Gateways to the Law Via Not for Profits
21 January 2002 at 12:01 pm
The way Not for Profit agencies deliver free information and assistance to clients with legal problems is a complex issue that NSW researchers are now coming to grips with.
A report by the Law and Justice Foundation of NSW called Gateways to the Law has carried out an in-depth exploration of the issues that face a range of agencies.
The report explores various aspects of agency practice, including:
– how workers respond to client needs,
– the use of written information,
– the current use of technology,
– how workers gain and share knowledge,
– how agencies interact and refer clients with legal problems, and
– what would assist agencies to deliver services more effectively.
Prepared by Sue Scott and Caroline Sage the report highlights a number of issues that often create tensions within the Not for Profit sector in the attempts by agencies to provide legal assistance.
The issues are varied and complex. Scott and Sage identify four key issues.
Firstly limited resources restrict the services that agencies are able to provide. The report found that participants often felt unable to meet clients’ needs, especially the need for representation.
It found agencies used a range of strategies in an attempt to strike a balance between client needs and the effective use of their limited resources, including imposing eligibility criteria, delivering initial services by phone followed by face-to-face contact, use of volunteers and provision of community legal education.
Secondly the researchers identified a lack of ‘clear role’ definitions among some agencies, leading to a lack of knowledge and confusion about what services different agencies provided.
Thirdly they say there is considerable confusion surrounding the terms ‘legal information’ and ‘legal advice’. This issue is linked to the type of service non-legally trained staff were able to offer clients.
The fourth issue surrounds the desire by many agencies to increase their clients’ understanding of the law and legal process. They did this by explaining in plain language and by providing clients with written information about the law.
The key to resolving many of these issues according to Scott and Sage is working together!
The researchers say that inter-agency cooperation has significant potential to improve services by clarifying roles; identifying gaps and reducing duplication; reducing case management; improving the appropriateness and effectiveness of referrals; facilitating the sharing of resources, knowledge and research; and improving services to clients through the use of second tier services.
It concludes that jointly developing case models, training programs, generic legal information materials and referral resources such as databases or easy reference cards, would save considerable time for individual agencies and lead to better quality resources.
Agencies that participated in the research include Chamber Magistrates, a community legal centre, an aged care information line, a tenancy service, a migrant resource centre and a financial counselling service.
NSW Attorney General, Bob Debus says Gateways to the Law gives an insight into the way Not for Profit agencies can be a vital conduit to the law and legal system.
Copies of Gateways to the Law are available for $20.00 (including GST and postage and handling) from the Law and Justice Foundation of NSW. Call Tel: (02) 9221 3900 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pro Bono Australia has one copy of the Gateways to the Law to give away. Just send us an e-mail and tell us about how your organisation uses the Internet to reach clients/donors. The winner will be announced in the next e-Newsletter. Send your e-mail to email@example.com.