[Editor's Note: The following post is by the Shriver Center’s Web and e-Communications Director, Michelle Nicolet. It shares data from a recent survey by editors of the Clearinghouse Review on the use of online tools and resources by legal aid advocates. We asked Michelle if she would write up the results of the survey in a guest blog post for technola, and she was kind enough to agree. We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. –M]
Legal aid advocates have an array of online resources at their fingertips. Moreover, the growth of social media offers new ways for advocates to connect with and learn from one another. But which resources are advocates using? A recent survey conducted by the Editorial Team of Clearinghouse Review: Journal of Poverty Law and Policy attempted to learn more about poverty lawyers’ current use of online resources.
The survey, conducted in April and May 2011, received 285 responses from legal services and other advocates working in 43 states. By a wide margin, the most popular online resource used for legal research or professional development is listservs, which are used by 81% of respondents. Other popular resources include government websites (72.9%), webinars and webinar recordings (64.4%), Westlaw (53.5%), statewide websites (53.5%), and the respondents’ own programs’ websites or intranets (48.9%). Lesser used resources include podcasts (7%) and law-related blogs or “blawgs” (25.1%).
Respondents show more willingness to read online than ever before. When asked how an online-only version of Clearinghouse Review would affect their use of the journal, 38% said they would be more likely to read the Review, and 48% said their use of the Review would not be affected. Only 14% of respondents said that they would be less likely to read the Review if it were only available online. This is a significant shift from just a few years ago. In a 2007 survey, 81% of respondents reported that they did not regularly read Clearinghouse Review online.
Some of the increased willingness to use online resources may be traced to the availability of content on mobile devices. Over 45% of respondents to the survey reported reading web content on a mobile phone or tablet device, with 73% of those reporting that they read content on a mobile device daily. Clearly, the next generation of legal aid websites should be mobile-friendly to ensure the broadest accessibility by advocates.
Only 29.1% of respondents indicated that they use RSS newsfeeds to stay on top of relevant news and information. Although this is a slightly higher percentage than reported in a similar 2007 survey, it still seems surprisingly low and possibly presents an opportunity for training.
In addition, although more respondents reported using social media than in earlier surveys, professional use of social media is still quite limited. The most popular network for professional use, LinkedIn, is still not used by a majority of respondents. Even Facebook and YouTube, which a majority of respondents reported using for personal reasons, are scarcely used by respondents to connect with one another professionally. The potential impact of social networking to support communication and collaboration around poor people’s issues remains largely unrealized in the legal services community.
The editors of Clearinghouse Review are grateful to the survey respondents for their input. Through the Review and related content, we seek to promote coordinated affirmative advocacy efforts, support an emerging generation of advocates for social and economic justice, and foster a sense of community among legal aid and poverty lawyers. The information collected in this and other surveys will be extraordinarily helpful as we plan future content for Clearinghouse Review.