Blog Content and Design

Best practices for information design on legal help websites

Are you in charge of creating a new legal help website? Or are you in the middle of a redesign of an existing one?

Then you are likely struggling with this big, unwieldy question:

How do we organize all of this legal information so that people can find it & use it effectively?

You’re likely have an information organization & design challenge. Your organization likely has a ton of content: guides, FAQs, clinics, hotlines, forms, document assembly tools, event announcements, intake forms, lookups, and more. How do you lay this all out so people can easily find what matters to them, and helps them move forward on resolving their problems?

After working on designing and redesigning legal help websites over the past decade, I wanted to share out what some of the emerging best practices are.

These benchmark ideals can help people who are either creating a new website or going through a major overhaul of their existing one. Many of the best practices for technology and discoverability are elsewhere on this website.

Here I wanted to focus in on the organization of information, and the user pathways through a website.

Thinking of legal help website users

First, orient the project around 3 frequent users of legal aid, court, and other legal help websites.

These 3 common users: the Expert Power User, Returning User, and Novice User should be at the heart of your design. I advocate for segmenting the Expert Power User off on separate channels — and then focusing most of your navigation, home page guidance, and flows towards the Novice and Returning User.

The Legal Help Website Funnel

How should you think of people’s paths through your legal help website? Especially if you are in a court system or other group with many different users, this can feel overwhleming.

For your focus on members of the public, I recommend a particular Funnel: Homepage > Problem Area> Scenario Pages. At this final node, a user gets a rich payoff of the orientation & task tools they will need to both understand their life problem in terms of the legal system, and to start taking action by either applying for services or doing tasks themselves (like filling in forms or looking up their case).

Your website should help them easily navigate down this funneled path:

  1. From the homepage, with its many offerings, signals of authority, and different value offers to users
  2. To the Problem Area that they are experiencing, with a landing page dedicated to that zone of problems
  3. Then to the Scenario Area that best corresponds to what’s happening in their life. This is a separate page, framed around the life problem they’re experiencing or the goal they have.
  4. On this Scenario-specific page, then presenting the 4 main kinds of content people need to get oriented, and start taking common tasks:
    • Bird’s Eye View definition and map of what the legal system has to offer to people in this scenario, including the phases of dealing with this problem
    • Step-by-step guide to going through these phases (most common version of people’s justice journeys, not including all of the detours and exceptions)
    • Service menu of which organizations (court help centers, legal aid groups, community justice workers, legal tech tools, private attorneys, etc.) can help them at which phase of their journey. What do they offer? Who is eligible and how likely are you to get served? What’s their contact info?
    • Forms & Form Tools for those phases of the legal process that require formal paperwork, so the Returning User especially can start doing these form tasks
    • FAQs, LiveChat, and Customer Service Line to get assistance for unique situations, more support if someone has limited capabilities and clarification about exactly what it all means.
    • If available, Case Lookup to go straight to one’s own case details and start understanding the current case process
    • If available, Sign Up/Intake Form for the person to apply for help services right then and there, as they are getting oriented into this space.

The website team might think about other things to feature on these Scenario pages, like videos, chatbots, slideshows, or other interactive features. But the above combination of information types & format seem to cover the main needs & intents that most legal help website users have.

Homepage strategy

Your homepage should do 2 main things. It doesn’t need to have a lot of information pay-offs (with guides and tools right there). Rather it should be about signalling authority & jurisdiction, and helping people navigate to the right zone of the website to go to.

1. Communicate the value to users

  • What jurisdiction it’s for (and what it’s not)
  • Authenticity, authority of the website

2. Quickly, clearly separate users into right path

  1. Novice users there for help
  2. Returning users looking for more info
  3. Power users there for expert content

Problem-Area Landing Page

Have a home-base for the broad category of problems a person might be having, and help them figure out exactly which scenario / process fits their life situation.

Start with broadest category: Family, Housing, Domestic Violence, Traffic, Money & Debt, Court Basics, Records, etc.

