Tips about legal information projects

If you’re thinking about producing new information, you have to be sure that your intended audience can access it. These three steps can help you make decisions about whether to undertake your legal information project.

Legal information doesn’t just present “the facts”. Sometimes the goal is to raise awareness of a particular issue or help people understand it better. That way, they might be able to avoid a problem or to get help. Other information may be for people already experiencing a legal problem. This type of information might explain possible next steps or guide people through a legal process.

Information that aims to do only one thing is often the most effective. You may find that your project is trying to do more than one thing. If so, consider whether the same piece of information can do all this, or whether you need to produce separate resources for your different goals.

Here are some key purposes for developing legal information:

  • Raising awareness: This type of information lets people know about a legal right related to a problem or a new law. It does not contain a lot of substantive legal information, and usually directs people to other resources or sources of help. See CLEO’s monthly newsletter On the Radar for an example.
  • Increasing understanding and knowledge: This type of information discusses a topic in some detail and may explain complicated legal concepts or offer a range of options for the reader. It may also provide “next steps” for the reader to take to deal with a legal problem. See CLEO’s Steps to Justice for examples.
  • Guiding people through a process: this type of information sets out the steps that people need to follow in a particular legal process, for example, navigating the court system when dealing with a family law problem. This information needs to explain each step in everyday language that the reader can understand, and must clearly show the path to follow. See CLEO’s Steps in a Family Law Case for an example.

Deciding on the best format for your information means considering both the message you want to deliver and the audience you’re delivering it to. For example, is your audience comfortable with written information? Do they have easy access to the internet?

Here are some formats to consider, with pros and cons:

Online: The internet is a cost-effective way to reach a large number of people with legal information. Some advantages:

  • People can get the most up-to-date information on the main topic they’re interested in, and also look into related topics easily.
  • It’s less expensive to update, which is useful when there are frequent changes to the law.
  • The information can be shared easily through social media.

But keep in mind that online information might not reach certain groups of people. Some people still can’t or don’t access the internet, or might not have the digital literacy skills needed to find reliable online legal information.

Print: Many people prefer to get information in print, especially those who don’t have access to or can’t use the internet. Some advantages to print materials:

  • Pamphlets and fact sheets can be easily passed on to others.
  • People can take them to appointments with legal or community workers.
  • Many people find it easier to understand and absorb complex information presented in print. Or, if they don’t take it in when they first read it, they can reread it.

But print can be harder to keep up to date in a timely fashion. It’s a good idea to check the CLEO website to see if we stock print publications on the legal topics that arise for your clients.

Video: Some organizations use video to present legal information. Video content can easily be shared through YouTube and other social media channels. And it can be helpful to reach specific audiences, such as youth. But it’s more difficult to keep up to date than static online content.

Podcasts or audio: Some organizations have used audio only content to share legal information through their websites or through social media. One advantage is that audio content is typically cheaper than video content to produce, and might be easier and cheaper to keep up to date.

But research shows that the primary audience for podcasts are affluent and highly educated consumers. This suggests that, without a direct target strategy, podcasts might not be an effective way to reach marginalized groups.

Evaluating your legal information project can be helpful in many ways. It can improve the next phase of the project or the next project you do. It is also a useful tool for showing your funder, board of directors, or community that you met the goals of your project.

If you know other organizations who are doing similar work to yours, consider asking them if they can share past surveys, questionnaires, or other evaluation strategies with you. Or contact CLEO for sample surveys and questionnaires.

Read CLEO's research report PLEI Formats and Delivery Channels in Ontario