For-profit PLE

May 15, 2007

Although I have focused my Fulbright research on nonprofit public legal education efforts, it would be foolish and impossible to completely ignore the for-profit PLE operations out there. In the U.S., Nolo is the behemoth. In Canada, Self-Counsel Press is, if not a behemoth, at least a major player—in the supermarket across the street from my Edmonton apartment, it is a display of Self-Counsel Press guides and kits, not PLENA or Legal Resource Centre materials, that greets every grocery trip I make.

I have run across some decades-old materials that suggest that Self-Counsel Press was once invited to the table, along with Canada’s nonprofit PLE providers, to strategize delivery and share skills. There’s no evidence that Self-Counsel Press came to the table though, or that there has been any crosstalk between for-profit and nonprofit PLE since then. The for-profit and the nonprofit PLE worlds have been left to evolve as separate planets, each figuring out on their own how to assess need, market products, communicate clearly, and evaluate success.

In the States, Nolo has become a highly-evolved PLE entity. It has astounding name recognition across millions of Americans and has gained strong respect and trust from many sources, including major media outlets. Nolo’s website has evolved into a substantial PLE resource, featuring dozens of free articles, FAQs, and podcasts on high-demand personal legal topics. Interestingly, Nolo’s history parallels the history of the earliest Canadian PLE organizations: the company was begun at the beginning of the 1970s by a frustrated young legal aid lawyer who felt that the legal system was needlessly complex and that the general public deserved reliable, plain language legal information.

In Canada, Self-Counsel Press has never achieved the prominence that Nolo has. Has the federally- and provincially-funded network of sole-purpose PLE providers been part of the reason for that? In any case, what could nonprofit PLE learn from for-profit PLE? Is it even conceivable that nonprofit and for-profit PLE would cooperate for skill-sharing and delivery strategizing? And, importantly, what can nonprofit PLE do that for-profit PLE never will? Has there ever been enough thought about these questions?

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One Response to “For-profit PLE”

  1. Kim Taylor Says:

    There are several outstanding unauthorized practice of law lawsuits in the US (Texas, California, New York etc.) against Nolo and other for-profit PLE agencies. How will this effect the discussion of joining/collaborating?

    I think as most Canadian PLE groups are not-for-profit, this is unlikely to be an issue here. There is less appearance of interference with the “business” of law that seems to cause the issue in the US between Nolo and others and the private Bar, who seem to feel encroached upon by for-profit organizations encouraging self -representation or being seen as doing legal work for clients.


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