Does an apple a day keep the courthouse away?

our slider photo about legal health, which depicts a gavel and a stethoscope. October is Health Literacy Month – and we’ve been thinking about ways to open discussions in the community and legal sectors about our recent research linking health literacy and legal capability.

In our research, we found at least one striking difference between delivery of health information and public legal information and information (PLE) – the focus on prevention. Traditionally, there has been far less focus on delivering preventative-type PLE than health information. Some reasons for this, in our view:

  • the “symptoms” of poor health are more obvious than the “symptoms” of most civil legal problems
  • most people expect to have a health problem at some point in their lives (for example, in old age), while many people don’t expect to have a legal problem
  • health promotion is far better-seeded in popular culture and media than non-criminal legal problems

The differences in emphasis on prevention are not surprising in light of core adult education principles. These principles suggest, for example, that people are more likely to look for and absorb information at the time they need it. This means that people may not take in “preventative-type” legal information even when offered it if they don’t have a legal problem at that point because they don’t see how it applies to them – it may take a crisis for them to seek help.

A recent toolkit promoting preventative legal health provides some interesting food for thought. And we agree that PLE that provides people with a knowledge base and related skills to head off future legal problems is an area that warrants more attention.

That said, when focusing on effective interventions and audiences, we suggest that care needs to be taken to understand the complex and intersecting nature of legal problems and the barriers that many people face.

How do you think that PLE can be used to prevent or minimize the severity of legal issues in marginalized communities before they get to crisis point?

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