When lawyers try to develop materials explaining the law and legal procedures to lay people, the results are not always successful. That’s because many lawyers lack expertise in communication – or, at least, in communication with people outside the legal profession. Communication basics such as understanding one’s audience, taking account of the affective as well as the rational aspects of the communication process, using language that’s an appropriate level, considering a range of possible media, incorporating design elements – are not always a major part of legal education. And the essential practice of hearing directly from the people with whom one seeks to communicate, in order to discover their needs and what approaches would be most helpful to them, is often overlooked entirely.
Developing self-help materials is a frequent part of the Clinic’s work, and we try to learn and incorporate communications “best practices” in these efforts. Recent examples of self-help materials developed by Clinic students include fact sheets on defendants’ rights in consumer-debt court; a flier on how to prepare for a virtual hearing in Family Court; and a video for recipients of SSI (Supplemental Security Income) on how to complete the “Continuing Disability Review” forms required by the Social Security Administration.