they need to advocate for themselves in court successfully. Post-Submission Survey 
When a user has received an answer from an attorney, either via email, text, or through the FLA portal, we recommend FLA include a post-submission survey. FLA has used Qualtrics in the past to house a similar survey, but that survey is currently inactive. We recommend reinstituting the survey to ask users questions such as how they heard about FLA, how satisfied they are with the service they received, and how likely they are to recommend the service to a friend or family with a legal problem. To ensure that responses are as unbiased as possible, the brief survey should be anonymous. Collecting survey data would not only help FLA improve the quality of its services, but also provide data on how best to improve its outreach strategy.  

Data-Driven Next Steps 

In addition to our suggestions on how to improve the user-experience on FLA, we proposed three data-driven next steps that relate to outreach and resource allocation as FLA seeks to update its service. 

Outreach to Specific Demographic Groups

Based on our research, which included discussions with community members as well as advocates who work in the access-to-justice space, we gathered that among the most trusted sources of information for many demographic groups, including groups who speak another language aside from English or who are people of color, are local community organizations and groups. Thus, we suggest having FLA’s local state administrators contact and partner with local organizations that are highly respected by local communities to drive traffic to the website. Religious organizations, places of worship, civil rights groups, churches, libraries, and community centers are just some examples of the kinds of organizations that could help improve FLA’s reach across diverse communities

Collecting More Data

We also suggest that FLA record a smaller sample of users (possibly two to three users) as they navigate the website. This video recording of users perusing the site would provide a window into how users are currently experiencing the website, what problems they are encountering, and how much information they are retaining. Collecting this qualitative data would provide the ABA with critical information about what is working on the site and what is not. This could also help inform next steps as FLA decides to redesign the website. With permission from the users, the recording could also be shared with the ABA’s stakeholders to advocate for greater resources to revamp the website. 

Measuring Drop-Off Rates 

Lastly, we suggest that FLA use Google Analytics to track drop-off rates for each page of the website. Google Analytics is a free and easy way for businesses to track how many visits each page on their website gets and at what point do users start to click out of the website. For instance, Google Analytics could show what percentage of site visitors make it to FLA’s user agreement and how many do not continue on to the next step. Such data would allow FLA to diagnose problems on the website and optimize users’ experience. 

Blog Design Reviews

Virginia’s Eviction Legal Helpline website review and strategy

This report is by a team of Stanford University students in the Spring 2023 Justice By Design class.

The student team was Gabrielle Braxton, Shirley Frame, Whit Froehlich, and Lavi Sundar.

The students conducted a design review and user interviews in partnership with the Eviction Legal Helpline team. The goal of the class was to identify actionable technology, design, and policy interventions to help more people find good quality legal help online.


The Virginia Poverty Law Center’s Eviction Legal Helpline website functions as a portal for Virginia residents facing eviction to access legal information, legal aid services, and its own helpline service. This situates it within an ecosystem of various forms of renter assistance, giving it an audience that includes tenants in different vulnerable circumstances as well as attorneys and non-attorneys who volunteer their time to operate the legal helpline itself. Given these audiences, the website presents visitors with options for self-definition so that users can find what they are looking for. At the same time, particularly for tenants, its layout and content serve to establish the credibility and trust necessary to successfully convey the information and connections it has to offer.

With the gracious agreement of VPLC, we had the opportunity to evaluate the Eviction Legal Helpline website, conduct user research, and consult with experts to formulate recommendations for how to improve its format and functionality. In the sections that follow, we detail several suggestions for approaches to different aspects of the design and rollout for an updated website, including general principles, potential tools to use, and specific examples of implementations on other websites that illustrate effective applications of good website performance. These are of course only possibilities, based on the limited scope of our project, and would be undertaken subject to the priorities and resources available for such work.

Over the Spring Quarter, we built a foundation of understanding about the nature and availability of online legal help resources, then conducted interviews with model users to investigate how they navigated the website and engaged with its content. Through these interviews, we found that the site is seen as inviting and useful, but that several of its resources went unnoticed or raised additional questions. Some interviewees identified specific aspects of navigating the website that would benefit from design adjustments.

We also analyzed the site’s web presence, drawing on our research as informed by guidance from our experts. Although the site appears highly ranked in search engine results, search engine optimization is a continuous project, and comparison websites demonstrate areas for improvement in the Eviction Legal Helpline’s rankings and reputation. Furthermore, while most prospective users will likely use search engines to find the site, the search-engine status may not fully reflect the effectiveness of the site in reaching its intended audience if they are not utilizing expected search approaches, or not using a search engine to seek legal help. Nonetheless, search engine optimization remains one of the most impactful means of ensuring users find the site and take advantage of its offerings.

Please find here the link to our final presentation, or read on for our key recommendations.

Design & Content Proposals

Plain Language

Increasing the simplicity of the language on the site will make it more accessible to everyone, including individuals with little time, learning disabilities, or limited English ability. With that in mind, we recommend writing the entire website in 6th-8th grade language. For example, this could look like updating the questionnaire with a simpler phrasing like “Why might your landlord evict you?” rather than “What is the reason your landlord might evict you?”

