Updated August 2, 2019
Are you a legal aid user who was inspired by the great Docassemble projects on display at the Legal Services Corporation’s Innovations in Technology Conference? Florida Justice Technology Center, Community.Lawyer, HelpSelf Legal, myself, and Upsolve all participated in the conference and showed off some great projects, including our own MADE eviction defense tool.
You too can get started programming Docassemble, and there are lots of resources to help.
What does it take to get started?
Hosting Docassemble on your own is the most flexible, but it requires basic systems administration skills. You will need to:
- Select or set up a hosting environment (this could be your personal laptop to get started, but you probably want to use something like Digital Ocean, Amazon Web Services, or Microsoft Azure).
I recommend Digital Ocean, as they offer a capable host for as little as $10/month. You can help my employer Greater Boston Legal Services by using this referral link.The most cost effective and simple way to host Docassemble yourself in late 2020 is on AWS LightSail, with an S3 container to host the files and automated backups.
- Install Docker.
- Install the Docassemble Docker image.
Hosting on your own also means you should periodically install operating system updates to the underlying system that hosts Docker.
A hosting option to consider is Documate‘s monthly plan (Documate used to be named HelpSelf Legal). Documate currently runs on a modified version of Docassemble, but you can still get under the hood. Native Docassemble features all work as advertised. Keep in mind that Documate maintains their own fork of the Docassemble code, which means the latest features of Docassemble may not be available on Documate for a few months. There’s also no guarantee that Documate will use Docassemble forever.
Full, managed, native Docassemble hosting as a service isn’t currently available on the marketplace. I regularly help small businesses install Docassemble and offer as-needed consultation at Lemma Legal.
Community.Lawyer offers some options as well. They provide free hosting of publicly available projects made inside their graphical editor. These are real Docassemble projects with training wheels attached, built with the constraint that they only can use the features that Community.Lawyer created a graphical interface for, which are limited to the most common types of question blocks. You can download your completed interviews to learn the underlying syntax if you want, and use them as the basis for a more complex product. They also offer hosting of a full Docassemble install for $25/month, taking care of installing Docassemble and updates to the underlying operating system for you. Updated 8/2/2019: Community.Lawyer no longer offers full Docassemble hosting. Contact Lemma Legal if you would like to explore this offering. Clerical.ai aims to be a free platform to centralize guided interview tools (both free and paid) and will help you get started with hosting Docassemble at cost as well.
Finally, for the right legal aid partners who want to experiment, I’d be happy to allow you to use the playground on the Greater Boston Legal Services Docassemble development server. Consider this a way to dip your toes in. Ideally at least one legal aid program in each state should have its own Docassemble instance, and I’m happy to help the right person in your state get started.
Docassemble’s playground includes built-in examples and contextual links to the very detailed documentation.
Once you’ve learned the basics, those example blocks are a great way to continue your learning. However, a tutorial can help you get started.
Here are some tutorials to help you out:
- Hello, World from Jonathan Pyle.
- Hello, World from the Greater Boston Legal Services Docassemble Working Group session.
- Introduction to interview logic from the Working Group.
- The slightly more complex Legal Motion Tutorial, created by myself and Rina Padua.
If you learn something and want to extend this library of tutorials, it would be a great way to help out the Docassemble community.
Here are some lengthier guides to Docassemble concepts that I’ve written:
- Object Oriented Programming
- Introduction to working with repeated information (groups or data structures)
- And a cheatsheet of basic concepts (feel free to submit your own edits as you learn more)
Our Docassemble Working Group at GBLS has released videos of most of our meetings. They can be a helpful resources to view to see some lecture-style meetings as well as troubleshooting exercises on complex and simple Docassemble concepts (like objects, groups, and more).
Sam Harden (contractor at Florida Justice Technology Center) has released his own series of videos explaining basic Docassemble concepts.
Join the community
For now, I am hosting weekly sessions at Greater Boston Legal Services, which welcome remote participants. Join our #gbls Slack channel on https://docassemble.slack.com where I’ll drop in Zoom meeting information.
The goal is to have peer skill sharing, but we’re starting out with some more interactive class-style meetings first. So far we’ve covered some basic concepts.
No word yet on Docacon 2019, but the word is that Suffolk Law School’s clinical innovation conference in April 2019 will include a Docassemble training session, tentatively on April 6th or 7th with the conference taking place on April 8th.
If you can’t join our meetings, joining the main Docassemble Slack is a great place to ask questions and get help when you run into road blocks. Aren’t inspired to be your own author? There’s a small but growing community of Docassemble authors who are willing to do consulting work, and I count myself in that number. My friend Jason Morris and I offer consulting at LemmaLegal.com. And the open source, no license cost and learning resources mean that in the future you can maintain the project we help you start. Feel free to reach out to discuss your project idea.
Hope to see you in the community over the coming year!