A study into best practice in community legal information

Report by Ms Johann Kirby, Executive Director, Victoria Law Foundation

In 2010 Joh Kirby from Victoria Law Foundation in Australia was awarded a Churchill Fellowship which allowed her to travel to across the world to study developments in the area of plain language and community legal information. Ms Kirby visited Canada, the USA, Sweden and England.

Read the report A study into best practice in community legal information (514 KB)

Caroline Lindberg, Staff Lawyer at CLEO - Community Legal Education Ontario - gives us her personal view of the findings:

'In the spring of 2011, I met with Joh Kirby when she came to CLEO (Community Legal Education Ontario/Éducation juridique communautaire Ontario) in the course of her travels to research and write about developments in plain language and community legal information. It was exciting for us to be part of her journey and the release of her report has provided another welcome opportunity to think about the questions and themes that she addresses.

'Reading the report prompted the following reflections:

  • In looking for answers to the question “What’s the world’s best practice in community legal information?” the report identifies seven consistent themes. These include, on the one hand, the use of technologies and, on the other hand, a continued focus on hardcopy (print) publication. There is no contradiction in this if we understand the choice of medium as being informed by other aspects of best practice, such as knowing your audience, and formulating an effective distribution strategy. Our understanding of how best to use new technologies will flow from an understanding of our audiences and how to reach them. By recognising simultaneously the potential in new technologies and the enduring value of print, the report underlines the idea that what is effective must be more important than what is cheapest or most “innovative”.
  • How are we to know what is most effective? We need research that will “more fully document how community legal information is used; its benefits and what steps can be taken to improve its delivery”. Not only will research help us understand how we can improve the quality of our work, it will help us fight for the funding we need to do that work. Defining the research questions and identifying the right collaborators – community participants as well as experts in relevant fields of study; these are exciting and important challenges for us. At CLEO, we are doing research to learn more about when and how legal information resources can be effective and we look forward to sharing what we learn.
  • The importance of sharing ideas and learning from other sectors is a “key finding” of the report and has been a vital part of my own education as a practitioner. I was drawn to this work in part because it involves collaboration, it is cross-disciplinary in nature, and there is always so much more to learn. In the not-for-profit sector, it can be difficult to find the time and the money for activities that are not seen as resulting directly in a “product” or, in today’s jargon, a “deliverable”. The internet facilitates learning and sharing across borders and time zones and it’s become hard to remember how we managed without it. That said, opportunities to meet with others face-to-face, whether at conferences or otherwise, have contributed deeply to my own professional development. Presentations on user-testing, writing for the web, and information design at PLAIN and Clarity conferences stand out for me, as do the discussions about professionalisation of plain language.

'The report finds that many of us working in this field struggle to meet the needs and lack the funding that would enable us to do more. The report’s recommendations are aimed at finding ways to support and strengthen the sector by increasing awareness of the benefits of the work we do, conducting research to help us do it better, exchanging information with others doing similar work, and investigating both the establishment of awards and standards and, looking to the United States and South Africa, the passage of legislation requiring clear communication. Research and information exchange are the initiatives that I am most excited about, and these are priorities for CLEO.'

Our thanks to Caroline Lindberg at CLEO - Community Legal Education Ontario - in Canada for writing this review for Law for Life.

Read A study into best practice in community legal information (514 KB)

Community Legal Education Ontario

For close to 40 years, CLEO (Community Legal Education Ontario/Éducation juridique communautaire Ontario) has developed clear, accurate, and practical legal rights information to help people in the Canadian province of Ontario who have low incomes or who face other barriers such as language or literacy to understand and exercise their legal rights.

CLEO’s information is available in a variety of languages and formats, in print and online, and covers key legal topics, such as housing, social assistance, employment, immigration, and family law.

CLEO also conducts research on effective ways of developing and delivering legal rights education and information, and undertakes innovative pilot projects, through its recently founded CLEO Centre for Research & Innovation.

Read more about CLEO’s work here.