Bring the person to this broad Problem-Area Landing Page & present the most common scenarios within them

  1. Present the most common scenarios in any given problem
    1. Using legal needs surveys or past filing data
    2. For example, “Filing for a divorce” , “Responding to a divorce” or “I got sued for eviction” or “My rental home has bad living conditions
    3. State the scenarios in people’s phrases, to easily match to their search queries & mental models
  2. Provide links, forms, and shortcuts to expert content for Returning Users
  3. Direct Novice Users to a Scenario Page, where they can find guidance

Scenario-Specific (Payoff) Page

For this given scenario, provide the user with key information, categorized as:

  • Quick Bird’s Eye View of Common Phases of dealing with this problem
  • Detailed Process steps in each phase that are the most common sequence a person can go to, to resolve this specific problem
  • Service Menu — who or what can help them
    • Not a laundry list! 
    • Could be on spectrum of DIY to Unbundled to Full Service
    • Could be prioritized by most widely available right now
    • Make it easy for a person to see who can help them, for which process step, and which thing to contact
  • Forms & Form Tools laid out with both quick links
  • Intake or Signup form to get started seeking out human help
  • Case Lookup if available, to understand one’s own case details
  • FAQs and LiveChat to help a person understand if they’re struggling with this info

The visitors to this page are likely early in their journey & need help. Put prominent connections to LiveChat, help phone line, and more there.

In addition to this, a court help page or statewide law help page might also invest in another branch of pages: teh Forms Landing Pages.

Forms Landing Page

For any form or form tool, provide a webpage with context, instructions, and related tasks

  • Many people will reach this page directly from a Search Engine (or AI platform)
  • Explain exactly what this form is for (and what it’s not)
    • Have user-friendly, plain language description of form to make it more SEO-friendly
    • Have Schema Markup and metatags, so that search engines can find and link to this form more directly
    • Make jurisdiction very clear
    • Explain who/when they should use this. Link out to guide pages to give context
    • Provide instructions, videos, FAQs
    • Explain how to use it, how to pay for it/fee waiver, how to efile or file in person

This forms page should be a one-stop shop for a Returning User or a Power Expert User to find the right form, know the instructions on filling it in, seeing any tech tool to help them fill it in, and then knowing exactly how to file it in person or electronically.


I will continue to update this post as more data and anecdotes come in, about which kinds of websites best serve the different users in the public. Please let me know your thoughts, about what strategies for information design and overall website flow work best in your region.

Presentation Slides of this Article

Blog SEO and discovery

Backlink Strategy for Legal Help Websites

Who links to your legal help website?

The more other websites that link to you — especially government or educational ones — the higher your website will climb on search results.

This is called a ‘backlink’ strategy. Search engines look to the web of who is linking to who to determine which sites are valuable, relevant, and authoritative. If a website ending with a domain like .gov, .org, or .edu is linking to a legal help website, these ‘backlinks’ make search engines more confident that your site is worthwhile & authoritative.

To that end, we encourage legal help website administrators to spend some time crafting a local Backlinks Initiative, to get more robust links among authoritative government and educational institutions.

Our cohort members had advice on how to make an effective backlinks strategy in the public interest space:

Backlinks Strategy for Legal Help Website

  1. Identify Your Regional Ecosystem of Legal-Related Websites. Who are the websites that are helping people with issues related to legal and court issues? You can map who is providing services generally, and also run some Google Searches to see what is showing up for people online. Some of the common actors in a local ecosystem will be:
    • Governor’s office
    • Mayor and/or City Council
    • Attorney General, particularly the consumer protection division
    • Legal aid providers
    • Court main website
    • Court self-help/ ‘for the public’ website
    • Housing agency
    • Consumer protection agency/division
    • County law librarians
    • Law school librarians
    • Law school clinics
    • Local news outlets
  2. Reach out to the Leaders & Web Team for each of these organizations. This could be an email or a call to the organization, in order to
    • Introduce your legal help website & your team
    • Ask if their team might be willing to link to your overall website, or even to specific pages within your website that might help their websites’ visitors
    • Offer a link exchange, where you would post their website for your visitors who might benefit from their services
    • Offer pre-formatted text or code that they can use right away. You can borrow from the text our Lab has already written that lists out & explains the legal help websites in each state.

