These guidelines have been developed by the Victorian Legal Assistance Forum (VLAF) Online Legal Information Working Group to assist people who produce or maintain online community legal information. The guidelines aim to raise the standard of online community legal information by providing guidance on how to produce and maintain high-quality community legal information that makes the best use of resources. They are suitable for use by organisations of any size.
The guidelines may also be used in the production of hardcopy material or other formats such as apps for use on smart phones. A list of resources has been developed to help implement them.
We have developed a list of resources to help you implement the guidelines.
Guideline 1 – Conduct research before undertaking a new project
Guideline 2 – Online legal information should be audience-focused
All online legal information projects should have a clearly identified audience, and the project should be tailored to their knowledge and skills. Consultation with members of the intended audience should take place to determine the information produced, and representatives of the target audience should be involved in the development of the project through reference groups and evaluation.
Information should be presented to ‘lead’ the audience from introductory material to more complex material to take account of the audience’s legal knowledge.
All online legal information should be written in plain language. Research shows that almost half of the Australian population struggles with literacy. For online material to be effective, those producing it need to consider users’ literacy levels and cultural backgrounds and provide them with the contextual information they need to better understand it.
Guideline 3 – Websites and other digital formats must meet appropriate usability and accessibility guidelines
In order to be effective, online legal information must be well designed, visually appealing and easy to use for all users. Issues to consider:
If designing a new website or assessing the effectiveness of an existing one, evaluation of how well the site works for the user should be conducted through all stages of development, not just at the end of the process. See the best practice usability examples at www.vlaf.org.au.
- Website design should be accessible to users with a wide range of disabilities (WCAG 2.0 Level AA standards)
- Websites should be easy to navigate, and information easy to find, through clear menus and prominent search tools
- Websites should be supported across all browsers, such as Firefox, Safari and Chrome
- Online formats should be able to be viewed effectively on all delivery platforms, including mobile formats
- If developing new electronic resources or publications, where possible they should be produced in HTML formats, rather than PDFs, that are searchable by users through external search engines.
Guideline 4 – Ensure that information is accurate
It is critical that both legal and non-legal information contained in online community legal information is accurate.
Reference groups made up of relevant experts should be used in the development of the legal content to ensure that it is accurate and that an appropriate scope of material is covered.
Legal content should be checked by a suitably qualified lawyer and other content should also be checked for accuracy (for example, information on a particular legal service should be checked with that legal service).
Guideline 5 – The currency of the information should be clearly noted
Users should be able to check the currency of the legal information provided. Clearly providing the date at which the legal information is accurate will address this.
Guideline 6 – Maintain your material
At least every 12 months, content should be reviewed to ensure its continued accuracy.
Where possible, the review cycle should be included with the content.
Tools such as web analytics should be used to analyse how your site or product is used and what you can do to improve its effectiveness.
Guideline 7 – The jurisdiction of the legal information should be clear
Searching for legal information through search engines can reveal results across a number of jurisdictions, much of which will not be relevant to the user. Many members of the public are unaware of the concept of jurisdiction and do not realise that law can differ from state to state. A statement that clearly states the relevant jurisdiction of the site or particular information helps address this issue.
Guideline 8 – Link to other relevant resources
Websites containing legal information should seek to provide access to relevant online legal information produced by other legal organisations. Providing links to other material reduces the need for an organisation to produce duplicate material, and is the best way of ensuring that the user has access to the range of information that they need.
If links are provided to primary sources, such as case law and legislation, information on researching legal information should be provided to assist the user to understand the context in which this material can be used. These sources should be cited using standard legal citation.
Guideline 9 – Provide access to a legal glossary
Websites that provide community legal information should consider including access to a plain language legal glossary. If possible, links to the glossary should be included in the content. Victoria Law Foundation produces a user-tested legal glossary that can be used by other organisations for this purpose.
Guideline 10 – Use standard terms where possible
Using standard terms across a website will assist the user in understanding complex legal information. Websites should adopt a controlled vocabulary with the same terms used consistently across the site: for example, avoid using 'car' and 'motor vehicle' interchangeably. An internal thesaurus could also be adopted to recognise the fact that individuals use more than one term.
Guideline 11 – Websites that contain community legal information should include information on how to obtain further advice and support
Community legal information does not aim to replace legal advice. Websites that contain community legal information should provide information on the ‘next steps to take’, and how to obtain further assistance from a range of services, not just private lawyers. Contact details should be provided if possible.
Guideline 12 – Raise awareness of new online legal information resources
One of the major reasons for duplication of legal information is a lack of awareness of available resources. Developers of this type of information should take steps to ensure that information on both completed projects and those in development is easily available. This can be achieved through activities such as the cross-referencing material on websites, the inclusion of other material on collected resources pages and the identification of new projects in newsletters. It can also be achieved through the use of social media and other channels, along with participation in information-sharing forums such as those run by VLAF and Victoria Law Foundation.
Projects should be listed on the CLEAR database and Everyday-Law website.
Videos should be hosted on a YouTube channel, or similar, to make them easier to find when using search engines.
Websites and online products should pay attention to search engine optimisation (SEO), through the use of tools such as metadata and keywords.
The use of appropriate marketing, and participation in information-sharing forums such as those run by VLAF and Victoria Law Foundation, also help to raise awareness of new projects, to improve their effectiveness and to reduce the chance of unnecessary duplication.
Organisations should work cooperatively to promote new services to the sector and community. This can be achieved through activities such as cross-referencing of material on websites and including new projects in internal and external newsletters.
Feedback and review
For more information or to provide feedback, please contact:
Chair, Online Legal Information Working Group
Executive Director, Victoria Law Foundation
Tel: (03) 9604 8100
Date of issue: 29 April 2014
Review date: 29 May 2015