Simple, Straightforward Messaging

To further simplify language, reduce large chunks of texts on the homepage.

Start with basic information that would be attractive and accessible to someone with a scarcity mindset. Be welcoming and empowering: “Don’t leave your house. Let’s get you started.” Signal that there are ways to deal with this legal issue and invite users in.

Translation technology & interfaces

Moving onto translation features, the website currently presents two pages for information, one in English, “Tenants,” and one in Spanish, “Inquilinos.” This format could be confusing and redundant to users who don’t need to see the page twice—they just need the website in the language they are most familiar with. This could be streamlined with a centralized translation button. There are several models for how to implement this.

These translation and floating language switcher options are possible on WordPress with Translate Press.

Example 1: Add a translation button at the top of the page. (Website linked)

This button is easy to access and attention-grabbing, and translates the entire website to Spanish.

Example 2: Add a floating language switcher.

Our favorite option, this button is convenient and easy to see, always floating at the bottom of the page as you navigate. It stands out without obstructing the content. This particular website uses Google Translate, which reduces the manual translation labor.

Example 3: Add a drop-down menu at the top.  This button format provides lots of options and is easy to navigate. Because it is stuck to the top of the page, it is potentially a little more difficult to identify but still a great option.

Mobile-First Streamlining & Navigation

Many of the users we interviewed primarily use their phones to search for legal information, especially right after encountering a legal issue. Therefore, it is important to update and streamline the website to make it easier to navigate on mobile devices. Some current challenges of the website’s mobile format are the amount of scrolling required to view photos and text boxes, where there is extra space and text, and the sidebar, which offers limited information.

There are also some redundancies in the information offered that make navigating on a phone more difficult.

For example, on the “Tenants” homepage, several buttons and links repeat themselves, and it’s not easy to scan and understand the information. It would be useful to consolidate identical resources in a single location or prompt, such as a large “Start” button, which would then direct users to the questionnaire and, subsequently, the information they need.

Simplified example:

Another option is to simplify buttons by eliminating extra text. Simplified example

We recommend the following websites with great mobile formats as models and inspiration.

The Legal Aid Society is a great example that facilitates easy scanning with large font and bolding. It also has welcoming and well-formatted photos and a comprehensive drop-down menu for easy navigation to information.

One way to limit potential overwhelm is exemplified by the Ohio Legal Help website, which relies on boxes and buttons more than a sidebar with links. There are a lot of resources & information, but the site uses icons and accessible fonts to facilitate easy scanning and navigation. One downside of this website to consider is the large number of options and buttons which could be overwhelming. In addition, there is still a large amount of text on some pages.

Considering the models from the Legal Aid Society and Ohio Legal Help, we conclude that a balance must be struck when designing mobile formats between providing detailed information and ensuring accessibility. Both the side bar and the centralized homepage with lots of buttons are good options, but the organization must weigh the pros and cons.

Redesign & rebrand the triage Decision Tree Quiz

The quiz feature on the website currently uses a multiple-choice format that may be confusing to some users. The many options may be overwhelming. During our research, we found that some users were not sure which category they belonged in, or felt that they could fit into more than one category.

This sometimes created a sense that they might have chosen the “wrong” option and may miss out on important information that could apply to them.

We suggest remodeling the quiz to a binary format to simplify the amount of information contained in each question to ensure that users arrive at the most pertinent and accurate information for their particular situation. This will also increase the user’s confidence in the information they ultimately receive.

One-Page Legal Process Summary

During our research we found that one of the most popular features on the website is the one-page summary of the eviction process in Virginia. Users liked the flowchart format and felt the information in this summary would be extremely helpful to them if they were facing eviction or experiencing housing issues.

However, most users did not find this resource without being directed to it, since the link is quite small and located near the bottom of the “Tenants” page. We recommend featuring this resource more prominently on the site. We suggest including the flowchart as an image directly on the site (rather than linking to a PDF) and presenting it to users along with the information they receive at the end of the quiz.

Having a “birds-eye view” of the entire eviction process can reassure a user who is uncertain and anxious about their housing situation, deepening their understanding of their legal rights and giving them greater agency to advocate for themselves throughout the eviction process. It may also be helpful to update the flowchart to break down the steps into groups and orient the user to key events (pre-court/post-court, service of documents, etc.).

Outreach & Discovery of the site

Having discussed formatting modifications to increase accessibility and navigability, attention must also be paid to methods of outreach. More specifically, we recommend undertaking SEO methodology in order to maximize website search traffic from interested users. Semrush, an American company that specializes in generating and distilling search engine analytics, was the primary tool used to furnish the information that we have compiled in the following portion of this report.

Authority Score

The first metric used to pinpoint areas of improvement was that of the authority score, visualized here in a polar chart.

The two lowest metrics here are ‘organic traffic’, which is low, and ‘link power,’ which also is concerning.

The ‘link power’ factor is primarily a measure of the number of relevant backlinks, i.e. the amount of other credible websites that link back to VPLC’s Eviction Helpline website. A higher number of backlinks to the site would increase the site’s ranking and placement on a search results page, thus boosting user discovery and engagement.

