Pro bono providers may partner with community organisations to deliver community legal education either to a particular target group or to boost the capacity of a community organisation.
In Victoria, DLA Piper developed materials to teach prisoners about topics including debt and housing law, toolkits that prisoners could access and use to learn about their rights, and resources for use by lawyers who work with prisoners on issues such as parole and mental health. DLA Piper also provided training and mentoring to lawyers at Hobart Community Legal Service via video-conferencing in specific subject areas where they lacked expertise, to help build the capacity of the CLC to provide advice and assistance to their clients in those areas of law (see case study at 29.4.2 and the section on Technology-based services: Video-conferencing at 26.8).
Pro bono referral organisations have also arranged seminars on corporate governance issues for not-for-profit organisations: see Chapter 28 Assistance to non-legal not-for-profit organisations and charities.
- 29.1 Community Legal Education: Benefits
- 29.2 Community Legal Education: Challenges/Limitations
- 29.3 Features of Effective Community Legal Education
- 29.4 Case studies
29.1 COMMUNITY LEGAL EDUCATION: BENEFITS
- Community legal education (CLE) can potentially reach many more people than individual case work.
- When it is delivered to community lawyers and other service providers, it empowers them by helping them to better understand the legal problems faced by their clients, which in turn improves outcomes for clients in terms of timeliness, and the ability to identify and address all issues and avenues for redress.
- The time and resource commitment of pro bono providers can be contained to the time it takes to prepare and deliver the CLE.
- In some cases CLE can be a good way of promoting a pro bono practice, encouraging quality referrals and enhancing relationships with partner organisations which can develop a better understanding of legal issues and how the pro bono provider can help by participating in CLE.
- It is a model of pro bono assistance where conflicts of interest are less likely to be an issue than pro bono work involving the provision of advice or representation.
- It is a way for Australian lawyers to contribute in jurisdictions overseas where they do not have the necessary certification to practice law. For example, DLA Piper runs education and training courses for its NGO clients in overseas locations on topics including commercial contracts, negotiation techniques, risk management and employment law.
- It appeals to many lawyers who are keen to enhance their skills in training and public speaking, and enjoy delivering training, especially to a large group where they feel that they are making a large impact.
29.2 COMMUNITY LEGAL EDUCATION: CHALLENGES/LIMITATIONS
- Finding ways to reach the target audience. Pro bono providers generally need to partner with a community organisation that can provide a link to the need.
- Pitching the CLE at the right level for the audience/target group. CLE participants may, for example, have different levels of understanding or literacy. Dan Creasey explained that ‘even when pro bono providers partner with community organisations or social workers, they may have limited information on the course participants’.
- Ensuring that the CLE is well attended. There is a risk that the time and effort that pro bono providers invest will be wasted if only one or two people turn up. According to Dan Creasey this is especially true of CLE that is delivered overseas. ‘For example, the Head Office of an NGO may push for training to be organised at a local field office, while the trainees who are the staff of the local office of that NGO may not recognise the need’.
- Managing expectations of the CLE participants. Training that is interactive in nature is an effective way of encouraging learning, but brainstorming can also lead to discussion about the legal needs of the individual participants, which the pro bono provider may not be able to address in that forum.
29.3 FEATURES OF EFFECTIVE COMMUNITY LEGAL EDUCATION
- Engage in effective consultation with the community organisation and/or target group for the CLE to ensure that the content and style of the training is tailored to the needs of the target audience.
- Think about how to ensure attendance, and not just on the content of the CLE. DLA Piper, for example broadened the content of their contracts workshop to include governance issues to make it more appealing and relevant to the attendees. Such decisions should, however, be balanced with the risk of diluting the content and taking away from core concepts.
- Ensure that lawyers delivering CLE have the necessary skills. This may involve providing ‘train the trainer’ training to presenters. The Law Reform and Policy Solicitor and Clinical Supervisor at Kingsford Legal Centre, Edwina MacDonald, explained that ‘delivering CLE requires specialised skills’.
- Use a solicitation process to identify the most appropriate staff to deliver CLE. It is important that those delivering the CLE have skills in presenting and training. For example, DLA Piper’s solicitation process has involved an email calling for expressions of interest, with those interested in attending required to fill in a two-page form detailing their relevant experience, such as working with people from different cultures and overseas, lecturing experience, or previous pro bono experience.
- Flexibility in delivery mode which should be designed to maximise the engagement and ‘absorption’ of information by participants. Modes of delivering CLE could include workshops, traditional lectures or even online via videoconferencing.
- Set parameters for the training to avoid having a quasi-clinic at the end of the training session, and have a ‘back up plan’ in case there are requests for ongoing assistance. For example, be prepared to refer requests for ongoing assistance to a pro bono clearing house or referral scheme.
