One of the important Constitutional rights we have in the United States is the right to a fair trial, including having effective legal representation, regardless of whether we can afford an attorney. This means that public defenders serve across the country at state and federal levels to provide representation to those who cannot pay for legal aid.
I was approached by the Federal Public Defender of South Florida to create a new website to help them serve their clients more effectively. My first step was to understand more about how they engage with their clients – and how their clients’ situations might present unique requirements.
They shared that a primary challenge is in helping their clients, and especially the clients’ family members, understand the criminal process. By definition their clients are impoverished, and as such, many have had a lifetime of limited access to education; some also have limited ability to communicate in English. As a result, standard legal communications, as well as legal and court processes, are overly confusing and complex.
We determined that the website should offer a clear and concise guide to the issues surrounding a criminal case. We would provide a broad explanation of the criminal justice process, along with nuts and bolts information about location of courthouses, jails, visitation hours. At the same time, we needed to create a tool that communicated with the restraint and specificity essential to the legal profession. Finally, due to the diverse population they serve, we wanted the site to be available in the primary languages spoken by their clients: English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole.
One of the most impressive things about working with the team was the genuine care and compassion they had for their clients, and their commitment to providing strategic resources and support to individuals in crisis.
Post-launch, one of their Creole-speaking clients shared with her attorney that it meant the world to have easy access to accurate, pertinent legal information in their own language.