Does the Internet improve young people’s legal access?

A blog post from Richard Zorza’s rich blog on Access to Justice discusses an issue I am currently working on — whether the Internet is a usable and effective resource for non-lawyers to get legal information and support.

Some findings of particular interest:

  • Non-lawyers use search pages to find legal information to diagnose their situation.
  • They rely on the top search results as their primary resources, regardless of whether they are from the user’s jurisdiction, and without taking measures to check their quality.
  • The users sped through pages. Text and interfaces were scanned through quickly, and they flipped through sites quickly, back and forth. There was little slow, deliberate, consideration.
  • The users found some information to help address their legal issues, but they were not confident that their new knowledge was sufficient to truly help them.
  • After consulting Internet sources, the users were more likely to try non-legal processes to resolve their problems, and they did not register the urgency of taking legal means to protect themselves.

Catrina Denver - Legal Self-Help in the UK

Research on Young People’s Use of Internet to Get Legal Information

I am happy to report on, and post, a presentation by, Catina Denvir at the University of London, on preliminary results on research on young people’s use of the Internet in the UK.  I think these prelimnary results are important and helpful in our ongoing planning and design.

The researcher, after observing that there were high levels of access but low levels of use in this area, decided to conduct an experiment to test actual impact from this use of the Internet.  Users were given hypotheticals and then tracked and surveyed in employment and housing law.  These are some of the results.

Changes were Subject Specific (example housing):

   • Before  -­‐  Knowledge  poor  in  regards  to  eviction  without  a  court  order and whether  the  landlord’s  employees  can  remove  you  from  the  property  

• Uncertainty  as  to  what  constituted  a  breach  of  the  lease  

• After  -­‐  improvement  across  the  board,  but  uncertainty  about  who  can  evict  a  tenant” 

Lots of Searching and Churning Through Pages

Average time on a page less than a minute

Jurisdictional Errors

Did not limit searching to UK — It would be interesting to know about the extent to which people in the UK now assume US law rules (or dear, in some areas of poverty law.)  We obviously have the same problem in the US in terms of distinguishing between states.

Lots of back and forth between sites

Little discrimination as to which sites reliable

Order of Search Results was Very Important

Used top page and top result regardless of reliability. (So we need to do a better job of getting our stuff at the top, and educating public.)

After use of Internet, Greater Emphasis on Informal Mechanisms to Resolve Matter

Failure to understand legal processes

Failure to appreciate urgency

May Increase Knowledge, but not Confidence in Ability to Deal with Problem

This is consistent with other research in which I have been involved.

Obviously, this all opens up huge areas of additional inquiry.  Some of the most obvious:

  • How can we do better with search results (like expanding the LSC Google partnership so that it gets more broadly to trusted ATJ sites?
  • How can we use community eduction so people know to trust ATJ sites (how about a national certification system and courts and legal aid jointly promoting the reliability of those sites?
  • What would people need to have better confidence in their ability to navigate the system — would better descriptions do it, or does the system itself need to be easier?  Some of this could be tested.

Further information about the research is available from Catrina Denvir, catrina.denvir.10(at), at University College London.