This report describes the results of a collaborative project to deliver public legal education (PLE) to a range of communities through a partnership between the Public Legal Education Network (Plenet), the College of Law, LawWorks, and advice services networks. The project was initiated and coordinated by Plenet as part of its mission to support the development of good quality public legal education in the UK. Early in the life of the project two new advice network partners Tower Hamlets Community Advice Network (THCAN) and South West London Advice ‘Advice Plus’ Project (SWLAAP) – joined the partnership. The project aimed to explore the challenges and opportunities for legal professionals to deliver PLE, and so to reflect on and learn about their potential for empowering people through improved legal capability. In particular the project sought to examine how the use of non-casework assistance provided by lawyers and law students might be harnessed to expand good quality PLE delivery to the public, in partnership with the not-for-profit advice sector.
The project delivered a total of eight sessions between May 2010 and April 2011 – of which five were evaluated. Three were delivered to advisers, advice services managers and advice services trustees – described in the report as ‘intermediaries’ – and two to groups of older people at community centres. Four different topics featured – redundancy, dignity at work, parking offences, and consumer rights. The sessions were provided by solicitors from two law firms – Allen & Overy and SJ Berwin – and by students from the College of Law.
The sessions delivered to the advice agencies in particular were effective and valuable, and should continue to be developed. The skills, knowledge and experience of the providers involved were the key to this success. Whilst solicitors and law students had different clusters of skills and knowledge, both were able to produce high quality sessions.
Arranging PLE session requires a greater amount of attention to the presentation of the proposals to potential audiences including the language, promotional materials and mechanisms of reaching out into communities. More attention to organisational processes is needed so as to fully assess the needs of potential recipients and shape the delivery to meet their needs effectively. For example, community development approaches should be explored to reach out to new communities who may have a need for public legal education but with whom trusted relationships remain to be established. Needs assessments should encompass cultural and linguistic considerations in order to ensure sessions are tailored and accessible.