The timeliness of early intervention

What we're reading blog post tag imageWe’ve written here before querying whether it’s possible to prevent legal problems using public legal education and information (PLE). The notion of prevention, or “early intervention” – reaching people with PLE before they encounter a legal problem or before their legal problem escalates – is certainly appealing.

However, for people on low incomes, it is hard to prevent legal problems from happening in the first place. One reason for this, as Stephen Wexler noted in 1979: “Poor people are not just rich people without money…. Poverty creates an abrasive interface with society; poor people are always bumping into sharp legal things.”

For example, people on low incomes are forced to live within the parameters of a legal regime that governs their social assistance or unemployment insurance payments. Adequate affordable housing and employment options are often not available to them. People on low incomes are also more likely to experience multiple legal problems at once, which in turn complicates their ability to find information and help.

A recent paper by the Law and Justice Foundation of New South Wales in Australia both echoes and fleshes out our thinking on the effectiveness of early intervention strategies for people on low incomes. The paper, based on evidence drawn from a nation-wide legal needs assessment conducted in 2012, questions the assumption that early intervention, when viewed as providing “lighter” services such as PLE earlier in the legal process and reserving more intensive help for later stages, is a “panacea for cheaper and better justice”.

The paper makes the following points about early intervention:

  • Strategies that rely on clients taking self-help measures after getting information or advice, while appropriate for the wider community, may cause marginalized people to fall through the cracks. Services for those people need to be accessible and culturally appropriate.
  • The types of help that marginalized people need to deal with legal problems might not be exclusively – or at all – legal. Personalized legal help can be important to “rule the law out” and redirect people to social or support services that they may need instead.
  • Legal needs often arise at key transition points in people’s lives, such as job loss or sudden illness. This can add another dimension to the “timeliness” of legal interventions, as it may mean that other issues must be dealt with before the person is ready to address their legal problems.

The paper concludes that a more inclusive framework should focus on the timeliness of help relative to the client’s experience, rather than defining the effectiveness of interventions in terms of what might be an “arbitrary time in the legal process.”

What do you think?

One Comment

  1. Author: Ingrid

    on November 12, 2015 at 9:23 am - Reply

    An intriguing study — I like the idea of challenging assumptions. Thanks for posting this.

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