How CiviLaw.Tech uses Jotform Enterprise to bridge the justice gap

CiviLaw.Tech uses Jotform Enterprise to bridge the justice gap and save lives by helping people suffering from domestic abuse, sexual assault, and sexual harassment seek protection via the court system.

When the courts requested help to streamline the protection order filing process, CiviLaw.Tech used Jotform Enterprise to create a secure online form with conditional formatting so individuals could quickly request protection on any device, resulting in typed requests that are easier to read and process.

“While working as the associate director for the Law Library at the University of Missouri–Kansas City, I realized that the intersection of law and technology was the future,” says Ayyoub Ajmi, founder of CiviLaw.Tech

By applying the power of technology to the legal field, I could provide a huge service, especially to disadvantaged people who are priced out of the justice system. I want to be in the business of saving lives.

Ayyoub Ajmi, Founder, CiviLaw.Tech

Spurred by his interest in law and technology, Ajmi completed his JD at the University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law. As part of his studies, he worked with regional legal aid organizations to understand the needs of their clients. To qualify for legal aid, in most cases, you must have an annual income below 125 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. Of those who qualify, 75 percent don’t get help because there aren’t enough resources.

“All of these organizations strive to provide legal help, but unfortunately, the demand vastly exceeds the resources available,” says Ajmi. “That’s where technology can fill the gap.”

Saving time and lives with Jotform Enterprise

Before COVID-19 hit, the courts approached Ajmi about creating a better system for individuals to file protection orders. The existing system involved 27- and 35-page packets that sometimes took individuals an entire day to understand and fill out. People often couldn’t distinguish between the forms needed to protect children versus domestic partners or protect against stalking versus abuse. “With Jotform Enterprise, we were able to fix that,” says Ajmi.

We selected Jotform Enterprise because of its ease of use, the customer support provided, and the dedicated server available to protect the user’s private information. I’ve used Jotform since the product launched, so I know how no-code and low-code tools like Jotform Enterprise can make a huge impact with very little effort from the user.

When COVID-19 limited access to the courtrooms, self-represented litigants could still file for protection but couldn’t receive guidance at the courts or help centers staffed by volunteers and nonprofits.

To make matters worse, the rate of abuse against children increased when stay-at-home orders were in effect due to COVID-19. Children were no longer in school or seeing other adults who could notice and report signs of abuse on their behalf.

Jotform Enterprise came to the rescue.

With Jotform Enterprise, Ajmi and his team created the Kansas Protection Order Portal (KSPOP) in just under two months. The system enables anyone in Kansas with a mobile or Wi-Fi connection to file a protection order from any device without assistance.

Ajmi and his team replaced the dozens of pages people typically received from the courts with a short, guided online interview using plain language and basic questions that anyone could understand.

With Jotform’s Smart PDF Forms builder, the information flows to protection order petitions using templates on the back end.

“The Smart PDF builder is very helpful because the courts need the online petition to look exactly like the print petition,” says Ajmi. As a result, the courts accept 100 percent of the petitions filed through his system. The only difference is that everything is typed in the online forms. 

The judges love that they no longer have to read handwritten petitions because they rely on that information to make their decisions. If they can’t decipher the written description of the abuse, the relief may be delayed.

Unlike the paper forms, Jotform Enterprise enables Ajmi to ask users a question once and use that information — a birthdate, for example — to populate multiple fields or to trigger related demographic information.

There’s also a psychological benefit to reducing redundant questions. Studies have shown that people in trauma relive their experiences when asked about them.

Additionally, Ajmi’s team uses conditional logic to determine the petition each person needs to file and which resources to link to if the person filing doesn’t qualify for a certain type of protection.

Delivering unwavering customer support with Jotform Enterprise 

As a small business owner who promises unwavering support on his website, customer service played a critical role in Ajmi’s decision to select Jotform Enterprise as his technology partner.

“My biggest fear in developing this system was that something would happen to delay the services,” he says. “By law, when someone files a petition, the court must answer in 24 hours. It’s not acceptable to have a delay.” If anything happens, Ajmi needs someone reliable who can see what’s wrong and fix it — fast.

There is no way I could have done this on my own. I feel comfortable doing this now because I have a dedicated team from Jotform Enterprise.

I’ve gotten to know them. I can ask them anything and share ideas about possible new features. If I find something isn’t working as I expected, I can contact them, and it’s up and running in a reasonable time.”

Ajmi also leans on his support team for help with backups.

 My Jotform Enterprise customer success team is like having a whole team of system administrators, security professionals, and customer service all in one email. There are tons of other products, but they don’t provide the same support as Jotform Enterprise.

Measuring the impact on the community

Using Jotform’s Report Builder, Ajmi’s team can determine the average time spent on protection petitions, the number of submissions, which petitions are filed most often, and submissions by week and month.

In Kansas, 62 percent of petitions statewide are submitted through Ajmi’s Jotform Enterprise system, and the percentage is increasing. “I like what the advocates do to help people at risk, and I don’t want to take that away,” he says. “So we’re finding ways to bring them in. We’re considering embedding a chat option, so an advocate can be there if someone wants personal assistance.”

