CM: The Law is All Around Us: A Case for Public Legal Education and Information
By Nathalie Tremblay, M.Ed.
Education Design & Evaluation Specialist; Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
Learning about the law is not just something you do when confronted with a serious legal issue. Personal legal capability is about awareness, citizenship, human rights, social engagement and having the confidence to advocate for yourself when you have to. This article will introduce the readers to the work of the Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta (CPLEA) and its efforts to increase Albertans’ access to justice by developing free accessible resources about the laws that are all around us – from everyday legal issues to more significant matters.
About CPLEA: the importance of a name
CPLEA is a non-profit organization that has been active in Alberta for almost 50 years! First introduced as the Legal Resource Centre, a decision was made by its board in 2012 to start operating as the “Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta”. The new name was deemed to better reflect the identity and purpose of the organization. It also obviously signals that its main goal is to serve the general public. It is very important for an organization devoted to increasing Albertan’s “legal literacy” with plain language information to present itself clearly.
What do we mean by legal literacy?
In the Public Legal Education (PLE) field, the concept of legal literacy is mostly referred to as legal “capability”. This is a fairly new addition to the PLE vocabulary describing the basic legal competencies and awareness that everyone should have. Meaning, the ability to understand and use legal information. We can all imagine how one can feel when involved in a legal matter full of unknowns. Having timely access to reliable, plain language information can make a difference in the anxiety level an individual experiences by providing some sense of control over a given situation. Greater legal capability helps people to learn the right vocabulary, formulate questions, decide on next steps, decide who to talk to, etc. More clarity and better awareness provide more decision-making opportunities.
People who cannot afford to access the services of a lawyer (unrepresented litigants) or people who make the decision to represent themselves (self-represented litigants) have a variety of needs when it comes to legal information. Organizations such as CPLEA become an important link in the legal assistance chain.
Ultimately if people decide to use the services of a professional like a lawyer or a mediator, having some of the necessary knowledge, vocabulary and concepts allows them to ask targeted questions and access the right services in a timelier fashion. There can also be a financial benefit to the consumer, as the professional can spend less time with basic explanations and instead dedicate more time to strategies and solutions. The good news is that in Alberta, there is an increasing availability of limited scope legal services and coaching, a concept well described in this LawNow article.
Legal topics and their importance
CPLEA develops a large variety of information on legal topics based on identified needs. We make use of web analytics and survey data to make decisions about specific resources and delivery. It is essentially using public input to generate the right output!
Some of our resources are also the result of close collaboration with social and community agencies who are able to identify areas of need directly from their interactions with the public.
This work is continuous and ongoing because of the nature of legislation which changes regularly and greatly affects people depending on circumstances and context, for example:
- Sizable and complex areas of law such as Family Law call for a large array of resources spanning from divorce and parenting to contact orders and financial support and everything in between. There are many ways of approaching Family Law in Alberta, many points of entry into the court system and many ways to resolve disputes out of court. CPLEA’s resources play an important part in providing clarity.
- Dramatic events such as a global pandemic sadly draw attention to areas of law where people are most affected like Landlord and Tenant and Employment.
- New laws such as Canada’s Ban on Conversion Therapy requires plain language information to be disseminated to the population in a clear and sensitive manner.
Everything is in the delivery!
Developing reliable public legal information in plain language to increase access to justice and expand people’s legal capability is of course a major part of the work at CPLEA. However, great resources must reach their audience to be effective! Facilitating access to our resources is of the utmost importance to affect people’s lives. CPLEA delivers its information in a variety of ways to boost accessibility by accommodating individual preferences, modes of access, interests, and settings:
- Digital resources and specialized websites: Info sheets, booklets, and posters are available to download online. Several separate specialized websites addressing specific areas of law and targeted audiences are also part of CPLEA offerings.
- Hard copy resources: For people needing hard copy materials for personal use or to distribute to clients, resources can be ordered and will be delivered for free anywhere in Alberta.
- Videos: Our YouTube channel “CPLEA-TV” presents a collection of short videos and recorded webinars to watch on-demand.
- Presentations and webinars: These offerings are in direct response to requests or emerging needs.
- Self-directed learning modules: Learning opportunities for people to explore areas of the law on their own! This type of learning is a growing aspect of CPLEA’s component of resources.
- Social media: Posts and short quizzes to direct people’s attention to useful and timely resources.
Learning about the law is not usually top of mind because people don’t always realize that legal aspects permeate many things in their daily life. From mobile phone contracts to wills and estates, knowing about a place to go for knowledge and awareness is key!
Note: This is an excerpt from our March 2023 Community Matters, you can read the full publication here
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