By Craig Wakeford, Policy Manager
We recently organised an event entitled ‘can public legal education really increase access to justice?’, where we presented new research on legal capability. In answer to the question, our report concludes that PLE has an important role to play in ensuring people can navigate the legal system, but it is only part of the solution. We need to reshape legal services to meet the needs of society.
Our research shows that people with greater knowledge of their legal rights and responsibilities and higher legal capability are more likely to get professional help. This in turn tends to result in them perceiving that they got a better outcome when they face a legal problem. However, not everyone who needs professional help gets it. Low legal capability affects a significant minority of the population.
The LSB has a statutory objective to increase public understanding of the citizen’s legal rights and duties. We want to ensure legal services are accessible to everyone.
There is also a vital role for suppliers of legal services: they need to do more to ensure they are accessible to everyone. It’s a two-way street, and we shouldn’t rely on consumers to know and understand everything about the wide range of legal situations they face.
Our Research Manager, Tom May, said “People don’t have legal issues – they have ‘life events’”. Those ‘life events’ vary greatly from appealing a parking ticket to dealing with probate; or from renting a home to getting divorced. And it’s important that everyone who needs help, gets it. Services should be designed with around the people who use them.
Our panel of passionate speakers offered perspectives on PLE in response to our research. They covered topics ranging from the role of technology in increasing access to justice to work being done with young people to ensure they are aware of their legal rights.
- It was great to hear from Rianna Smith, a final year law student and participant on Simmons & Simmons Young Talent Programme, who spoke of the need to increase young people’s awareness of the law. She said that many young people were entering into legally binding arrangements without being aware of their obligations or risks, for example, signing up for a mobile phone contract.
- Enver Solomon, CEO of Just for Kids Law outlined that legal services providers often don’t provide a holistic package of information to consumers at their point of need. Just for Kids Law runs a variety of programmes to help young people to help address this, and Enver spoke about their programme to help parents and students appeal decisions by schools when students are socially excluded.
- Kate Briscoe, CEO of Legal Beagles talked about her company’s partnership with IBM looking at how artificial intelligence could be used to respond to routine queries about legal issues. She said that innovative use of technology could be one of the possible ways to increase access to justice and help legal services providers meet the needs of more people. During our panel discussion we were reminded that we must also remember to consider those who are digitally excluded for a number of reasons.
- We heard from Michael Olatokun, Head of Public and Youth Engagement, at the Bingham Centre about the need to be able to prove that the services PLE provide have a positive effect. We heard that there is significant challenge for those who provide PLE to demonstrate the impact they have.
There also needs to be more research to find ways to redesign services and interventions in the legal services sector to make them more accessible to those with lower legal capability. This involves knowing why some steps in the user journey are more difficult than others for various users.
Our report, contributes to the evidence on how PLE interventions can better target and prove that interventions are having an impact. Over the next year, we will explore the issues further and consider what steps we might take to advance this agenda to work towards achieving legal services that are accessible to all.
If you are interested in finding out more, please get in touch – Craig.Wakeford@legalservicesboard.org.uk.