What is Public Legal Education?

Public legal education (PLE), or what in the United States is sometimes called community legal education (CLE), seeks to empower the public with the knowledge, skills and confidence they need to successfully resolve their legal problems. Public legal education consists of various types of activities intended to build public awareness and skills related to law and the legal system.

Canada as well as many European countries have extensive public legal education programs which are generally sponsored by non-profit organizations. However, in the United States, public legal education programs are scant, to say the least. The few public legal education programs which do exist are relegated to state legal aid societies and other social welfare non-profits, but are mostly unknown to the average American.

2017 Justice Gap Report

Most Americans are not well informed about the legal system and laws which impact their daily lives, which can have devastating consequences, particularly to someone who cannot afford a lawyer.

According to the 2017 Justice Gap Report published by the  Legal Services Corporation (LSC), state courts across the country are overwhelmed with unrepresented litigants unable to afford a lawyer. In 2015 alone, an estimated 1.8 million people appeared in the New York State courts without a lawyer.

Additionally, 98% of tenants in eviction cases and 95% of parents in child support cases were unrepresented in these courts in 2013. Comparable numbers can be found in courts across the United States.

According to the American Bar Association article Everyone Counts: Taking a Snapshot of Represented Litigants in Miami-Dade, those who represent themselves in court are at a distinct disadvantage.

A study reported by the Colorado Center on Law and Policy found that from 2014–2016, renters who lacked legal representation were evicted 68 percent of the time from private housing and 43 percent of the time from public housing. However, those who were represented by a lawyer kept their private housing 94 percent of the time, and public housing 80 percent of the time.

Unfortunately, most legal aid organizations have limited funding and offer limited services to those unable to afford a lawyer. Consequently, it is extremely important for self-represented litigants to access the legal information they need to effectively advocate for their legal rights.

Additionally, gaining basic knowledge of the law can also help people solve problems before it gets to the point where they need to go to court or hire a lawyer.

Considering the current social and economic climate, public legal education is more important than ever, and it is definitely worth the effort for the average person to become educated about the law.  As the saying goes, knowledge is power.

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The information on this website is intended as general legal information only and should not form the basis of legal advice of any kind. Individuals seeking specific legal advice should consult a lawyer.

Written by 

New Jersey lawyer turned blogger, podcaster and legal changemaker.