When advocates meet with individuals at a help center, they typically take notes about the case, transfer their notes to a Word document that matches the most applicable petition, meet with the person again to ensure the information is accurate, and have them sign and submit the petition.

“Now they can simply sit with the person to fill out the online form we created with Jotform Enterprise and submit their petition straight away,” says Ajmi.

Ajmi hosts lectures to educate lawyers about the benefits of using no-code and low-code systems like Jotform Enterprise to increase efficiency and reduce the overall cost to their clients. “Everyone wins,” he says.

Committed to innovation

Because Ajmi has dedicated his career to solving problems with creative, innovative technology, he appreciates Jotform’s commitment to innovation.

Every month, I learn about something new with Jotform Enterprise. I don’t know how they keep up with it because it’s been going on for years.

I love the widgets, tabs, responsive design, and all the fields that make the forms look nice and modern,” he says.

Ajmi was thrilled when Jotform Enterprise announced its e-signature capability, which saved him from paying for digital signatures every month.

Now I can collect legally binding signatures for free with Jotform,” he exclaimed. “It’s amazing!

His team also took advantage of the Auto-Delete Submissions feature in Jotform Enterprise to automate their strict retention policy, which prevents data from being kept beyond a hearing date. “The new auto-delete feature gives us enough time to access the data for the hearing and any follow-ups, and then everything is deleted after 30 days,” says Ajmi.

Protecting clients with a secure experience

People who seek protection through the court system are often in a very vulnerable position. Some live with their abusers, who have access to their computer or phone. The time between filing a protection order and receiving protection is often the most dangerous for victims. Ajmi’s team incorporated into their system a way for petition filers to safely exit the form without saving their information and be directed somewhere else.

When a petition is filled out, it has to happen quickly, and the data needs to be highly secure. Filers often provide sensitive information, including date of birth, social security number, the names of children, and the name of the abuser.

“That’s why we have a Jotform Enterprise account,” says Ajmi. “We get a dedicated, highly secured server, and the data is backed up. If the court says they didn’t get a notification for a petition, it’s no problem. We can go into the server and retrieve a copy for them.”

Serving a more diverse population with translation tools

Having the ability to translate forms wasn’t a priority in Ajmi’s initial scope of work. But as more people started using the system he created, it became necessary.

Courtrooms have to provide services equally to everyone, including the right to an interpreter. When Ajmi’s team moved the petition forms online, they had to offer that same access. They used Jotform’s translation tool to make all their forms available in Spanish, enabling users to click a dropdown menu to change the language.

With Jotform’s translation tool, I don’t have to have multiple forms to serve multiple language needs; I have one form with two translations.

Leveraging low- and no-code solutions to improve access to legal advice

Ajmi believes no-code and low-code solutions like Jotform Enterprise are a no-brainer.

“It’s so easy to use, and you can use it without the support of a programmer,” he says.

Jotform Enterprise takes care of all the hard questions, like, ‘How can I get this signature to work?’ and ‘How am I going to make this secure?’ so you can focus on what you do best: helping people and translating the law in a way that people can understand.

He notes that while he has started by replacing forms that make a significant impact on people’s lives, there are hundreds of forms used by national, state, and local government entities that could easily be converted to online forms.

Expanding upon a vision of saving lives

For the second phase of his project, Ajmi and his team are using the Jotform API to build a connection between Jotform Enterprise and the case management system, so the online forms, PDF generator, and API will work together to automatically file petitions with the courts and put them in the case management system.

In addition to his plan to expand his Protection Order Portal to other states, Ajmi built another system using Jotform Enterprise to help people fill out a petition to clear their criminal records within the state of Missouri.

“Expungement is also a very complex process, but we’ve made it simple using the same conditional logic and process,” he says.

No-code solutions are the key to a brighter future

For Ajmi, there is no looking back. He sees a future full of opportunities to create positive, lasting change with no-code solutions.

My clients are amazed by how fast we can pull things together with Jotform Enterprise. This is literally the future.

Some institutions hire developers and spend millions of dollars to create complex systems, but Ajmi contends that most of what’s needed doesn’t require that.

With Jotform Enterprise, we can achieve our goals quickly, economically, and most importantly, with security. We’re not talking about artificial intelligence (AI) or complicated machine learning. Jotform Enterprise is a robust tool that anyone can use to save time and create change.

“Organizations that run largely on donations and government funding (nonprofits, education, NGOs) now have the same tools that the tech giants have, but at a fraction of the price,” he says. “Companies like Jotform Enterprise have a huge opportunity to create a lot of good.”

Ajmi sees the success that healthcare providers and government agencies experienced using Jotform Enterprise to navigate COVID-19 as a model for those working to improve access to justice. “Access to justice is a persistent problem,” Ajmi says. But as he has clearly proven, there is hope.


Read how Jotform Enterprise helped Marin County and One to One Health navigate COVID-19, or contact us to explore how you can use Jotform Enterprise to power your vision for a better world.

AUTHOR
Lainie is a marketing communications manager at Jotform. With a passion for content that moves audiences and builds communities, she’s written for global firms, small independents, and nonprofits. Outside of work, Lainie enjoys live music, gardening, travel, volunteering, and the outdoors. You can reach Lainie through her contact form.

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