Here you can find a selection of our own commissioned research, research completed by Law for Life’s forerunner (the Public Legal Education Network), and studies by colleagues in PLE and associated fields.
Legal needs research
The 2015 report produced by Law for Life analyses the findings of the 2010 and 2012 UK Civil and Social Justice Panel Survey. The Civil and Social Justice Panel Survey (CSJPS) is a nationally representative survey of people’s experience of, and response to, problems with a legal dimension and involved face to-face interviews with 5,113 respondents aged 16 and over in their own homes across two waves, the first in 2010, the second in 2012.
Research undertaken by the Legal Services Research Centre commissioned and published by our predecessor the Public Legal education Network in 2010 looks at the knowledge and capability of the population of England and Wales in the context of social and civil legal issues.
The research was based on interviews with 10,000 randomly selected people and used data taken from the English and Welsh Civil and Social Justice Survey. The report looks at different groups in society based on their levels of capability, and at how capability relates to the way people handle the legal issues they face. It concludes that there are extensive gaps in knowledge, skills and confidence in the population but these barriers to legal capability are not evenly distributed across different groups or problem types. This research will help target interventions and maximise the effectiveness of public legal education activities.
Commissioned by the TDS Charitable Foundation in 2015, Law for Life produced a short report assessing the legal information and training resources available for tenants in the private rented sector. In order to identify gaps in the provision and dissemination of information and training resources for tenants in the private rented sector Law for Life conducted a survey among organisations working with private tenants and a literature review of existing information resources. Our aim was to gain a sense of both what resources are available and how intermediary organisations engage with those resources, in an effort to identify where future effort and investment might be directed.
In 2008, the Public Legal Education Network commissioned Independent Academic Research Studies (IARS) to carry out an exploratory study on young people's legal capability. The study published in 2009 signifies an important new approach to looking at the need for and delivery of public legal education.
The research aimed to get a better understanding of the components of legal capability to help develop a conceptual model that could provide the basis for a future baseline survey of the levels and types of legal capability in the wider population. The study considered young peoples' knowledge, skill and attitudes to legal problems.
Self-reporting of rights knowledge remains problematic. The findings of this study by Catrina Denvir, Nigel J. Balmer and Pascoe Pleasence indicate that people over-estimate what the law entitles them to, or misread the legislation, in other cases people under-estimate their entitlements.
The challenges in getting a clearer picture of legal knowledge in the population stem partly from the research methodologies used, but are also due to the sheer complexity of the ways in which people describe and make sense of the law. When asked whether an individual knows their ‘rights’, does their perceived knowledge equate to an understanding of their legal position? How do questions of social logic, fairness and morality implicate what people believe to be their position when asked about enforceable legal rights?
From the perspective of educational interventions these questions offer some critical purchase on the ways in which people think about the law and the strategies they employ to articulate their needs and manage disputes. As educators, that means recognising that the corollary between legal knowledge and effective rights claiming is not as clear as it might seem. In some situations very basic but broad brush legal knowledge accompanied with strong negotiation skills can be a better indicator for success than being able to remember a specific piece of legislation. In a complex administrative and increasingly ‘outsourced’ world, the positions and capacities of the actors involved means we need to consider how legal knowledge is deployed by ordinary people in different settings. For example, knowing how local housing policy functions and knowing the right official to speak to may be a better option than reciting regulations to a call-centre operator.
This research by the Legal Services Research Centre was published in 2007 as an annex to the PLEAS Task Force Report, 'Developing capable citizens: the role of public legal education'. Using data from their 2004 survey of representative households, the detailed findings make a clear case for the value of public legal education.
This paper FORM 2010 by Dr. Ab Currie, principal researcher at the Department of Justice in Canada looks at the range and the extent to which Canadians handled problems themselves in the context of legal issues. Canadians are more than twice as likely to pursue a self-help option than to use any other path to justice (such as advice and representation). The research also found that self-help options had a high resolution rate with 62% expressing satisfaction with the outcome.
This essay by Anthoney Alfiere in 2008 considers whether the effective delivery of scarce legal goods to disadvantaged clients requires more than the provision of equal access, case-by-case repreSentation, and zealous advocacy. Scarcity requires that effective legal change be measured not by the outcomes of individual cases, but rather by the progress of social change: specifically, by the degree to which individual clients are able to collaborate in local and national alliances to enlarge civil rights and to alleviate poverty. Alfieri calls for alternative education, training and curricular initiatives in clinical and legal education. He considers critical theory, which could be improved to help law students address difference-based client and community identities. Cross cultural training is needed to include a greater awareness of lawyer-client differences. Changes would include a challenge to neutrality and greater client participation in the lawyering process - moving beyond individual case-specific decision-making to issue-focused, neighbourhood-wide interests in legal advocacy.
