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Research Report: Pathways to justice: the role of non-legal services, Justice issues paper 1
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Pathways to justice: the role of non-legal services, Justice issues paper 1  ( 2007 )  Cite this report

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Implications for legal services

Non-legal services are often the 'first port of call' for people with legal needs, irrespective of their capacity to provide legal information or assistance. The way a non-legal service responds to a client's legal problem depends upon the role of the worker and that worker's knowledge of available legal assistance services or options and their own resource capacity to support the client. Non-legal workers also report concern about inadvertently providing legal 'advice' they are not allowed to provide, rather than information.

However, the prevalence of non-legal services as a source of advice for legal problems suggests that it would be beneficial to equip non-legal workers to at least be able to appropriately refer clients who have legal problems to legal assistance services. Recognising the diversity of non-legal services approached by people with legal needs, a range of strategies is required to support non-legal agencies. Strategies that A2JLN research suggests may support non-legal services to assist clients with legal problems are discussed below. These include:

  • having a widely recognised, well resourced single contact point for legal assistance and referral
  • providing training to relevant non-legal workers on how to identify legal issues and appropriately refer or provide legal information to clients
  • providing non-legal workers with direct access to legal information and assistance
  • increasing inter-sector networks
  • legal and non-legal services forming relationships in order to provide a case-managed, coordinated approach to the legal needs of disadvantaged people
  • increasing awareness among legal services of the role played by non-legal services.

Referral information

Given the range of non-legal services that people turn to for help, ideally all service providers should be made aware of where to refer a client who has a legal issue. A2JLN data suggests that information about where to refer clients with legal problems needs to be as simple but as widely known as possible. For instance, distributing the LawAccess NSW phone number to services that different disadvantaged groups commonly access (e.g. community health staff, school counsellors, doctors, Centrelink offices) may improve the link between disadvantaged clients and appropriate legal assistance.39 LawAccess NSW helps people to assess their legal issue, provides legal information and, in some cases, legal advice and has the capacity to refer clients to other appropriate legal services (e.g. specialist services, or services which are local to the caller). While telephone based advice may not suit all clients (e.g. people with very complex needs or people with no access to a telephone), such advice may be a particularly effective tool in assisting those people who have the ability to resolve their own legal problems if provided with appropriate information and given some direction. Widely communicating a single contact number for legal assistance potentially increases the range of services that appropriately refer disadvantaged clients to legal support.

Referral training

Workers who have a specific role in providing general assistance to clients (e.g. case workers, welfare staff) may benefit from regular and affordable training to improve their knowledge of legal services and effective referral practices. The NSW Legal Information and Referral Forum has prepared a set of competencies for effective referral.40 These have been used as the basis for the referral video and manual, Getting off the Referral Roundabout, produced by Kingsford Legal Centre.41

Training for non-legal workers could also focus on equipping workers to identify clients' legal problems and preparing clients for what the legal service may or not be able to do for them. Training may also clarify for workers the difference between information and advice, and boost their confidence to provide information and referrals. It should be noted, however, that high staff turnover can make it difficult for agencies to keep their staff trained up about addressing legal issues.

Models where non-legal workers are provided with the necessary training and form alliances with specialist legal services whom they can later contact for guidance, may also be effective. In Gateways examples are provided of relationships between legal services and non-legal service such as financial counsellors and tenancy workers.42

Legal assistance for non-legal workers

Caseworker specific legal 'hotlines' can be useful to non-legal workers when assisting clients with urgent legal needs. They provide non-legal workers with ready access to appropriate legal information when a client comes to them with a legal problem. Such hotlines already exist. For instance, the Consumer Credit Legal Centre Caseworker telephone legal advice line allows community workers to obtain information on behalf of their clients or guidance as to how they can assist the client through their own service.43 Non-legal workers can also contact LawAccess NSW for information about a legal issue, or put their client on the phone to LawAccess. However, the A2JLN studies suggest that knowledge of such services among non-legal workers varies. Again, it is a challenge to ensure that broad awareness of these services is maintained in sectors where there is high staff turnover.

Inter-sector support and networking

Service providers and workers who participated in the A2JLN research commonly reported the value for both non-legal workers and legal workers of networking between the sectors, potentially improving both legal and non-legal service provision to disadvantaged clients. Potential benefits include increased non-legal worker knowledge of the law, increased knowledge among legal service providers of the services provided by other agencies, clarification of roles, more efficient use of resources and a greater ability to deliver services to clients, particularly in rural areas.44

Providing a coordinated response

Formalising referral agreements and networks between services and recognising the role of non-legal services as 'gateways into legal services' has a strong potential to assist disadvantaged people to receive more appropriate and timely legal assistance. For clients with particularly complex or interrelated legal and nonlegal needs (e.g. homeless people), a case-managed, holistic or 'co-ordinated response' may involve a team of legal and non-legal services working together to assist those clients.45 There are a number of models of service coordination with varying levels of coordination and autonomy between the services. A possible model is that of the 'service hub' or 'one-stop-shop' where services are located near one another to improve client convenience and facilitate better referrals and coordination between the services.46

Recognition of the role of non-legal services as a pathway to legal support

Increased awareness among legal service providers and the legal sector of the role played by non-legal workers may also improve the way legal services meet the needs of disadvantaged people. A non-legal worker acting as a support person should be seen as an ally who can make the role of the legal practitioner more effective. Legal service providers interviewed suggested that a non-legal worker in the capacity of support person could provide relevant information on the client's life circumstances and advise legal workers as to the best way to communicate with the client.47 At the same time legal practitioners and services can support non-legal services and workers by providing them with legal education/training and, at times, advice.

No Home, No Justice?, p. 226 Justice Made to Measure, p. 218.
NSW Legal Referral Forum, Legal Referral Competencies, The Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, petencies.html.
Kingsford Legal Centre, Getting off the Referral Roundabout, 2005.
Gateways to the Law, pp. 88 to 89 p. 110.
No Home, No Justice?, p. 216, On the Edge of Justice, p. 185.
Gateways to the Law, pp. 89 to 90.
Justice Made to Measure, p. 164, p. 222.
Justice Made to Measure, p. 223.
On the Edge of Justice, p. 172

39  No Home, No Justice?, p. 226 Justice Made to Measure, p. 218.
40  NSW Legal Referral Forum, Legal Referral Competencies, The Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, petencies.html.
41  Kingsford Legal Centre, Getting off the Referral Roundabout, 2005.
42  Gateways to the Law, pp. 88 to 89 p. 110.
43  No Home, No Justice?, p. 216, On the Edge of Justice, p. 185.
44  Gateways to the Law, pp. 89 to 90.
45  Justice Made to Measure, p. 164, p. 222.
46  Justice Made to Measure, p. 223.
47  On the Edge of Justice, p. 172

Clarke, S & Forell, S 2007, Pathways to justice: the role of non-legal services, Justice issues paper 1, Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Sydney