Empowerment and Equity: A Letter from the Executive Director

Executive Director Susan Choe reflects on 2022 and what the Ohio Legal Help team, partners and Ohio families have been able to accomplish over the last year.

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Not long ago, a user wrote to us about their experience using the information, forms, and resources on Ohio Legal Help. Jean* told us, “I feel confident that you have prepared me to take charge and not stress about this whole process. God bless you all and thanks for all the work you wonderful people do! I know what I have to do now.”

Jean’s message tells us something important – providing free, accurate legal information and resources helps Ohio families feel empowered to take action to resolve their legal issues. In 2022, we were able to serve nearly 800,000 families as we worked to fulfill our mission to remove barriers so that all Ohioans can understand their legal options and make informed decisions.

Throughout the last year, we focused on equitable access to the civil justice system. We conducted a study to learn about Black Ohioans’ perceptions of and trust in the civil justice system. We learned that Black Ohioans have low levels of trust in the civil justice system, and many perceive the system to be unfair and biased. However, Black Ohioans who had direct experience with the civil justice system had more positive attitudes about and a higher level of trust in the system. Earning the trust of Black Ohioans is a critical bridge to closing the civil justice gap.

The study also told us that Black Ohioans trust racial equity and community-impact focused organizations. Respondents reported trusting the NAACP the most, followed closely by the Urban League and 211/United Way. Partnering with trusted organizations is an essential strategy for helping Black Ohioans navigate and gain trust in the civil justice system.

Prior to the findings of the study, we partnered with the Cleveland Branch of the NAACP. Through this partnership, we built a new intake tool that makes it easier, more secure, and more convenient for people to file racial discrimination complaints with the NAACP. We hope that meaningful partnerships like these will provide more access to legal information and empower Ohioans to solve their legal issues.

A key component of equity and empowerment is removing barriers to access to the civil justice system. We always consider the diversity and needs of our users as we build new tools. Language should never be a barrier to accessing legal information and resources. In 2022, Ohio Legal Help launched a Spanish-language version of the website with over 203,000 words translated through a generous grant from the Ohio State Bar Foundation. This includes information on core issues such as housing, family law, consumer matters, public benefits, immigration, domestic violence and sealing of criminal records. Providing this website gives our Spanish-speaking users more equitable access to the civil justice system.

This year our work was recognized nationally - an independent evaluation conducted by the Pew Charitable Trusts recognized Ohio Legal Help as a national leader in providing accessible and high-quality legal information, highlighting our digital inclusiveness strategies as best practices that enable persons with low educational levels or who have disabilities to use our site. Much like language, we believe that literacy levels and disabilities should never be a barrier to accessing legal information.

The critical nature and value of this work has also been recognized at the state level with increased requests for expansion of our content and self-help tools from our judicial, clerk of courts, legal aid, local bar, and non-profit partners. This year we launched our youth and foster law content module through a partnership with the Ohio Youth Advisory Board. By listening to invaluable partners like the Youth Advisory Board, we can learn how best to serve vulnerable populations and communicate legal information effectively.

The last two years I’ve written letters about the struggles exacerbated by the pandemic, the resiliency of Ohioans, and my gratitude for our partners, funders, staff, Board, and Advisory Committee. Each letter has highlighted our users, and how they are our most important voice in deciding what content is offered and how our tools are designed. Dan* from Summit County told us, “I love that your organization is simply here to help by providing information straight up and free. It’s refreshing and a relief.”

As we go forward into 2023, my team and I will continue working to provide accurate and up-to-date information, court forms and resources. This holiday season and beyond, we are calling upon you to help us serve more families who need relief. Share our posts on social media; forward our email updates to your colleagues; donate to us to help us create more content, add new website features, and continue outreach to the most vulnerable populations in Ohio.

Together we can continue to empower Ohioans to resolve their legal issues.

*Name has been changed to protect user privacy.