Why do some people feel able to act to deal with legal problems when others don’t? What makes some people feel empowered when others lack confidence?
Martin Gramatikov and Robert Porter of Tilburg University in the Netherlands have developed the concept of Subjective Legal Empowerment (SLE) in order to measure legal empowerment. Their challenge is to measure it, and through measuring it, to evaluate improvements.
SLE utilizes the psychological theory of self-efficacy in the context of legal problems. Their focus is on members of the public or ‘end users’, clients of organisations, and they have developed a measurement methodology to establish how people view their ability to solve legal problems, that is to say their legal empowerment.
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.
Access to justice policy
Law for Life welcomes the inquiry into the HMCTS court reform programme at this key juncture. Law for Life has been able to meet regularly with HMCTS teams as a member of the Litigant in Person Engagement Group (LIPEG) and to attend a number of public engagement events. This has led to fruitful dialogue on specific elements of reform, including user accessibility. However we share the concerns raised by the Public Accounts Committee that the pace and scale of change, alongside the pressure to deliver cost savings risk undermining the objective of improving the court system for the benefit of all citizens, and as a corollary, risk undermining access to justice and the rule of law.
You can read the Law for Life response to the interim report on the civil courts structure review (CCSR) undertaken by LJ Briggs here. (2016)
External link: Civil Courts Structure Review – Interim Report
Published in July 2007, this seminal report by the independent Public Legal Education and Support (PLEAS) Task Force calls for a new approach to public legal education with the clear objective of increasing the capacity of individuals and communities to deal with law related problems.
Written as part of the Justice Debate in 2002, Nony Ardill from Legal Action Group outlines three different approaches to public legal education - legal information, community legal education and legal literacy.
Ms Ardill argues that public legal education should be endorsed by the government as a valuable tool in furthering its own policy agenda. She uses the examples of fostering a human rights agenda, active citizenship and empowering socially excluded communities.
Read the article: Public legal education - unfinished business
The article considers the characteristics of current approaches to public legal education:
Discussion paper published in 2004 by Advice Services Alliance, the Citizenship Foundation and Legal Action Group making the case for a national strategy for public legal education.
The paper argues that there is an urgent need to promote public awareness and knowledge of legal issues, to help overcome the difficulties that most people experience dealing with the law in their daily lives. PLE contributes to active citizenship and social cohesion - and helps strengthen civil society. In addition, involvement in public legal education projects can bring benefits to legal professionals.
Read the paper: Towards a national strategy for Public Legal Education
A report commissioned by our predecessor the Public Legal Education Network in 2011 considers the potential for public legal education in adult learning. It presents the findings of an inquiry among a group of experienced adult learning professionals. The opportunity to develop public legal education was enthusiastically welcomed by the participants and this report will help signpost ways in which public legal education can be developed in the adult learning world.
This paper by Maurits Barendrecht from Tilburg University in the Netherlands was published in July 2010. The study explores three different strategies to enhance access to justice looking in turn at legal aid, accessible court procedures and legal information. To assess whether investment in any of these will improve access to justice, the author considers costs and benefits, transaction costs and legal empowerment.
The analysis suggests that a legal information and education strategy should have a higher priority, because it empowers clients in their conflicts with others and increases the accountability of lawyers and judges.
Public legal education and technology
Catrina Denvir’s article of 2016 looks at how, over the last decade, the Internet has played a growing role in the resolution strategies of many of those who face civil justice problems. Drawing on data from a novel experiment capturing the online information-seeking behaviours of 208 students, this paper explores how young people in England use the Internet when faced with a hypothetical civil justice problem relating to housing or employment law. The study finds that while the Internet holds potential as a Public Legal Education (PLE) tool, exposure to online legal information does not directly equate to improved knowledge of rights or knowledge of how to handle a civil justice problem. The Internet's utility in this respect, continues to be constrained by the quality of information provided and the public's capacity to use it and apply it in a meaningful way.
In this article from 2002, Lois Gander from the University of Alberta in Canada argues that the internet, by removing barriers between the public and the law, is one of the most significant forces of change in the approach to public legal education.
In this influential book Richard Susskind (2008) argues that in a just society, access to justice should be extended to include legal guidance and legal health promotion - legal insight should be at everyone's fingertips.
Susskind argues that access to justice is as much about dispute avoidance as it about dispute resolution. Just as lawyers are themselves able, because of their training and experience, to recognize and avoid legal pitfalls, in a just society - one in which legal insight is an evenly distributed resource - non-lawyers would be similarly forewarned.
Clinical legal education