Pro bono advice and legal services project – Evaluation report

The Pro Bono Advice and Legal Services Project examines the potential for developing partnerships between advice agencies and pro bono lawyers and law students to deliver good quality public legal education to the public.

This was a collaborative project made initially between the Public Legal Education Network (now Law for Life), the College of Law, LawWorks, and the Law Centres Federation. The project aimed to explore the challenges and opportunities for legal professionals to deliver PLE, the success of partnership working, the effectiveness of establishing PLE sessions and the impact the sessions had on participants.

An experienced evaluator, John Seargeant was commissioned by the Public Legal Education Network to assess the success of the project and to make recommendations for future joint projects. The evaluation took place through observation of the sessions, interviews/discussions with the providers, participants and the partners involved in holding each session. Questionnaires and telephone interviews were also used.

Read the evaluation report of the Pro Bono Advice and Legal Services Project (485 KB)

The project delivered eight sessions between May 2010 and April 2011 – of which five were evaluated. Three were delivered to advisers, advice services managers and advice services trustees – described as ‘intermediaries’. Two were delivered to groups of older people at community centres. The sessions were provided by solicitors from two law firms – Allen & Overy and SJ Berwin and by students from the College of Law.

Conclusions

Overall, the evaluation concludes that the sessions had been effective and valuable and should continue to be delivered. The pro bono lawyers and law students did a good job and were effective in responding to their audience. There were some practical problems in organising the sessions and the advice agencies did struggle with this element of the project. Organisation and liaison is a vital part of a successful education project and need to be properly funded and resourced.

Some of the key findings:

  • The experience of solicitors with their firms gave them a solid basis for delivering the sessions. Their experience as lawyers, as providers of seminars to their clients, and a team workers played a role in the successful delivery of good sessions.
  • Solicitors bring a wide range of knowledge and skills that stretch beyond their own subject specialisms. There were clearly important skills and broad knowledge that produced high quality sessions.
  • Law students can deliver useful PLE sessions and can think through, design, and deliver these effectively.
  • A balance of approaches to deliver sessions is needed. Two approaches were adopted in the project and both had worked well to suit their specific audiences. However, many delivery techniques were not used, such as starting a session with a brainstorm of current issues or concerns for participants.
  • To build transferable skills and confidence, sessions might include negotiation exercises, or how to approach a formal body, etc. These had not been used significantly in the sessions.
  • Active engagement by participants was very important as was the skills and determination of the providers. The conclusions note that engagement is much more likely when a specific issue is of concern to a potential audience. Sessions provided by the College of Law where they had responded to existing community groups ‘requests’ for PLE were particularly successful.

Some key recommendations

  • Partners need to be enabled to focus more effectively on PLE as pro bono activity if it is to develop as a valued aspect of pro bono work. The report recommends that a PLE pro bono development post be created to encourage stakeholders and members to develop PLE portfolios and activities.
  • Law for Life should make renewed efforts to explain and illustrate PLE pro bono work. At present it remains relatively underdeveloped. Most of the sessions had been delivered using a ‘lecture style’ and had been thought of as either ‘training’ or as ‘talks’ – both likely to encourage a relatively passive engagement from participants.
  • The reservoir of skills and experience of PLE in leading solicitor firms should be tapped to expand their engagement and delivery of PLE.
  • More joint PLE delivery by partners with different skills is needed. Combining legal knowledge and expertise with, say, local knowledge about procedures and practices may produce better results.
  • Delivery of PLE to ‘intermediaries’ worked very well and should be expanded.
  • Strong participant input to the preparation of sessions in needed as well as improved advance briefing of participants about the session. This would ensure that it met their needs and improve their ability to participate.
  • The report was published by Law for Life in April 2012. Our thanks are given to all the partners in this important project which provides a grounding for future initiatives.

Read the Pro Bono Advice and Legal Services Project (485 KB)

John Seargeant

John Seargeant is a researcher/evaluator, policy analyst, trainer, and project manager, with a special interest in the development of high quality research and evaluation and in advice and legal services development overall.

John has undertaken research commissions, project evaluations and development plans for third sector organisations including Advice Service Alliance, Shelter, Mind, Age Concern/HtA, and CAB. He has also written widely on service development and quality issues in the legal and advice sectors. Over the last five years he has been working to support the development of Public Legal Education and was Secretary to the PLEAS Task Force. In the early 1990s he consolidated his research experience with an MSc in Research Methods at the University of Surrey.

Published: 1 May 2012

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