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Tracking Legal Need in Very Small Areas with the Legal Health Check-Up

Ab Currie, PhD

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Legal Health Check-Up (LHC) is a uniquely valuable tool for documenting unmet legal need at a very fine-grained, local level. The LHC questionnaire is administered by community groups and service agencies to people seeking their services. Individuals who require service from the legal clinic are referred to the clinic. The LHC form becomes the basis for a dialogue between the clinic staff and the individual, laying the groundwork for a more holistic and integrated service that would otherwise not have occurred with an intake process focussing on addressing only one problem that is presented. The larger number of LHC forms, which may or may not include requests for help from other services, can provide useful insight and, can  be included in a database that comprises all the individuals who complete the forms and report the problems they are currently experiencing.

The LHC used for data collection does not constitute a random and representative survey. The scope of the data depends on factors such as the number of groups in the community that have LHC partnership arrangements with the legal clinic. The reliability of the data is subject to the manner in which each agency has people complete the forms.

However, the form does record the everyday legal problems that occur in the lives of the people who complete them. The problems can be aggregated for all the community agencies that have partnerships with the legal clinic and the data can be cumulated over time. The LHC is highly flexible. Changes can be made to the problem types presented in the survey in response to social changes in the community. Problems that apply uniquely to certain groups such as Aboriginal peoples or refugee claimants can be included. Acknowledging the limitations of LHC data for describing the landscape of legal problems, these data have a level of specificity for small areas that cannot be achieved by sample surveys even with extremely large samples. The LHC data documents legal problems directly and, to that end, is superior to inferences about legal need using proxy measures derived from census or other official data that are collected for other purposes.

As an outreach strategy, it is important to understand that the LHC approach is more than just the check-up questionnaire that is used to identify inconspicuous legal need.  The LHC also necessitates a relationship between the legal clinic and community organizations that provides a pathway to legal help.

The form itself is a valuable source of information to better understand unmet legal need. As a resource that is used in the course of providing service, the form also provides useful data that is not easily accessible by other means.  Legal service providers using the LHC approach should bear this in mind in the way they use the LHC form.  Decision-makers in government and legal aid commission bureaucracies who are responsible for encouraging and funding promising approaches for expanding access to justice should also pay close attention to this important feature of the legal health check-up approach.