When I first started in my role at Kansas City Public Library as Small Business Engagement Specialist I was thrilled to have the opportunity to use my background and experience to help existing and aspiring business owners gain clarity on their journeys.
Close to 3 weeks in I had already met with two different patrons who had specific questions about the legal aspects of getting started with their business ideas and legal is absolutely not part of my academic training or career background.
If you have ever done a basic google search for anything that pertains to legal, you may have gotten a whole plethora of leads; with many of the ‘first page’ results leading to what appears to be useful information…but often for other states’ laws. Even if you find information that refrains from ‘legalese’ how does one make sure that the information found is actually relevant to the state in which they reside?
At the time, I was not aware of any ‘one-stop’ resource to learn as a resource to provide information that is useful, actionable and pertinent to Missouri’s laws to which I could point patrons to with confidence. I was essentially shooting in the dark and piecing together as much information as I could from sources I found using google keyword searches.
Very serendipitously I met another business librarian, Mel Lambert of St Louis County Library system, in person at Kauffman’s annual E-Ship Conference. We had a conversation about some of the challenges we both were facing serving patrons and I began to express my own lack of clarity helping patrons with their legal questions regarding small business. Right then, Mel’s eyes lit up and she asked me if I was aware of a new “gamified” app called Legal GPS, which I of course knew nothing about. She started to sing Chris’s praises and promised to introduce us through an email. Little did I know at the time, but this was a conversation that inevitably launched a now months long relationship between KCPL and Legal GPS.
Once connected with Chris, both I and my colleague Jenny Garmon, KCPL’s Legal and Government Specialist started diving into a ‘test’ version of Legal GPS and documented our feedback to share with Chris.
This became the backbone of a truly collaborative and iterative process in which Jenny and I would log into Legal GPS, review the app for user friendliness/design experience, the content and the content’s digestibility. At each turn, we provided Chris our feedback of which he and his team would implement and turn into a new version, on which we would provide feedback until we came to a version that we felt met the criteria needed for new business owners to navigate without confusion and gain clarity on their “unknown unknowns” regarding the legal basics of getting their businesses off the ground.
At present I have been using an unofficial version of Legal GPS (editor's note: this was in November 2019) to help facilitate appointments that I have with patrons seeking information on legal basics for business. At each appointment we will go through Legal GPS’s 1st module and patrons answer the questions to then be directed to a page that summarizes the “holes” in their knowledge so to speak.
This foundational portion of Legal GPS has proven to be a wealth of knowledge in that not only does it customize the results based on the way in which patrons have answered the questions but it also provides additional context and definitions for terms inside the app so you never have to leave Legal GPS.
I have walked through the first module of this version with nearly 2 dozen patrons since November of 2019 and each time patrons share anything from a general “this is such an awesome tool, I can’t believe all this information is in one place” to something specific, most frequently pertaining to tax structures.
One patron told me how he had worked with a CPA who advised him to use a particular tax structure but at the time he didn’t know there was a difference between tax and state structures (and I didn’t know either). For him (and for others), the first module showed him that there is indeed a difference and he was able to move in a direction in which he felt empowered to ask the right questions simply because he now had the knowledge.
I have also learned so much! I am by no means an expert and I let patrons know that I am absolutely not an attorney and thus cannot provide any legal advice, but I can definitively say that my knowledge on what it takes to get started as a business owner has significantly increased in the realm of legal.
Part of Chris and the Legal GPS team’s mission is to “make legal accessible” and I can 100% attest that this is a mission to which they work tirelessly to meet, not only through the content and form of the content presented but by the fact that Chris and company strive to partner with libraries, community colleges and other outlets that can provide Legal GPS to the public for free or low cost.
Having a mission statement like Legal GPS’ is nice, but to see the muscle behind the message first-hand demonstrates how attentive and customer and end-user oriented Legal GPS truly is. This has been in every sense of the word, a true collaboration and definitely a working case in the power of design thinking to create a product that works for every stakeholder involved. Not only has Legal GPS proven immensely useful for patrons it has made my job SO MUCH easier with regard to providing resources to patrons who are looking for foundational legal knowledge.
I’m not sure how I’d be handling such inquiries (which are quite a lot) if I’d never had that conversation with Mel and then been introduced to Chris but I can say that with Legal GPS the amount of time I’m spending to prepare for appointments with legal elements is greatly reduced and patrons are always leaving feeling like they know exactly what they need to learn next.