connect / 2014

Law Soup LA

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Law Soup, Inc.

Law Soup LA is a web-based resource that provides L.A. County residents with a fun way to understand the law and participate in democracy.


Please describe yourself.

Solo actor (just us on this project!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

Law Soup LA is a web-based resource that provides L.A. County residents with a fun way to understand the law and participate in democracy.

Does your project impact Los Angeles County?

Yes (benefits all of LA County)

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • South LA
  • San Gabriel Valley
  • San Fernando Valley
  • South Bay
  • Westside
  • L.A. County

What is your idea/project in more detail?

Law Soup LA is a web-based resource that provides news and information for L.A. County residents and visitors about their legal rights and responsibilities, and empowers the public to participate in the democratic process. Primarily, it involves a website which contains L.A. County focused news stories and blog posts related to law and government; a database of key laws that affect L.A. area residents most, and useful information about such laws; as well as interactive features. One such feature allows users of the site to draft and post a law they believe should be enacted, and others in the community can “like” the proposed law and comment on it. Proposed laws are ranked by “likes” and those with the most likes are prominently displayed!

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

We have already taken preliminary steps to implement the project, including creating a sample of the basic structure of the website and much of the content, and developing a detailed plan to complete the initial implementation. To fully implement the project, we will hire a web designer, a communications/community outreach director, and content editors. We will then finish the initial design and content of the website, and begin outreach, using social media and print media, as well as local events to create buzz about the project. We will continue to add content to the website indefinitely.

Towards the goal of promoting access to justice for all, most of the content will be free and will be easily accessible to anyone who can access an internet connection. The content will be written in an accessible and engaging format, in plain language.

To sustain the project beyond September 2015, advertisements will be displayed, and revenue will be collected from companies or organizations that advertise on the site. We may also later establish a subscription-based portion of the site geared towards professionals, which would provide more extensive information for a small fee.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to CONNECT today? In 2050?

Law Soup LA will help people quickly understand what the law entitles them to and what the law expects of them, as well as how they can take action to exercise their rights and advocate for an expansion of rights. By providing this information in an easily accessible, fun and engaging way, and empowering people to take part in proposing and advancing their own ideas about laws for their community, the project is likely to have great success in making LA the best place to connect, today and in the future.

People want to participate, but often feel it is difficult to do so when they don’t know the basics, especially when it comes to local government which can be opaque and complex, and receives less coverage by the media. Law Soup LA can quickly get people up to speed, and build community discussions based around facts rather than rhetoric, so that discussions are as civil and productive as possible. While online interaction can be very productive and make people feel connected to the community, we know face to face interaction is even better. Law Soup LA will encourage users to take the conversation offline and to show up at community events and neighborhood council meetings to discuss important issues.

Also, the website will enable people to be creative and take ownership of their society by proposing their own laws. The feedback they will get from the community will certainly be a great learning experience, and the potential support from the community of one’s proposed laws can truly be an exciting and affirming experience. In addition, the interactive facebook page and twitter account, and other social media will all work towards the goal of engaging with people to help them understand their rights and responsibilities, and to feel connected to their community and their government.

All of this will help make LA the best place to connect today, and will allow this connectivity to expand over the years, as people become more comfortable and confident with their understanding of the laws and legal and political system. Law Soup LA intends to create the conditions that spawn a new way of thinking that is passed down to future generations, so that by 2050 most people in LA County will have the knowledge and confidence to assert their rights and participate in their communities more fully.

In addition, the project is designed to be dynamic and self-sustaining to endure through 2050 and beyond.

Whom will your project benefit?

Law Soup LA is designed to benefit all people within L.A. County, and does so by making its information about the law and government free and accessible to all those who can access an internet connection. However, because lower-income and lesser-educated people often have minimal access to justice and have less information about their rights, Law Soup LA stands to benefit these groups the most.

The project is also designed to benefit society as a whole, so that as people begin to feel more empowered and connected to their community and government, they will be inspired to work to make it a better place. We will continually evaluate the project to ensure that it is indeed benefiting all possible people, and if we find it is not, will make the changes necessary to achieve this goal.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

We are open to working with any and all partners who share our values of promoting access to justice and providing accurate, useful legal information to the public.

How will your project impact the LA2050 “Connect” metrics?

  • Rates of volunteerism
  • Voting rates by race
  • Attendance at cultural events
  • Participation in neighborhood councils
  • Percentage of Angelenos that volunteer informally (Dream Metric)
  • Government responsiveness to residents’ needs (Dream Metric)
  • Total number of social media friends (Dream Metric)
  • Attendance at public/open street gatherings (Dream Metric)

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

Because Law Soup LA will facilitate online and offline engagement in the community as well as democratic participation, the project will likely have the most direct impact on the above indicated metrics, though it may also have an indirect impact on those metrics not checked.

