Understanding legal capability

Legal capability is the capability to achieve fair outcomes to problems involving law.

Dealing with legal problems

In simple terms, it comprises the knowledge, skills, attributes, and resources needed to deal with legal problems (everyday and extraordinary) as people progress from recognising issues, to seeking advice or information, to resolving them:

  • Knowledge (e.g. about the law, rights, assistance, information, processes)
  • Skills (e.g. recognition of issues, information literacy, communication, decision-making, problem solving and digital skills)
  • Attributes (e.g. confidence and attitudes, self-awareness, persistence)
  • Resources (e.g. money, time, social capital, availability and provision of assistance services and infrastructure).

You can find our full framework of all stages and elements which constitute legal capability in our Law… What is it Good For? report.

Legal capability is also central to our flagship Public Understanding of Law Survey which will be conducted in 2022.

Legal capability matters

Around the world and over many years, legal needs surveys have revealed that:

  • not every person is equally likely to experience legal problems (Inequality of the incidence)
  • not every person is equally able to access the assistance they need (Inequality of access to legal assistance)
  • not every person is equally able to benefit from particular services (Inequality of benefits from legal assistance).

Diminished legal capability increases vulnerability to legal problems (incidence), drives choices in dealing (or not) with these problems (access to assistance) and determines the benefits taken from different types of service

Consequently, understanding legal capability is critical to form policy that supports better justice and makes access more equitable.

The impact of understanding legal capability

A better understanding of legal capability is essential if access to justice policy  is going to be effective and take account of peoples' diverse needs and capabilities, responding to the ways in which they think about and use law.

One size clearly does not fit all in access to justice policy. Understanding legal capability is key to taking the next step - finding the size and style of services that do fit in different circumstances.

Understanding legal capabilities can help to:

  • See the different capabilities people have, how they vary and where resources and services can be targeted to address deficits
  • Give insights into legal problem-solving, advice seeking and outcome - helping to tailor services effectively
  • Think about the optimal type and intensity – or style - of legal service that different people might need to support their access to justice
  • Determine whether services or interventions are operating well, and where improvements might be made
  • Measure the impact of service interventions and strategies, building evidence on what is working well.

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