Access to justice: When public legal education meets tech
Technology can help claimants deal with their legal problems, writes Mary Marvel
At Advicenow we are proud to be one of the organisations shortlisted for the 2017 Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Award for access to justice through IT. Our independent, not-for-profit website provides accurate user-friendly information, videos and tools on rights and the law, to help people manage their legal problems.
Advicenow is provided by the charity Law for Life: The Foundation for Public Legal Education, which works to increase access to justice by providing everyone with an awareness of their legal rights together with the confidence and skills to assert them.
The significant lack of legal capability among the general public, combined with the fact that LASPO has taken many civil and private family law cases out of scope for legal aid, means that these skills are increasingly important. Indeed, the latest figures from the National Audit Office found 80 per cent of all family law cases may now involve at least one person who is representing themselves without a lawyer.
The idea for Advicenow came about in 1999 with the rise of legal information on the internet. The objective was to develop a coordinated approach within the advice sector on the delivery of legal information online.
Advicenow was launched in June 2003 under the auspices of Advice Services Alliance – the umbrella body for the advice sector. It went from strength to strength, piloting innovative guides to legal problems and providing a curated information service of all the best public legal information from a wide range of providers.
In 2013 Advicenow merged with Law for Life, setting its work more clearly in the context of public legal education and with a stronger focus on legal capability – what people need to do to deal effectively with law-related issues.
Over the last 12 years we have developed and tested methods for producing genuinely effective information for the public. Our approach focuses not just on explaining the law in plain English, but helping people develop the skills to use that knowledge.
As well as bringing together the best legal information from across the internet, we produce in-depth multimedia guides and resources. These resources are built around the needs of people who use the site, starting from the user’s point of view, addressing issues they need to deal with, and in the order they need to deal with them. They also take into account the stress legal situations can invoke by addressing common worries.
We plan and pilot most of our resources with people who use the site and those that work to support them, including solicitors. Once published, resources are evaluated so they can be improved and kept up-to-date.
A key feature of Advicenow is that it contains the central digital portal for the Litigants in Person Support Strategy, of which Law for Life is one of the partners. The portal aims to make a litigant in person’s journey as simple as possible by bringing together the key information they need when going to court without the help of a lawyer.
As legal aid cuts continue to force people to deal with their legal problems without representation, ensuring LiPs have the knowledge and skills they need is increasingly vital. We will continue to review how we can best use our expertise in public legal education and information to improve access to justice for all.
Mary Marvel is head of policy and communications at Advicenow