As part of the process of building a Coordinated Intake and Referral System, the DC Bar Foundation hosted 13 client focus groups (with 72 participants in total) to better understand the challenges residents have previously experienced trying to access legal aid and what will make this CIR system more user friendly. Our new report, Designing a Coordinated Intake and Referral (CIR) System for Civil Legal Aid in the District of Columbia, compiles these conversations and highlights recommendations that can translate into actionable items for the design and development of the Coordinated Intake and Referral System.
During the focus groups, which were held from December 2021 through April 2022, participants discussed everything from how the system should work to the type of training CIR navigators should receive on a regular basis.
One of the points they emphasized is this: The CIR System can be an innovation that improves the civil legal aid system only if it is truly and sustainably centered on the needs of the people using it. Without this as the anchor point priority, it will just be another piece added to the existing inequitable structure. The CIR navigators are key to realizing this goal. As the face of the CIR System, the navigators’ demeanor and interaction style will largely determine how community members experience the coordinated referral process, beyond placement with an attorney.
Across the focus groups, participants shared various experiences of interacting with system personnel that left them feeling discouraged, disrespected, confused, frustrated, anxious, or alone. However, they insisted that the recipe for good service was not complicated and that the essential ingredient was empathy.
This critical input and their general recommendations will help guide our decision-making as we build a coordinated intake system that centers the user. A copy of the full report is now available. If you have any questions about the report or the coordinated intake system, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.