60 second interview with Professor Kim Economides
Professor Kim Economides, Director of the Legal Issues Centre, University of Otago, New Zealand.
What’s your involvement in PLE?
I came to New Zealand three years ago to head a new research centre dedicated to making the legal system more accessible. Before that I was actively involved with legal outreach through establishing a rural Law Centre in Devon and have supported Citizens’ Advice Bureaux on and off since my student days. I was also on the Civil Justice Council Litigant Information (now Access to Justice) sub-committee set up to ensure that publicity available in courts was both physically and intellectually accessible to the public. Because New Zealand has a small population one finds relatively high, and direct, levels of participation in both public debate and law reform. Anyone here is free to make a submission on draft legislation, and many do (including me on legal aid reform and the Legal Services Bill), and there are public referenda. My role is by no means confined to research and I seek to engage different audiences, lay and professional, through radio interviews, social media and legal journalism.
What is your favourite example of PLE?
I have two. The New Zealand Justice Forum. This new initiative has tremendous potential to bring together different stakeholders that could enable the public to educate legal professionals, rather than vice versa. It also gives the public the opportunity to have a say in determining research and law reform priorities. Another is Books for Africa that makes a huge contribution by providing law books to fledgling law schools, such as the one I visited recently in The Gambia.
Why do you think PLE works?
In my experience the most effective reforms that deliver lasting change are those that transform, through education, ordinary peoples’ knowledge and understanding of their legal rights and their capacity and willingness to enforce them. Understanding the work of lawyers and judges matters too, especially what motivates professionals to uphold and pursue justice and the rule of law, but over time I have become convinced that effort invested in educating the public about their rights is absolutely critical because ordinary people, not lawyers, are the main drivers and raison d’être of litigation.
What is the biggest challenge PLE faces?
Mastering the art of communication and using both advanced technology and popular culture - economically and effectively - to educate the public so that they fear neither the law nor legal professionals and, when necessary, are confident enough to question both.
What is your top tip for achieving successful PLE?
Do not neglect LRE (law-related education) in schools. This could be the most important foundation on which to build PLE. I would like to see PLE activists focus far more attention on schools, teachers and pupils and for university law schools to do the same. Academic lawyers should become more interested in secondary schools as places that promote general awareness of law and legal rights, rather than as places that produce their brightest entrants. In other words, PLE activity should concern itself with what happens during as well as after school.
Note Professor Kim Economides became the Dean of Law at Flinders Law School, Adelaide in August 2012.