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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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Purpose of this systematic review

The purpose of the systematic review was to locate, assess and synthesise the best available research evidence on the effectiveness of CLE. The Law and Justice Foundation of NSW has previously argued that in the context of evaluating legal assistance services, effectiveness means demonstrating a causal link between an activity and an outcome — that is, the activity directly increases the likelihood that a positive outcome will occur and that it does so independently of the effects of other concurrent factors which may also potentially have this effect (Digiusto 2012, pp. 1-2). Therefore, to demonstrate the effectiveness of CLE, research studies would need to demonstrate that CLE causes a change in participants’ knowledge, skills and motivation to act, and/or ideally, it causes a change in their actual behaviour.

Specifically, we investigated what research evidence there was available that showed CLE initiatives:

• improved participants’ knowledge about the law, legal issues, legal processes or sources of assistance

• increased participants’ skills and motivation to take action to resolve their legal issues (including seeking the right sources of assistance)

• changed participants’ behaviour e.g. to take action to address their legal problem

• improved participant outcomes

• were cost effective.

It should be noted that there may be a range of aspects other than effectiveness that can be useful to evaluate for an activity such as CLE – for example, it can also be useful to evaluate why it succeeded or how well it was received by clients (see Digiusto 2012, p.1). While these are very valuable questions, they are beyond the scope of this particular review.


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.