Hopefully the teams will be responsive, and you can work with them to get the links set up. Ideally, they will not just be posting a link to your site, but also including text to describe it & its value to their visitors.

Here are some of the strategies & experiences that our cohort members reflected on about backlinks:

Do it early, but also refresh later on: Many websites do a backlink outreach campaign when they just launch. But it’s important to refresh both your landscape analysis & your outreach to get more links every year. Check in on where else people in your jurisdiction might be visiting, and approach these sites to link to you.

Be aware that some links may cause trouble: Your website might do a link exchange, where you are linking out to the organizations that link to you. Usually this is a net positive, when it comes to increasing your apparent authority to search engines. Sometimes, though, court or legal aid websites may have security flaws — like invalid security protocols — that makes search engines distrust them. If your site is connected to this site, the search engine might lower your rank. You can try to reach out to these sites to help them improve their security features, so this problem is resolved.

If you update your site, be sure to keep your previous URLs. If you are going through a site overhaul, especially when you are transitioning to new URLs for your content, you don’t want to lose out on all the incoming links you may already have. There might be lots of sites that are linking to your old URLs. That both drives users to your site, and it increases your authority to search engines. If you keep your old URLs intact, but then redirect through 301s to the new content/URL, you can preserve this authority & ensure that the old links don’t break.

You can also ask other sites to include your logo, and can give them pre-made code to help them do this easily.

Some possible partners, especially courts, might ask to see if your website is ‘unbiased’ and has resources for both sides of a conflict. They may only be willing to link to your site if it can demonstrate this lack of bias. Not all courts will have this requirement, but it is worth preparing for.

Getting links up can be slow, but if you are persistent, you can find the right person on the team who controls the website & then work with them to get it online.

Keep track on your data analytics! Can you confirm when the backlinks were put onto the site? Watch to see if your visitors or rank change in Google Analytics or Search Console. Then you can communicate back improvements to the partners, reaffirming the value of the backlinks & also decide where else you might do more links.

Prepare the right links for the right partner. For some backlink partners, you might just want their visitors to come to your homepage. This might be true for someone coming from a library or a general legal aid page. But if the backlink partner might have someone with a particular issue — like it’s likely the visitor has a debt, employment, landlord-tenant, or family law issue — you can ask if the partner will link to specific guides, FAQs, or media for this issue. That way the link could be more relevant to the visitor — so they go straight to the most helpful resource without having to navigate your site.


Legal quizzes to build knowledge

What makes for a good legal help website? We’ve been talking about this in our Legal Help Online Cohort. One of the big indicators of success is building people’s knowledge about their rights and the law. Hopefully a person will know how the local law might play out in their situation, and they have a sense of what their options are in the system.

To that end, some websites have put interactive quizzes on their website. These quizzes show a written scenario or a short animated video with fictional characters (sometimes cats). It’s a fact pattern of a life problem — like a grandparent wanting to see grandkids, or an employee worried about the safety of the company truck who then quits.

The quiz asks a multiple choice, yes/no question to the user. Can they apply the law to the person’s situation?

The quiz lets them know instantly if they’ve understood the law correctly, and if they can apply it to a situation.

These quizzes can play a few different beneficial roles:

  1. They help a person build their legal capability. By applying the legal information the website has tried to convey to them, the person will exercise the knowledge — like if they were playing a navigator to a friend. Applying knowledge is a key way to making it stick. Even if they get it wrong, they’re much more likely to retain the knowledge!
  2. They help the website administrators track success. Does the person not just ‘like’ the page — but actually benefit from it? Knowing that they’re getting the quiz questions right is a key indicator that the website is doing its job of building legal capability.
  3. They make the website more lively and engaging. Games and quizzes are enticing — a nice break from paragraphs of text. And they can help make a person feel smarter and more confident, that they know something & are affirmed in this. They might now have more confidence to take on their own justice issue, if they know they can help others.