By Michael Walters, Legal Hotline Managing Attorney, Pro Seniors, Inc. and Project Specialist, CERA
Recently, the Center for Elder Rights Advocacy began a national study on measuring more detailed outcomes on a legal hotline. Currently, Elder Law of Michigan, the Florida Senior Legal Helpline, and the Pro Seniors’ Legal Hotline in Ohio are participating in the study. The involvement of these three hotlines is significant, as they represent several of the highest volume senior hotlines in the United States (in 2014 the three hotlines closed 12,817 cases, representing approximately one-quarter of the total number of hotline cases closed in the United States for 2014). The number of cases and clients reached through those hotlines should provide a representative sample of senior hotlines throughout the U.S.
Measuring detailed outcomes on a hotline is a challenging task, because hotline calls often come when the problem is first identified. In areas such as debt collection, one call is often sufficient to resolve the client’s problem. But in other areas, such as eviction, legal advice can “set the table” for later resolution of the problem. Fortunately, hotline callers often follow up for more advice as their legal issue develops, and it is hoped that we can capture more specific detailed outcomes on follow up calls.
The study, in conjunction with the United States Administration on Aging, officially began May 1. Data is therefore very preliminary. The hotline attorneys at Pro Seniors began experimenting with capturing detailed outcomes in preparation for the study in April.
The list of possible detailed outcomes contains a list of well over one hundred possible outcomes. Possible outcomes range from very general outcomes, (e.g., “Improved understanding of legal rights/entitlements/responsibilities/obligations” and “Increased awareness of ways to avoid or resolve legal problems”) to more specific detailed outcomes under particular legal problem codes (e.g., “Obtained tool to effectively end debt-related harassment” under Consumer/Finance).
Preliminary data, not surprisingly, indicates that general detailed outcomes are selected with overwhelming frequency over more specific detailed outcomes. In the hotline context, “[a]ccuracy of public benefits eligibility confirmed/corrected” would be appropriate when explaining Medicaid eligibility to a client. “Income increased (current/new program eligibility)” would be rare, and would more likely apply to a full service unit. So far, the most common detailed outcomes recorded (at Pro Seniors) are in the general category, with “Improved understanding of legal rights/entitlements/responsibilities/obligations” constituting over 40% of recorded outcomes in cases in which a detailed outcome was selected. Both Michigan and Florida have recorded similar results
It is hoped that through the capture of detailed outcomes, senior helplines can help produce evidence based data to show the value of the advice given by senior helplines. Intuitively, we know from client feedback that we are a critical legal resource for seniors, but this study should allow us to produce more detailed data to demonstrate that value we have to our clients.