For over five years the Montana Legal Services Association has been publishing weekly legal tips in order to inform the public about common legal problems, and to raise awareness for their other legal services. Over the years they have been distributed in a number of different ways, both printed and online. MLSA maintains a large library of legal tips that is frequently being updated. The weekly tips are a great way to reach out to the public, and are often selected with seasonally relevant issues in mind. While the tips are prominently displayed on the homepage of MontanaLawHelp.org, the MLSA twitter feed and facebook page are also filled with weekly tips.
CREATING THE TIPS
The library of tips has been around for a while, and is often reorganized to keep it up to date. The original file full of tips was created by the team who started the project, and is currently updated by Christine Mandiloff, the Communications Director for Montana Legal Services Association. This task involves adding new tips as well as removing obsolete ones as necessary. New legal tips typically are created based off of questions that are being frequently asked on the MLSA Helplines. This helps to keep the legal tips relevant to as many people possible and address their concerns. The tip of the week is also chosen to reflect seasonal needs, such as tax tips being featured in early April.
Currently the legal tips are carried in twenty local newspapers across Montana. They are mostly smaller newspapers, which are more eager to print the legal tips of the week. This allows for the tips to have a reach into a number of rural communities. One creative way of distributing the legal tips that is no longer being utilized is Legal Tip Coasters distributed to bars. The coasters have a frequently asked legal question on one side, and the answer on the other. Though eventually discontinued due to budget cuts, the coasters are a good example of how creative distribution ideas can help a LawHelp program reach out and create awareness.
The legal tip of the week is placed fairly prominently on the MontanaLawHelp.org home page, and it is also frequently paired with MLSA’s social media efforts. The MT Legal Services Twitter Page is frequently used to send out legal tips of the week and has nearly 400 followers. The legal tips are usually pretty short and to the point, which makes them well suited to the 140 character limit imposed by twitter. The legal tip of the week also features on the MLSA Facebook page, where it reaches around 200 followers. The online distribution of the legal tip of the week is coordinated and scheduled using HootSuite, which is a very useful organizational program for social media.
MLSA is not the only organization out there with a program to widely distribute short legal tips. The Ontario based website yourlegalrights.on.ca has a section called “Common Questions” in which common legal questions and their answers are sent out on roughly a monthly basis. The Common Questions program, run by Fiona MacCool, is distributed to thousands of friends and followers through Facebook and Twitter, as well as in automated email bulletins using the email marketing program MailChimp. A website out of British Columbia, Clicklaw.bc.ca, also has a common questions program, but their questions are more involved and are used as jumping off points to direct visitors to other sections of their site rather than the more self contained tips used by Your Legal Rights and MLSA.
MLSA hopes to expand on the legal tip of the week series in the future. One option being investigated by MLSA marketing VISTA Luke Elzinga is to create short series of video legal tips of the week to be distributed to televisions stations like Helena Civic Tv, which already airs some legal tips of the week. MLSA is also currently considering contacting radio stations in order to get their Legal Tips read on the air. While Luke is working to expand the distribution of the Legal Tip of the week to more than 80 newspapers, the current reach of programs print distribution can be viewed here. Anyone with questions or comments about the MLSA Legal Tip of the Week can feel free to email Christine Mandiloff, Luke Elzinga, or Patrick Reynolds, while Fiona MacCool of yourlegalrights.on.ca can also answer questions related to the Common Questions program.