Upon generating a list of competitor sites with similar backlink profiles to the Eviction Helpline site, the only competitor to appear was

This was thus the best option to serve as a benchmark. We compared what domains refer to this site, to see what backlinks & referrals the site is missing out on.

As the above report makes clear, several high-quality websites with significant user traffic – such as Spotify, Amazon, Indeed, and US News – contain links to but not to

Backlinks & referral strategy

Thus, we recommend that these particular sites be targeted, to the extent and capacity possible, to advertise the site or disseminate related information.
The term “top-level domain” describes the ending portion of a URL, such as dot com, dot gov, etc. The top-level domain report Semrush generated, as shown below, underlines that the majority of websites that backlinked to the competitor were dot com websites.

Emphasizing the dot gov and dot edu websites when choosing referral domains may be a useful strategy to take advantage of the increased credibility that customers tacitly assign to these top-level domains.

Keyword boosting

With the ‘link power’ factor addressed, our next recommendation aims to improve organic traffic through localized keyword boosting.

Although not all of the following keywords are necessarily applicable to the Eviction Helpline, emphasizing or increasing the frequency of the relevant ones would also serve to increase engagement with users. The website’s page titles, section headings, and text can all use the keywords that people are searching for. This will help the search engines know that this website matches people’s needs.

Below is an example of a keyword report the team could utilize, to find keywords that might apply to the website’s content.

Leases, Notices, and other official referrals

Another way to boost outreach is through court/government referrals and lease disclosures.

The Eviction Helpline is already featured on some government websites, such as and the Fairfax County website. However, some of the information is outdated.

We recommend updating the information on these websites to reflect the current nature of the service and making sure that any links to the Eviction Helpline lead to the correct site (these “backlinks” will also help increase SEO authority). It may also be helpful to reach out to other local websites, such as city and county websites, to include information on the Eviction Helpline.

This will boost community awareness and give VPLC greater visibility.

Court and Government Agency Referrals

Other places to feature the Eviction Helpline include Virginia’s court self-help website and the Virginia Statement of Tenant Rights and Responsibilities.

Can the Helpline be featured prominently on this official document, with the website URL, phone, and QR code?

These community websites/resources present opportunities to “triage” target users to the Eviction Helpline site. This could potentially be automatic based on the information users input (e.g., income level, issue, etc.).



The Eviction Legal Helpline is an important resource for tenants in Virginia facing eviction and a valuable project of the Virginia Poverty Law Center.

As a public-facing website, this service must balance its function as a repository of the available information and connections with visitor engagement in order to build the trust and authority to provide them. At the same time, it is important to avoid overwhelming or confusing users with misdirected or excessive content.

In order to achieve these at-times competing objectives, the website can be improved by some adjustments, depending on available resources and interest.

Following our own learning and research as part of the Justice By Design policy lab course at Stanford Law School, we have formulated the above recommendations to aid in this effort. We hope that they may help in upgrading the site to ensure that it continues to provide valuable aid to its vulnerable target populations, and that the Helpline can maintain and expand its reach.

Blog Design Reviews

Designing an Eviction Help court website

Our team at Stanford Legal Design Lab collaborated with a court, help center team, and community stakeholders in Cincinnati to build an eviction help webpage.

In this video, you can see a walkthrough of the choices we made to make the site as successful as possible in being discoverable, engaging, and usable to tenants and landlords.

It walks through our homepage design choices, and flags some of the important things other legal aid and court partners can do on their websites:

  • Make a clear brand and call to action that is about empowerment
  • Flag your jurisdiction clearly and often
  • Provide distinct pathways & options for the different parties in the case
  • Link to phone numbers and websites of financial assistance, legal assistance, and others who can help with the problem that’s related to the website
  • Give links to people who can help a person who decides they don’t actually want to DIY this legal process
Design Reviews

Designing a Landing Page for Legal Help

What should the landing page of your legal help website look like? What should it say, and what’s its purpose?

Our team has been working with courts and legal aid groups to design websites for the public. From this experience, and reviewing other groups’ websites, we have a few guiding principles for putting together a good landing page for a legal help website — especially one that is serving a variety of different legal issues.

Here is a discussion of the design choices we made on the Virginia Legal Aid Guides website, to discuss the important design/legal principles we were following to help our users.

Watch Video

This video walks through design principles for a good Legal Help webpage design. It covers:

  • Flagging Jurisdiction frequently, to communicate which people the site is for — and who it’s not for. We use frequent references to the state jurisdiction that this site is for.
  • Signal reliability and free accessibility by highlighting the common, known concept of “Legal Aid” and references to the trustworthy group that runs it — in this case Legal Services of Northern Virginia
  • Providing a Bird’s Eye View of the scenarios that the website can help a person with. Many people won’t know whether their life problem will be covered in this website. Give the main categories of scenarios your site can help with, plus some of the most common specific scenarios people might be searching for help with
  • Give Off-Ramps to human services (with phone numbers to call, offices to visit, online intake to fill in) for people who don’t want to be using online guides. Also give off-ramps to other jurisdictions, so they can find help in other places.