Statesman of the Month: Dorna Moini


Dorna Moini is the founder of SelfHelp Legal, a web application that helps low-income individuals prepare and file domestic violence restraining orders.


 

As an associate for Sidley Austin, Dorna Moini used emerging legal tech in the representation of wealthy and corporate clients. But she thought there might be a better use for the technology.

“There are a lot of ways in which the technology we use to help larger companies and wealthy individuals could be used to help low income and moderate income individuals who do not have enough money to hire a lawyer,” Moini said.

Drawing from her pro bono experiences at Sidley Austin, Moini created a platform that leverages technology to assist low-income individuals. The platform, SelfHelp Legal, is an automated web application that assists users when filing for domestic violence restraining orders.

HelpSelf Legal is similar to the tax preparation software TurboTax, Moini explained. The program walks users through a series of questions designed to gather information about which court the document will be filed in, the person against whom the restraining order is sought, the nature of the abuse and whether the user wants to request support.

Once the user has completed all of the questions, the HelpSelf Legal platform generates all of the documents needed to seek a restraining order. Users review and verify each document, then either file the documents on their own or submit the documents to the courts electronically through the platform. Not every county permits e-filing, and some counties charge a fee for e-filing. HelpSelf Legal will add an additional e-filing charge for individual users.

To develop SelfHelp Legal, Moini worked with an engineer to build out all of the technology based on her instructions. Moini said that making the platform mobile friendly was critical, since most low-income individuals only have access to the internet through smartphones.

Critics of similar automated legal programs argue that it is better to have a lawyer, and Moini would agree. While it is ideal to have an attorney involved with every legal situation, Moini said some individuals only have two choices: do it yourself or don’t do it at all.

“Nothing is ever going to replace the emotional support you feel during a difficult legal situation when there is a human being helping you through that process,” Moini said. “However, the reality is that there are not enough pro bono attorneys or affordable attorneys, and affordable legal aid is not available to most of America, particularly in rural areas.”

In time, Moini wants to address other areas of legal need affecting low-income individuals such as evictions, child support, guardianship and civil harassment. The platform is only available in California at this time, but plans are in place to expand to other states.

For now, Moini is searching for licensing opportunities and formal partnerships with legal aid organizations and women’s shelters, charging a licensing fee on a sliding scale based on what organizations can pay. SelfHelp Legal will also be available to individuals for $15 per use.

 

Related articles:

Statesman of the Month: Matthew Stubenberg

Statesman of the Month: Justin Brooks

 


Every month, we honor a practicing attorney for going above and beyond in service to their clients and community. Do you know a practicing attorney that has served as a model for the legal profession? If so, we want to hear about it. Submit your nominations for Statesman of the Month to Tyler@CypressMagazines.com.