overview
Michigan Legal Help is an online legal self-help website, created to help people manage simple civil legal problems without the assistance of a lawyer. Partnered with several local self-help centers and local law institutions, the website is tailored for use by the general public and written to be accessible for visitors without advanced degrees. Though it provides information on several different types of legal issues, it is most commonly used by those seeking assistance with family, abuse or housing needs.

This multi-step project involved a complete analysis of the website, its goals and its users, including preliminary market research, user surveys and interviews, a heuristic analysis of the main available features and usability tests. 
Our goal was to determine the main pain points for users and how they could potentially be improved.
understanding the environment
Understanding the current website and its competitors was our first objective. Through mapping the typical path of a user searching for common information on housing, we demonstrated how Michigan Legal Help’s redundant organizational structure often damaged the site’s efficiency. Looking at similar websites such as Legal Zoom or Avvo proved that other online options provided more varied, responsive and customizable search options that made their sites easier to navigate.

Michigan Legal Help Interaction Map

Competitive Analysis of Offerings Similar to Michigan Legal Help

knowing the audience
While this project involved several different steps, the overarching goal for the project was to improve user onboarding and engagement. Our team focused on building a complete picture of the service's target audience and the major findings of our seven initial interviews and a survey launched with 86 responses proved that Michigan Legal Help was filling a need. 
However, we highlighted four main issues in how people found legal information:
- When in need, people ask friends or family first.
- Overall, people consider online information less credible.
- People like when legalese is translated into plain language.
- None of interviewees were aware of MLH.

Persona of Typical MLH User Based on Initial Interviews and Surveys

helping them help the user
Using Nielsen’s heuristic guidelines to analyze the Michigan Legal Help website, we discovered two primary weaknesses that could be improved: information overload and insufficient navigation. 
Notable observations included: 
- Excess introductory text on main pages hid important content.
- Repetitive navigation options complicated the design.
- County selection process forced users to scan each option.
- Internal links forced users to new pages.
- Drop-down selection was difficult on mobile devices.
- Search function did not display accurate filter information.
- The featured introductory video is was inconspicuous.
- The pop-up bar looked like an unwanted advertisement.
Our tests with seven actual users proved those initial findings as participants were tempted to just Google answers instead of following through with the process. The test administered to our volunteers consisted of nine challenges involving multiple features and functionalities of Michigan Legal Help’s pages. A pre-test questionnaire and a post-test questionnaire were used to obtain background information and debrief their behavior and attitudes before and after the test. Several usability issues of the website were highlighted in this process:
 - Search results failed to help users find information.
- Overwhelming textual information affected user performance.
- Poorly organized content confused and frustrated participants.
- The site offers too many social media oriented “share options.”
- Users didn't realize that location would affect the things they see on the page.

Search Result Error Captured in MLH Usability Test

To analyze the result of the usability test, our team came together and discussed in detail the paths each user took when performing the tasks, the difficulties they encountered and their confusion about particular website elements. Quantitative data such as success rate and completion time of tasks and questionnaire score were also calculated and used to support our findings and recommendations. 
In response to our overall findings, our recommendations for improving the site focused on tackling three main issues: 

Minimizing the amount of text overall:
- Simplify the navigation.
- Use better titles for categories, for example changing “Welcome” to “Home”
or separating the information found under headers like “Organizations & Courts.” 
- Create a Table of Contents with shortcuts on page to specific tools/information.
Highlighting the importance of location / county selection:
- Replace paragraph on first page with “Select a County!”
- Clearly explain how the choice affects the information.
- Add a field to type in county OR zip code.
Streamlining the site's search functions​​​​​​:
- Make sure the search recognizes natural language (ex: “I want to file a divorce”).

Additionally, as many of our participants were unaware that Michigan Legal Help was available as a resource, we also recommended that the organization adjust its outreach strategies. At the time, courthouses were the target of their advertising push. However, it was noted in our discussions that by the time an individual arrived at the courthouse and saw the flyers or pamphlets it might already be too late for the website to truly benefit them.

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