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Research Report: Outreach legal services and complex needs: what works? Justice issues paper 12
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Outreach legal services to people with complex needs: what works? Justice issues paper 12    Cite this report

, 2009 , 24 p.
This paper reports on a systematic review of the best available research into outreach legal services to disadvantaged people with complex needs. Our review indicates that to effectively reach and assist these `hard-to-reach` clients, outreach legal services need -- at the outset -- to form and maintain strong links with target communities and the agencies which support them. While outreach services are best located in places that are frequented and trusted by the target groups, the reach of the service is increased by appropriate marketing of the service to the target group and supporting agencies and individuals, and effective referral systems with agencies and other trusted intermediaries. The review also highlighted the features of appropriate service provision to these target groups through outreach, and the associated resource and staffing implications.

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This paper reviews outreach as a model of legal service delivery to disadvantaged people with complex needs. We define outreach legal services as face to face legal assistance and advice services delivered away from the primary service/office, in places accessible to the target group. Telephone based outreach is excluded from this review. We focus on outreach to people who are marginalised or socially excluded as a result of issues such as homelessness, disability, unresolved mental health issues, Indigenous status, severe financial hardship, unemployment or remote location. Their complex needs may be over and above their legal needs.

Service providers face significant challenges in providing legal assistance to disadvantaged people with complex needs. People facing significant disadvantage often have multiple and interrelated issues, including legal issues, tend not to approach legal services for assistance, and face particular difficulties in working with lawyers to address their legal problems (Grunseit et al, 2008; Coumarelos et al, 2006; Forell et al, 2005). Issues may be at crisis point before clients reach legal assistance, and due to their sometimes chaotic lives, clients may not have the documents or the capacity required to work with the legal adviser to address the problem at hand (Grunseit et al, 2008; Forell et al, 2005). ‘Outreach’ is a strategy commonly employed by public legal services to reach and assist disadvantaged people with legal problems (see Legal Aid, 2008).

In NSW, a broad range of legal services are provided under the banner of ‘outreach’. For example, outreach legal services include legal assistance services in welfare agencies, pro bono legal advice clinics to homeless people, regular advice sessions run by community legal centres in remote locations, and civil and family law advice provided by Legal Aid to clients of Aboriginal Legal Services.

Our initial analysis of the literature indicated that a number of individual outreach legal services and programs have been evaluated, including outreach debt advice services which provide legal assistance. The purpose of this report is to draw together the best available evidence from across these studies in order to provide practical information to service providers who currently deliver outreach legal services or who may be considering this as an option.1

With thanks to Maureen Ward and Anna Russell for assisting with the literature review.

 With thanks to Maureen Ward and Anna Russell for assisting with the literature review.

Forell, S & Gray, A 2009, Outreach legal services to people with complex needs: what works? Justice issues paper 12, Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Sydney