First, as Angelenos begin accessing the website and learn about their rights and the legal and political system as a whole, those who have felt apathetic about voting due to a lack of knowledge will be more motivated to vote. Because minority groups generally have less access to such knowledge, these groups will be most significantly impacted by Law Soup LA, and thus voting rates by race will become less disparate.

The increased knowledge of the process and of the neighborhood council system in particular, as well as increased engagement in the democratic process through enabling community members to post proposed laws on the website will clearly increase participation in neighborhood councils.

The combination of increased voting and increased participation in neighborhood councils will very likely make government officials more responsive to residents’ needs. Indeed, robust participation in the proposed law section of the website in itself may put government officials on notice of the needs of users as identified on the website.

As Law Soup LA helps people become more knowledgeable, participate more in neighborhood councils, and become more aware of their ability to influence the creation of laws, this will naturally lead to more Angelenos becoming interested in volunteering on political and advocacy campaigns. The exposure to volunteering on campaigns will likely have a spillover effect to other types of volunteerism in the L.A. area, such as environmental cleanup projects and soup kitchens.

Law Soup LA will almost certainly have an impact on the amount of local social media friends Angelenos have as they meet and interact with members of the community on the site and through Law Soup LA’s facebook and twitter accounts. Because these interactions will be built around a positive and affirming environment that Law Soup LA will work to create, the online and offline friendships and connections created through the site will likely be beneficial and productive. This, in turn, will impact the metrics of adults getting sufficient emotional and social support, attendance at cultural events, and attendance at public/open street gatherings.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

We will consider the project successful if after one year the website attracts a significant amount of unique visitors, and the facebook and twitter accounts gain a significant number of followers. Specifically, we will consider the website a success if at least 12,000 L.A. County residents use the site at least once during the first year, or if we have at least 1,000 monthly active users (MAUs). We also hope to attract at least 1,000 facebook and 1,000 twitter followers in the first year.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

The first lesson that has informed the creation of Law Soup LA is that more people than ever are being excluded from access to justice. As a licensed California attorney, I have seen the increased need for legal services, and the unfortunate inability of the legal system to meet those needs. Due to increased caseloads at pro bono law firms which exceed capacity and funds, the legal system is not adequately meeting the needs of the most vulnerable, as well as much of the middle class who increasingly cannot afford legal services. While Law Soup LA is not intended to replace legal services, it will go a long way towards reducing the need for these services. Much of the legal problems that people encounter are preventable with simple and accessible legal information.

The second lesson is that we know people want to be more involved in the community, and to participate more in the decision-making process for their community. However, the political system is too opaque and complex for most people to feel comfortable becoming involved in this way. To make the strongest impact in voicing one’s opinion on a proposed law or government action, one needs to have the proper background information, including what the current law is, the reason for the law, the authority of the government entity in taking the proposed action, and how an individual can influence the entity, whether by voting in an upcoming election or potentially suing the entity in court. Law Soup LA aims to provide all of this information, and in a fun and easily accessible way.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

We have already taken preliminary steps to implement the project, including creating a sample of the basic structure of the website and much of the content, and developing a detailed plan to complete the initial implementation. To fully implement the project, we will hire a web designer, a communications/community outreach director, and content editors. We will then finish the initial design and content of the website, and begin outreach, using social media and print media, as well as local events to create buzz about the project. We will continue to add content to the website indefinitely.

Given what we have already implemented in just two months, it is reasonable to expect that the initial launch and outreach can be achieved within 6 months. Though of course we will continue to add content to the website and continue our outreach efforts indefinitely.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

One major challenge in implementing Law Soup LA is ensuring the accuracy of the information provided. Accuracy can be ensured by checking the information against multiple sources, including possibly consulting with outside lawyers and other experts. We will provide citations to as much content as possible so that people can verify for themselves that the information we provide is reliable.

That said, although we will do everything possible to ensure accuracy and reliability, we do not plan to make guarantees about reliability of the information. Law Soup LA will not be a law firm nor provide legal advice, and will not be held liable for incorrect information. The project is more of a starting point for legal inquiries, and the website will encourage users to seek an attorney when appropriate.

A second major challenge is to ensure that people who use the website can easily navigate it and understand the information presented. We will meet this challenge by performing regular “user testing” to get feedback about the site from users, and will modify the format and content according to the results. We believe in being flexible and adaptable, and if the website is not connecting with users, we will experiment with new ideas to find the best way of accomplishing this goal.

What resources does your project need?

  • Network/relationship support
  • Money (financial capital)
  • Volunteers/staff (human capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)
  • Infrastructure (building/space/vehicles, etc.)
  • Education/training
  • Technical infrastructure (computers, etc.)
  • Community outreach
  • Quality improvement research