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