As the effects of COVID-19 battered the Memphis economy, thousands of citizens are struggling to pay rent, and the city faces risks of mass evictions. To improve housing stability, NPI Memphis, in partnership with Memphis Area Legal Services and the University of Memphis Law School, put in place a program to match volunteer legal assistance and CARES Act funding with renters and landlords so they could reach settlements and improve housing stability in the area. NPI Memphis needed an applicant intake and matching process that could scale so that they could efficiently leverage the $2M of funds from the CARES Act granted to them by the city and county for housing stability initiatives.
To streamline the hundreds of applications for legal aid that were overwhelming NPI legal clerks, USDR volunteers built an automated intake process that could screen applicants, collect required files and signatures, and generate case files so that legal clerks could focus on client interactions and efficiently hand off cases for assignment.
USDR identified a number of opportunities:
- The Google Form being used to collect applications would receive entries that were not eligible for the program, and legal clerks would spend time doing their best to provide alternative resources for ineligible applicants.
- NPI legal clerk volunteers would call applicants multiple times to gather basic information like birth dates, supporting documents and to collect required signatures.
- Clerks would spend the majority of their time moving client data between documents and legal software, and uploading images of documents sent to them via email or text message.
- It was challenging for an applicant to know where they were in the process and their case could stagnate for days or weeks if they missed a signature. Sometimes applicants re-submitted their applications causing duplicate cases.
USDR volunteers replaced the Google Form with a JotForm that collects required information and automatically filters out ineligible applicants, sending them alternative resources and freeing up legal clerks to work on eligible applications. The intake form now collects all the required data including files, such as lease documents and images, and auto-uploads them to a case file in their legal software.
Automated processes now collect the five signatures required at the relevant stages of the application process and applicants receive automated emails with information about what comes next at each stage of the process.
NPI legal clerks now work from a consolidated case document that is auto-populated with client information from the application form. This case document can then be handed off to their partners at Memphis Area Legal Services and The University of Memphis School of Law for assignment to pro bono legal counsel.
“What I love about my relationship with USDR is they are willing to jump in with their tech expertise and solve problems we didn’t even know we had, let alone how to hire for. Within 3 weeks we launched a fully automated intake process that allows our clerks to focus on helping clients instead of on data collection. I’m so encouraged and I’ve learned so much. Now when we run into problems we know there is a better way to solve it.”
Since launching, over 300 applications have successfully been routed through the new, automated process.
Over 200 evictions were mitigated and settled through the program, and legal clerks can prepare a case in a quarter of the time it used to take.