Final Report on the Assessment of Telephone-Based Legal Assistance Provided by Pennsylvania Legal Aid Programs Funded Under the Access to Justice Act

By: Kenneth A. Smith, Kelly Thayer, Kathy Garwold, Resource for Great Programs Published by: Pennsylvania IOLTA Board (PAIOLTA) Supreme Court of Pennsylvania Pennsylvania State Government. Published inJuly 2012

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This report presents the principal findings and conclusions from a comprehensive evaluation of telephone-based legal assistance being provided by Pennsylvania legal aid programs. It integrates and summarizes the two major elements of the evaluation, each described in a separate report: (1) The Client Survey – telephone interviews of a representative sample of 400 clients whose cases were closed by advice-only or brief services from Pennsylvania legal aid programs in the last six months in 2011, and (2) The Best-Practices Assessment – a self-assessment of best practices applied by Pennsylvania legal aid programs in the operations of their telephone-based intake and legal assistance systems.


The Pennsylvania IOLTA Board undertook a comprehensive evaluation of telephone-based intake and legal assistance systems operated by legal aid programs described in this report. To conduct the Study, the Pennsylvania IOLTA Board invited ten major Pennsylvania legal aid programs that provide telephone-based intake and legal assistance to participate in the client survey. They also established a steering committee that included representatives of several of the AJA-funded legal aid programs, Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network, Inc. (PLAN, Inc.), and the IOLTA Board. In addition, they engaged The Resource for Great Programs, Inc., to provide technical assistance with the effort.

Data from the Client Survey were used to explore the following questions: What actions, if any, did clients take after receiving legal advice and assistance? Was the advice helpful? What outcomes resulted from the legal assistance clients received? Did contacting Legal Aid help clients achieve their goals? Were clients satisfied with the results?


The Evidence Shows that Advice and Brief Services Are Not Only Effective; They Are Essential.

  • One out of every three recipients of advice-only or brief services reported positive outcomes that were tangible and measurable. A majority of recipients met some or all of their goals in seeking legal help. Almost half of the cases produced complete or partial solutions to clients’ legal problems. Six out of ten recipients achieved results they deemed favorable. Eight out of ten recipients reported that the legal aid program was helpful to them. Legal aid programs’ telephone-based legal assistance systems are more than “hotlines.” They are serving as the “front door” of a sophisticated, multi-faceted service delivery approach that performs intake, triage, and case assignment by telephone for the whole of array of legal services offered by the program. These services include advice-only and brief services (over the telephone or at a program office), appointments at legal clinics or with pro bono attorneys, or extended legal representation by program advocates if the situation and available resources warrant it.
  • The majority of clients of telephone-based assistance receive follow-up from the program after having been served. Pennsylvania legal aid clients are benefiting from best practices developed through a decade of research and technical assistance by the legal aid community on telephone-based legal assistance. The vast majority – between 79 and 96 percent – of clients served by telephone took follow-up action on the advice they were given. Between 50 and 88 percent of those who took action said it worked “very well” for them. Telephone-based services achieved significant results for clients. Approximately half of clients achieved their goals “completely” or “somewhat.” Twenty-nine percent achieved positive outcomes beyond receipt of advice-only or brief services.
  • One-half of the clients served by telephone achieved complete or partial solutions to their legal problems. This was slightly higher than the results of a previous, national evaluation of legal hotlines conducted in 2002. Six out of ten clients considered the results of their cases to be “favorable.” Three out of four clients of telephone-based assistance said their experience was positive.

Categories: Self-Help, Legal Aid Practitioners, Policymakers and Funders, Technology, Self-Represented Litigants

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