Large‐scale Map or the A‐Z? The Place of Self‐help Services in Legal Aid

Publication Date01 Mar 2003
AuthorJeff Giddings,Michael Robertson
ISSN: 0263-323X, pp. 102–19
Large-scale Map or the A–Z? The Place of Self-help Services
in Legal Aid
Jeff Giddings* and Michael Robertson*
Australian legal aid agencies are increasing their reliance on self-help
legal services as part of their service delivery mix. Self-help legal
services seek to harness the productive capacity of consumers,
enabling wider distribution of legal aid services. The move to self-
help services as an alternative to traditional legal service delivery
appears to have gained momentum in advance of any sound
understandings of what legal consumers, and legal aid consumers in
particular, are capable of. In addition to the cost benefits of providing
self-help services rather than traditional legal services, these services
have been promoted on the basis of their capacity to empower users to
address their own legal matters. Examples of the misuse by government
agencies of notions of empowerment emphasize the importance of
ensuring the usefulness of self-help legal services.
This article considers the Australian experience of the emergence of self-
help legal services, with a particular focus on legal aid services. It questions
the effectiveness of self-help legal aid services, especially within a legal
system which is difficult for people to navigate if they do not have legal
representation or some other form of expert legal help. It will be argued that
the outcomes legal aid agencies seek to achieve through provision of self-
help legal aid services need to be more clearly articulated. There is also a
need to determine whether these services are designed to be the only legal
ßBlackwell Publishing Ltd 2003, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and
350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA
*Faculty of Law, Griffith University, Nathan, Queensland 4111, Australia
We wish to thank the Legal Aid Queensland and community legal centre workers who
participated in the Self Help Legal Services Focus Group at Legal Aid Queensland on 6
February 2002. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Legal Services
Research Centre Legal Services International Conference 2002, Jesus College, Oxford, 20
March 2002.
aid service in certain circumstances or whether they should be one of a range
of services, to be used only where appropriate. What is needed is a more
coherent strategy for the development and delivery of such self-help
services, together with a clear demonstration of their utility.
By self-help legal service, we mean a legal service that involves the
consumer taking personal responsibility for completing all or part of the
relevant legal transaction. Services within our ‘self-help’ definition are also
known by a variety of other names including do-it-yourself, unbundled legal
services, discrete task representation, and alternatives to full-time
Self-help legal services appear in a variety of forms, the
main ones being legal transaction kits (consumers complete a legal
transaction with the aid of an expertly prepared document kit), ‘coaching’
(limited legal advice provided at key moments to enable the consumer to
take steps or complete tasks in a legal transaction), and limited (or
‘unbundled’) legal representation. Variations of these may include
combinations of two or all of these. Use of the word ‘consumer’ in relation
to legal services has become relatively commonplace in Australia. The
influential Federal Government report, Access to Justice: An Action Plan,
produced in 1994 focused strongly on providing further information to the
consumers of legal services.
Self-help legal services can be viewed as part of a broader group of what
can be described as alternative legal services. Alternative legal services
include those more traditional legal services (advice, negotiation, and
representation) which have been made more accessible to clients through
alternative means of delivery. Web-based and email services have made
advice and other legal services more accessible to certain user groups.
Extensive use has been made of video-conferencing by courts to develop
‘virtual courtrooms’
and by legal service providers to reach groups
including geographically isolated communities and prisoners. Similarly,
audio-graphics conferencing (phone contact combined with shared computer
and internet access) can be used to enhance access to legal services to
isolated communities.
Self-help legal services are becoming increasingly prominent in both the
public and private sectors. The development of self-help services has
1 J. Giddings and M. Robertson, ‘‘‘Informed Litigants With Nowhere to go’’: Self-help
Legal Aid Services in Australia’ (2001) 25(4) Alternative Law J. 184, 185. See, also,
F. Mosten, ‘The Unbundling of Legal Services: Increasing Legal Access’ in Shaping
the Future: New Directions in Legal Services, ed. R. Smith (1995) 47.
2 Access to Justice Advisory Committee, Access to Justice: An Action Plan (1994), in
particular, ch. 4.
3 Law and Justice Foundation of New South Wales, Email Law: A planning guide for
the delivery of free legal assistance via email (2001) 5.
4 S. Parker, Courts and the Public (1998) 93–9.
5 J. Giddings and B. Hook, ‘The Tyranny of Distance: Clinical Legal Education in
‘‘The Bush’’’ (2002) 2 International J. of Clinical Legal Education 64.
ßBlackwell Publishing Ltd 2003

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