Bringing Legal Help to Community Settings

Research suggests that social workers, medical workers, librarians, and other community-based partners can be effective providers of legal information. In fact, people who need help are likelier to look, at least initially, to these trusted partners than to courts or law firms.

Building the capacity of community providers to furnish accurate information and referrals makes sense both in urban areas (Oakland’s Legal Link, “providing legal first aid on the front lines,” is an example, as is New York City’s Legal Hand) and in rural settings (see Alaska’s Justice Ecosystem). It’s an idea, we believe, that would be good for Philadelphia (and Pennsylvania).

Our first effort to promote the idea was A Powerful Resource in Plain Sight – How the Free Library Can Promote Access to Justice, a proposal for low-cost ways in which Philadelphia’s Free Library could provide better legal information. With 52 branches, the library is a highly-used resource accessible from every corner of the city — but librarians currently have little legal information to share. One of our suggestions was that, instead of referring patrons to the law books at the main library, the library create a curated, self-help web site that librarians could help patrons use. The idea has not yet come to fruition, but we plan to continue to promote it, as well as to develop additional proposals for community-based, “front-line” sources of legal information.