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The outcomes of community legal education: a systematic review, Justice issues paper 18  ( 2014 )  Cite this report

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Of the CLE studies originally identified, only two were included in the review following an appraisal of each study on relevance and methodological appropriateness (see inset text box in Methodology section above and Appendix 1 for more detail).

The included studies

The two studies included in the review were of overseas court-affiliated Divorcing Parent Education (DPE) programs, which aim to help divorcing parents deal with the emotional and legal aspects of separation and divorce, and issues relating to children. One study is an evaluation of the impact of a Canadian program (Ellis and Anderson 2003) on the use of court resources. The other is a meta-analysis (which synthesises results) of 19 US and Canadian studies (Fackrell et. al. 2011). This study assessed the impact of these programs on relitigation, and four relationship/conflict factors i.e. co-parenting conflict, parent-child relationships and parental discipline, and child well-being (i.e. child behaviour issues, adjustment to divorce). The programs and the studies are described in more detail in Table 2.

Given that CLE covers such a broad range of legal areas, it is perhaps surprising that both studies included in our review related to one specific CLE topic. One reason for this may be that participation in CLE on this issue is more controlled or regulated (because it is mandated or recommended by a court) than is typically the case. It is therefore more amenable to identifiable, rigorous and objective measures (e.g. relating to use of court resources and relitigation), which are a major challenge for most CLE programs.

Key findings

Is CLE effective in changing participants’ behaviour and outcomes?

The two studies provide evidence about whether CLE changes participants’ behaviour and improve participant outcomes. The studies found that CLE on this topic changed participants’ behaviour in positive ways and improved their outcomes, on most of the measures assessed.

Ellis and Anderson (2003) found that at the 12 month follow-up period, program participants in their Canadian divorce education program used fewer court resources — that is, they had fewer case conferences and mentions, and finalised their cases sooner than non-participants. In addition, the average number for each of these measures was lower for the participants versus non-participants and all these differences were highly statistically significant (p.178-179).

Fackrell et al.’s (2011) meta-analysis of 19 American and Canadian studies concluded that, taking into account all five factors examined (relitigation and four relationship/conflict factors), there was a moderate effect size from the divorce education programs studied. That is, those who participated in the programs were around 50% better off on the measures used than those who did not (p.113). This moderate effect size also held when the four relationship/conflict factors (i.e. co-parenting conflict, parent-child relationships, parental discipline, and child well-being) were examined individually. Fackrell et al. (2011, p.113) observed that this effect size is similar to that found for psycho-educational parenting programs and substance abuse prevention programs, which are often run by or affiliated with the courts.

When Fackrell et al. (2011, p.112) analysed a measure of use of court resources (relitigation), they did not find a statistically significant effect however the effect of DPE programs was in the same positive direction as found by Ellis and Anderson (2003). As Ellis and Anderson’s study used a 12 month follow-up period, the above findings can be taken as evidence of short to medium term outcomes. Only four of the 19 studies analysed by Fackrell et al. (2011) used a follow-up period longer than this.

What factors influence how effective a CLE program is?

The two studies provide some evidence about the factors which influenced the effectiveness of their CLE program. These studies indicated that:

Number of hours of education. Short programs can be just as effective as more intensive CLE programs. Fackrell et al. (2011, p.112, p. 115) found that there was no statistically significant difference in the effect of what are called ‘minimal dosage’ programs (between 1-3 hours of education) versus ‘higher dosage’ (10 or more hours) programs. They suggest that ‘this is good news if less intense programs require fewer… resources’, but that further research is needed on this issue given that only nine studies were available and included in this specific analysis. Future research would need to also consider ways other than ‘dosage’ that short and intensive programs differ (e.g. goals and client groups).

Compulsory versus non-compulsory attendance. Fackrell et al. (2011, p.112) found that both compulsory and non-compulsory education programs had an impact, but there was no statistically significant difference between the two types of programs.

Correlation between knowledge and behaviour. Changes in self-assessed knowledge do not necessarily correlate with changes in behaviour. Ellis and Anderson (2003, p.174) found — contrary to their expectations — no evidence that the decrease in use of court resources was due to an increase in knowledge (as indicated by the post-program survey).

Does CLE have an impact on participants’ knowledge, skills and motivation?

The two CLE studies analysed for the review only indirectly examined changes in participants’ knowledge, skills or motivation. It could be assumed that these have contributed to the positive changes found in participants’ behaviour. However this is not proven, and the fact that increased knowledge was not correlated with behaviour change (see above) might suggest otherwise.


Wilczynski, A, Karras, M & Forell, S 2014, The outcomes of community legal education: a systematic review, Justice issues paper 18, Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Sydney.