Legal Help Journeys: Analysis and Inspiration from Australia

JusticeConnect, the innovative Australian Not for Profit, has produced an interesting website, Joining up Justice.  It is worth a look by anyone thinking about how to communicate legal information to users. The site is the culmination of five years work – latterly funded by the Victoria Legal Services Board. It is presumably linked to the service delivery development that JC is undertaking and which it separately showcases on its website in relation to AI, digital self-help tools and its gateway project covered in 2018. 

Joining up Justice dives straight into an interactive approach to managing the ‘legal help journey’ which it maps either from the point of view of the help-seeker or the organisation providing the help. Click on ‘About’ and you get the following explanation: ‘Our research showed what many of you would know already: for help-seekers, looking for legal help is hard, confusing, demoralising. And for service-providers, connecting with help-seekers, handling enquiries, getting the word out, and reducing the referral roundabout is a constant challenge. This Joining Up Justice website summarises our research findings and sets out some of the opportunities to improve the issues we identified. It presents and maps the experience of looking for help from the perspective of both a help-seeker and a legal service provider. For each stage of the journey, the site articulates common pain points and presents opportunities to address these pain points, as identified by the people and organisations that have participated in our research.’

The site’s approach is interactive. You click on links to make the appropriate journey. It is also intended to be cumulative and expanding: ‘We will continue to enrich the website with further materials to help the legal assistance sector take action to address pain points and seize opportunities to make improvements. This version of the website is our MVP [minimum viable product], and we hope to release further, more useful versions with further time and resources.’

The form is interactive but the content is instructional and structured. Open with a help seeker journey and you get June with a Covid-related employment problem. Her first issue is awareness that she has a legal problem. Help comes in the form of legal documents; friends family and community; and service providers. The helping organisation, meanwhile, is producing  community education, websites and marketing materials with which these inter-relate. June’s situation is analysed by teasing out her goals; her activities and her pain points. These move her through to the next stage,  ‘consideration’ of her options; from there she goes through to engagment with sources of assistance; on to service and finally arrives at outcome. Not all outcomes are, of course, positive and the chart acknowledges the possibility of failure as a potential pain points because ‘The outcome did not meet help-seeker’s expectations; The outcome does not improve help-seeker’s situation; Help-seeker does not understand the outcome; Legal assistance does not address the help-seeker’s whole problem.’

You could take some issue with the detail. The site, at the moment, gives you one journey – for June – who interacts with an organisation running a social media campaign for her class of tenants. Other journeys might reveal other points.

There are, however, some very good things about the approach. First, the fundamental breakdown of the ‘journey’ into five component parts seems to work more generally; awareness that you face a legal problem; consideration of its resolution and  the path to be taken; engaging with agencies that might help; the service they can delivery; and the outcome. And it puts emphasis on the two crucial early stages – awareness and consideration. Second, the analytical approach invites comparison by the presumed audience for the website – those in organisations grappling with how to provide assistance. Third, publishing this report on a Victoria Legal Services Board project in this form on the web unavoidably invites an international engagement. JC’s report might have slipped its life away in the quiet archives of the Board but net publication is an invitation to the world to participate in discussion of its work. This , it says, it welcomes.

And that might take us to a further rule of three which is relevant for how globally we might build on national experience around the world. We can benefit from analysis of the process of providing assistance in the way that JC has done. We can benefit from pulling together the lessons from the process by which this can be done, more ‘How to’ guides. There are any number of these. The JC site indicates how this can be approached.

Another recently published UK example with a more general approach would be the joint report by the Money Advice Trust and Fair by Design ’Inclusive Design in Essential Services’.

Finally, if JC really want to expand the site as a resource then the analytical might profitably be combined with the inspirational – the intention of this site. Real examples of inspirational best practice might be of value in tripping the imagination of practitioners who can read about – and build upon – them. As organisations around the world do more and more interesting things with technology, so the need for some form of internationally-focused clearing house, not to say strategic leadership, becomes evident. JC has shown it is interested in taking a lead in international discussion of how we might analyse provision. Let’s see this developed further.

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