Building Online Tools for Self Help

VOLUME 5 ISSUE 3December 2007
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Building Online Tools for Self Help

Visit the New York City Civil Court Housing Part website or LawHelp/NY, the Idaho Legal Aid Services website,, or the Georgia Online Justice Community and you’ll notice that all of these websites are taking advantage of online document assembly using one of Pro Bono Net's newest initiatives – National Public Automated Documents Online (NPADO).

NPADO is a document assembly project that hosts interactive online forms for the nonprofit legal aid and access to justice community, and then assembles professional-looking legal documents based on a user’s input.  NPADO lets programs use LexisNexis’s HotDocs Professional, or optionally the Center for Access to Justice and Technology’s A2J Author, to create document assembly content from their existing forms and documents. Templates that are uploaded to the NPADO server can be linked to from legal aid and court websites. From there, they can be made available for advocates, pro bono volunteers, and self-represented litigants. Those users are not required to install HotDocs locally.

Developed with funding from the Legal Services Corporation and, more recently, the State Justice Institute, the NPADO system increases opportunities for self-represented litigants to achieve justice on their own and makes implementing document assembly initiatives easier and less costly for legal aid organizations as well as pro bono and court-based access to justice programs.  Other key partners in this collaborative national initiative include Ohio State Legal Services Assocation, Kavio Software and Capstone Practice Systems, and LexisNexis, which has generously donated software licences to the NPADO and its legal aid partners across the country. 

Currently, 16 states are using NPADO to deliver legal forms online, and another 26 states are actively planning to do so in the coming year.  These early adopters have demonstrated the concrete benefits of document assembly and have come to rely on NPADO to deliver critical services to low-income constituents.

Some project highlights include the following:

California Administrative Office of the Courts, through a partnership with, is using online document assembly to improve its self-help workshops and clinics. With help from JusticeCorps volunteers, self-represented litigants use document assembly to fill in their basic information (name, address, birth date) on their forms. They then participate in a class where a staff attorney introduces the legal issues involved in their cases and helps them fill out the rest of their forms by hand. Currently this project is being piloted in a few jurisdictions, and there are plans to expand. 

“The production of the forms from the computer program greatly reduces litigant fatigue usually generated by the repetitive process of completing by hand the numerous court forms required in a family law proceeding,” said Michelle C. Hopkins, a Family Law attorney at the Los Angeles Superior Court’s Resource Center for Self-Represented Litigants. Hopkins noted that in January 2008, the self help center will offer more than 45 workshops using NPADO and HotDocs.  Each workshop serves up to 12 people.

Idaho Legal Aid Services (ILAS) and the Idaho Supreme Court are collaborating to create online document assembly content. This year they developed several Spanish-language interviews, which help Spanish speakers fill out English-language forms. To see the forms, click

The Idaho Supreme Court, with the support of ILAS, is tracking the number of NPADO-generated forms, and in the first four months after the June 2007 launch, nearly 600 forms had been filed with the courts.

The Jefferson Family Courts, the
Legal Aid Society and the Louisville Pro Bono Consortium initiated a project in Jefferson County to develop forms and instructions for pro se litigants to file simple, uncontested divorce petitions. In February 2007, with funding from the local bar foundation, Legal Aid Society used those forms to develop document assembly content for simple divorces where no children are involved. In the coming year, Legal Aid Society will replicate this initial program for additional court proceedings.

New York
Legal Assistance of Western New York, Inc. (LAWNY) and Legal Services for New York City (LSNY) are working with the courts to create a highly distributed authorship model. They have formed a developer community of attorneys in legal services programs, court personnel and technologists. This partnership establishes strong cooperation between the courts and legal services. This is a ground-breaking joint effort and a new direction in developing interactive pro-se tools. 

"Without NPADO, the Civil Court of the City of New York would not have been able to complete the user-friendly interactive programs we created to assist the court's numerous self-represented users,” said Rochelle Klempner, the Law Secretary for Hon. Fern A. Fisher, the Administrative Judge of the Civil Court of the City of New York.

For more information on NPADO, contact Kate Bladow at

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