The Hotline Outcomes Assessment Study, Phase III (2002)

By: Jessica Pearson and Lanae Davis. Published by: Center for Policy Research (CPR). Published in November 2002.

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The Center for Policy Research (CPR) has worked with the project for the Future of Equal Justice (PFEJ) since June 1999 to conduct the Hotline Outcomes Assessment Study, an independent assessment of the effectiveness of using telephone hotlines to provide brief legal advice and referrals to low-income people. This report describes the results of Phase III of the Study, which researched whether clients understand the advice they are given by hotlines, whether they follow up on it, and whether they realize a satisfactory resolution of their problems.


Where an outcome could be determined, Hotline cases were almost evenly split between successful (48%) and unsuccessful (52%) outcomes. When callers understand what they are told to do and follow the advice they are given, they tend to prevail. Most clients who do not act fail to understand the advice they are given or are too intimidated or overwhelmed to attempt the recommended action.

Brief services yielded the highest favorable outcome ratings, followed in order by coaching clients on how to deal with a private party; providing written legal information, and coaching clients on how to proceed pro se in court. Favorable assessments were still lower when clients were instructed on dealing with a government agency or were referred to another agency. Clients who were told to hire a private attorney had the worst outcomes and were the most dissatisfied. Outcomes for housing and consumer cases are most apt to be rated favorably, while family cases are most apt to be pending.

Hotline clients with the best and worst case results had distinct demographic characteristics. Clients with outcomes that were rated most favorably were significantly more likely to be white, English-speaking, educated at least to the eighth-grade level, and have a marital status other than being separated from a spouse. Clients who received the least favorable outcomes were Spanish-speaking, Hispanic, individuals with the lowest education levels, those who reported no income, and those who were separated and lived apart from their spouse.

Many clients face barriers that may affect their ability to follow through on Hotline advice. Many Hotline callers disclosed problems that may affect their ability to handle their legal problem such as: a family disability or a serious health problem; serious transportation problems; depression or fear of an ex-partner or current household member; inflexible work, school, or daycare schedules; or problems reading or speaking English well enough to complete forms and other legal paperwork. While clients with disabilities fared no worse than the average, the other barriers listed above were associated with outcomes that were significantly less favorable. Some types of follow-up actions by the Hotline may boost the chances of callers experiencing favorable results.

Recommendations to increase the ratio of favorable to unfavorable outcomes

  • Hotlines should develop special protocols for dealing with non- English speakers, individuals at the lowest education levels, and those who report no income, possibly including increased support or more extended services.
  • Policymakers should take further steps to evaluate whether Hotlines are an appropriate method of delivering service to non-English speakers.
  • Hotlines should screen callers for certain barriers that are associated with unfavorable outcomes. Hotlines should routinely question clients about a variety of barriers that affect their ability to address their legal problems and obtain successful outcomes. Hotlines should develop protocols for dealing with these clients, possibly including increased support or more extended services.
  • Hotlines should institute or improve follow-up procedures. Hotlines would do well to institute tickler systems flagging cases for a callback to check on the client’s progress. Hotlines should develop or increase their capacity to provide brief services or institute a brief services unit.
  • Hotlines should explore alternative services that are more likely to result in successful outcomes. Hotlines should be aware of the limitations of client satisfaction data and analyze the data they get in ways that maximize their utility. Hotlines should conduct random follow-up telephone interviews with clients.

Categories: Self-Help, Researchers and Academics, Technology, State-Specific, General/Unspecified Clients, Self-Represented Litigants

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