29.4 CASE STUDIES
- 29.4.1 Case studies: Harris Park Community Centre and Phang Legal
- 29.4.2 Case studies: Hobart Community Legal Service and DLA Piper
29.4.1 Case studies: Harris Park Community Centre and Phang Legal
Ern Phang, the Solicitor Director at Phang Legal, a small firm based in Western Sydney, was involved in delivering CLE as part of a community forum organised by the Harris Park Community Centre in response to concerns in the Indian community around Harris Park following reports in the media of violence against Indian students.
Ern Phang was invited to participate in the presentation, along with the police and several other community service providers, as he had served as a director on the board of a youth services organisation that was closely related to the Centre.
Most of the community questions that were directed at Ern were about the rights of individuals, the rule of law, the powers of the justice system to protect individuals, and the perception of the police.
- Preparation for the CLE did not require a large time commitment. ‘The community forum was an immediate reaction to address the perceived need to address the Indian community’s concerns, so there wasn’t a set topic or issue to present on or prepare for.’
- Reaching people who need legal assistance the most. ‘Many people have questions and seek answers about law and justice — but for the most part, they’re probably asking the wrong people or getting the wrong information. I think they’re intimidated by the thought of seeing a lawyer if they have an issue (possibly because of the perception of cost).’
- Defining the parameters of the CLE. ‘Lots of questions were really requests for specific legal advice but I generally used the question as a basis to answer in general terms, and invited individuals to consult me independently if they required specific legal advice.’
What made it effective
- Understanding and addressing the legal needs of the participants. Ern explained that he thought the major issue was actually the community perception and understanding of the law and justice system in Australia.
We needed to address the preconceived impressions of the participants, which could be based on their experiences in their country of origin, and reinforced by rumours within their local community. For example, there was a perception that the police would not assist them, that they would also be racially discriminated against by the police, general mistrust of the government being the local council and various services, fear/uncertainty and anxiety of going to court or being involved in court proceedings. I’d have to say, this is not limited to the Indian community only but I think is something that a lot of migrant communities (or even just a certain segment of the socioeconomic demographic of the population) share.
29.4.2 Case studies: Hobart Community Legal Service and DLA Piper
Hobart Community Legal Service (HCLS) is a community legal service providing specialist and generalist legal services to the southern Tasmanian community, particularly the socially disadvantaged and vulnerable members of the community. HCLS receives a significant number of requests for assistance with industrial relations matters, but has found it difficult to obtain training/mentoring assistance locally, given that there are few practitioners in Tasmania with the requisite level of expertise in this area of law, and the actual and perceived risk of conflicts within a small jurisdiction (see section on Size of jurisdiction at 6.1).
In 2012 HCLS partnered with DLA Piper to pilot a National Broadband Network (NBN)-based legal assistance service at its outreach office in Sorell, as part of a pilot project funded by the NBN Regional Legal Assistance Program. The project involved using the NBN-based video-conferencing facilities for DLA Piper to deliver training and mentoring support to the solicitors at HCLS.
One aspect of the pro bono partnership was the delivery of a professional development training session was successfully delivered using Skype video in December 2012 by two lawyers from DLA Piper to update lawyers at HCLS on changes to industrial relations law that were introduced on 1 January 2013.
The 90-minute training presentation included some interactive question and answer time as well as formal training. In preparation for the training, a solicitor at HCLS sent an email to DLA Piper listing the basic areas in which they needed information. DLA Piper then tailored the training to cover the identified areas of need.
- Boosting the capacity of HCLS to identify possible causes of action and deliver effective and timely legal services to their clients.
The three solicitors who took part in the training said that the session worked very well and all of them found the training immediately useful to their ongoing case work. They reported that when the changes to the Fair Work Act came into force in January 2013, the training had increased their confidence and ability to deal with the influx of requests for assistance that followed because the content of the session had effectively prepared them for the changes and the interactive nature of the training had allowed them ask questions about anything they were unsure about. (Jane Hutchison, Manager, Hobart Community Legal Service)
Features that made it effective
- Planning and consultation to ensure that the subject matter covered would address the needs of the solicitors at the CLC.
- The style of the training presentation was suited to the target audience ie there were opportunities for interactive ‘question and answer’ parts of the session.
The intimate nature of the Skype session made it a less threatening environment in which to ask questions and discuss real examples being experienced by the legal service. (Former DLA Piper lawyer Katie Sweatman)
- The use of video-conferencing technology meant that the lawyers involved did not have to leave their desks. (See also the section on Video-conferencing at 26.8).
It was logistically easy for both the trainers and trainees who were able to simply sit in front of the computer screen and deliver or receive the training with minimal inconvenience to their busy working day. (Former DLA Piper lawyer, Katie Sweatman)
Australian Pro Bono Centre, Pro Bono Legal services via Video Conferencing: Opportunities and Challenges (conference paper presented at the National Rural Law and Justice Conference 2015), https://probonocentre.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/ProBonoLegalServicesViaVideoConferencing-OpportunitiesAndChallenges040615.pdf.