Most Pressing Need: Legal Information for the Layperson

Delivering legal information targeted on needs of disputants is key to legal empowerment. It came out as the number one strategy for improving access to justice when 100 experts discussed a Trend Report on Basic Justice Care.

A tough challenge

Legal information that is sufficiently tailored to a problem is valuable and costly. Individualised legal advice is a known way to do this, but it is too costly for most individuals. Standardised legal information can be the answer, but it is very hard to build a sustainable organisation for this. If the information is good, it can easily be copied and willingness to pay is low. Moreover, governments may be reluctant to make this information available and literacy can be an issue as well, see Joyce Hakmeh's blog post on legal information in the Arab world.

Some existing models

Law firms give legal information for free in order to attract clients that will buy paid legal services. Several websites, such as Legal Zoom, now help clients to assemble legal documents for a fee. Or let lawyers give legal advice over the internet as a paid service. Self-help books and their online equivalents offer a bundle of legal information for a fee. SMS services are developing in countries such as Kenia, and paid phone lines can be a solution as well, see Trend Report Towards Basic Justice Care for Everyone: Challenges and Promising Approaches 2012, p. 92-102.

Why legal information is so crucial?

Research clearly shows that about half of legal problems are solved by communication and negotiation between the parties. Settlement is the rule; a decision by a judge or another adjudicator is exceptional (typically around 5% of problems). Therefore, empowering people to negotiate fair solutions is key. Right now, many people see law as something threatening and complicated. Instead, they should get access to information that helps them to communicate, negotiate and cope with problems. 

Much more than information about law

In order to cope with a divorce or a land problem, people need much more than information about laws and rules. So legal information includes know how on how to bring up a problem, how to react to it, and how to work on a solution together. 

Criteria for useful information 

Legal information is most useful if it is understandable, tailored to the problem at hand and arrives in time. Ideally, it is sufficient to cope with the problem, offers limited options, and is easy to put into practice. When working with the information, people tend to need reassurance from a helpdesk or a support group.

Objective criteria for fair solutions

A key element is learning about concrete solutions that worked for others. Information about specific remedies that were accepted as fair by others empowers people. It prevents them agreeing to unfair proposals. 

(Content from Innovating Justice)

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