May 17, 2007

There have been a lot of definitions of PLE proposed over the years, but perhaps even more rationales. The question “why PLE?” has a diverse set of answers, and the answers that any person or organization seize upon to justify their work seems to have a noticeable impact on the programs and activities they do.

At a broad, national, or international level, it might be useful to build a comprehensive list of PLE rationales. A full list would be useful not just so that others can pick from among them as they form mission statements and write proposals and advocacy papers—it could also to help us get a sense of the surprisingly wide scope of what public legal education is about.

For this entry, I’ve worked up the start of a list of PLE rationales, compiled from other lists from across the years. The list quickly got so long and unwieldy that I’ve tried to group the rationales into categories—you can tell me how well I’ve done:

PLE serves to fulfill some basic presumptions and prerequisites of legal and societal systems

  • The individual
    • The law affects everybody and in everyday ways; thus, knowledge of the law and its processes is a basic life skill.
    • The law presumes that everyone knows the law, so people must have a fair opportunity to actually know it.
    • Even to simply identify legal problems and participate in necessary legal processes, an individual needs a basic understanding of the law and legal processes.
  • The legal system
    • The legal system requires informed and involved citizenry if it is to be a system that is responsive to the needs, concerns and priorities of the nation.
    • The legal system needs legally literate citizens in order to maintain public confidence in the system.
    • The legal system also needs legally literate citizens if it is to operate fairly.
  • The democratic system of governance
    • Participation in the democratic process requires basic legal competence

PLE reduces problems and friction in the legal system and society

  • Compliance
    • PLE gives people a fair opportunity at complying with the law, rather than breaking it simply out of ignorance.
    • A public knowledgeable of its legal responsibilities may be less likely to enegage in conduct, civil or criminal, requiring resolution by the legal system.
  • Prevention
    • PLE can help people avoid disputes and plan transactions in ways that will reduce legal problems.
  • Self-help
    • PLE helps people deal with disputes when they cannot be or were not avoided.
    • PLE is needed for those who cannot or will not get a lawyer, so that they can navigate formal legal processes on their own.
  • Legal system efficiency
    • PLE helps people to be more efficient users of the courts, other tribunals, and other entities of the justice system.

PLE contributes to progressive developments in the legal system, justice, and society

  • Access to justice and equality
    • PLE improves access to justice by supplementing other legal services and helping particular disadvantaged groups understand their rights and obligations and how to act on them.
    • Equality before law requires special efforts to reach groups with barriers to understanding law (language, geography, social attidues, cultural background, financial status).
  • Law reform
    • Development of current law requires basic legal competence—people need to know to act on their rights if illegal practices are to be ended.
    • A public knowledgeable of its legal rights may be more apt to seek redress for a wrong.
  • Civic engagement
    • PLE contributes to active citizenship and social cohesion.
    • PLE helps produce an informed citizenry who can then take an active part in the democratic processes of society.
  • Social change
    • PLE can be an integral part of community organizing for community and social change.
    • Education is a method for empowering individuals and communities to work for a better life and a better world.

PLE counteracts other pervasive forces that mystify law

  • Hyperregulation and complexity
    • There are more laws than ever before, and almost every aspect of life is now regulated, therefore need legal information that is easy to understand and access now more than ever.
    • The language and processes of the law are unusually (though perhaps needlessly) complex, requiring an extra effort to simplify them for the general public.
  • Misinformation
    • The mass media and other sources of popular information about law and the legal system are often inaccurate, and responsible PLE is needed to counteract this misinformation.

A mixed bag of other rationales

  • Community building: PLE brings people together to learn and to share their problems and solutions, thus increasing bonds of community.
  • Legal profession benefits: PLE builds understanding of and confidence in the legal profession.
  • Professional development for legal workers: lawyers and legal workers engaged in PLE activities improve their skills in communicating with a general audience.
  • Marketing for lawyers: PLE activities help lawyers market their services and identify people in need of legal advice.
  • Empirical evidence: Legal needs surveys show that a significant percentage of people do nothing to resolve the legal components of their personal problems, and in many cases the reason they do nothing is because they don’t know their rights, obligations, or opportunities, or how to get legal help.
  • Demand: The people, collectively and individually, do want and will use information on the law and legal process.

There are, I’m sure, many more. Please consider adding your favorite to the list by leaving a comment.

One Response to “Why PLE”

  1. Canadian legal resources has helped to introduce an entire generation of researchers to the paralegal services.

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