60 second interview with Richard Grimes
Richard Grimes is an independent consultant with Talking Law, working on a variety of capacity-building projects. He has published widely on clinical legal education and in the legal skills field.
What is your involvement in PLE?
I have always believed in improving public awareness of law and the legal process. Knowing your rights (and your responsibilities) is an important part of civic education.
As a solicitor I tried to explain the law and people’s options in a way that supported self-reliance. As a teacher I tried to make legal theory of practical relevance. Since focusing on consultancy work most of my efforts have been on working with law schools, government, the legal profession and not for profit groups, in the UK and abroad, setting up programmes that aim to improve legal literacy and access to justice.
What is your favourite example of PLE?
There are so many inspiring projects:
In South Africa, Street Law (teaching people about how law affects their everyday lives) grew up at the time of apartheid and the infamous states of emergency. Working with school children, farm workers and other community groups, law schools quickly developed programmes teaching people about human rights and in consequence supporting the movement for social change.
In one town in Northern England PLE was used to explain to local residents what powers the council had to improve the standard of housing in the area. This lead to discussions with council officials and a change in policy on when the council would intervene to improve the housing stock. Since this happened anti-social behaviour in the area appears to be on the decline.
I have seen PLE carried out in a maximum security prison in the USA where inmates who completed a course on an introduction to law were reduced to tears when awarded their certificates: it being one of the few times they had ever received such positive recognition.
Why do you think PLE works?
There is a presumption in the question that it does! There is, in fact, very little empirical evidence of the effect of PLE on participants. What does exist suggests that it has a positive impact especially where the recipient has an immediate problem that the PLE addresses. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that PLE is very popular with everyone who takes part and that people want more of it.
Most people would probably agree that education is a good thing, even though we know little about how people actually use what they learn. I suggest the same is true of PLE - It is a ‘good thing’ for everyone to have a better understanding of the law as it affects them. Therefore we should work towards improving levels of legal literacy. The UK government estimates that the cost of unresolved civil legal disputes is over £4 billion a year. If people better understood their rights and obligations surely some problems might be solved or even avoided? In other words can we afford not to do PLE?
What issues are you grappling with in PLE?
In two words: ‘measuring success’. Many of us know from personal experience that PLE is badly needed. When delivered effectively it can have a profound impact on participants. What we lack is any in-depth analysis of the longer-term consequences of PLE. In particular which forms of PLE work best? The time has come for robust research.
What are your top tips for PLE?
In my experience the most effective PLE (as measured by the degree of engagement and the feedback given) seems to be where participants are actively involved in the learning and teaching. Interactive, face to face, learning supported, where appropriate, by electronic and hard copy resources, seems to produce results, if what those involved say is right.
We already have PLE as part of the National Curriculum for our schools. We should be building on this to ensure that everyone of school-leaving age has a working knowledge of basic legal principles and procedures including how to avoid ending up in court!
In the last 10 years the number of law schools in the UK doing PLE work in the community has grown from a mere handful to over 40 (almost one half of all UK law schools). We might harness this energy and resource in expanding our PLE services. We also need better co-ordination of our various efforts to support, promote and help deliver PLE.