The future of advice
Roger Smith spoke on the future of advice in the digital age at the Law Centre's AGM in November.
As the economic crisis and changes to the benefit system continue to affect people on low income throughout Northern Ireland, advice agencies are looking for new solutions to meet increasing demand.
Roger Smith is a former director of Legal Action Group and JUSTICE and an expert in legal aid and access to justice. On FRiday 21 November, he gave the Law Centre's audience of voluntary sector advisers, members of the legal profession and civil servants an overview of innovative models of online services coupled with telephone and face to face advice. He encouraged local NGOs and government to take every opportunity to learn from international initiatives and to embrace the opportunities offered by digital developments to deliver better services. He also threw a note of caution about being mindful of digital exclusion, citing statistics that revealed that, although technically at least 80% of the population in the UK has internet access, in real terms about half of our client constituencies would not be able to access online advice, for reasons of age, literacy, cultural and language barriers or ability. Good digital services are those that provide information for straightforward cases while signposting face to face advice along the way for every complex case. He warned that this would not diminish demand, but in best case scenarios would free advisers to give better tailored face to face services to those who need them most.
He said: “The internet is revolutionising communication. We need to see how we can use it to improve legal services to those on low incomes. Around the world, examples of enormous creativity are emerging. NGOs like the Law Centre - which has a tremendous record of work in Northern Ireland - have a real opportunity to be at the cutting edge of innovation if they can get access to the necessary resources. And, crucially, they can also provide the individualised help that some people will always need when IT systems go wrong or people cannot use them. We need to learn all the lessons that we can from what others have done.”
Ursula O’Hare, Acting Director at the Law Centre, added: “The Law Centre delivers online legal information through our Encyclopedia of Rights guide and our legal advice briefings. In 2013-14, over 200,000 people accessed this information on our website. Today’s event is a great opportunity for the voluntary advice sector to learn about new models of service delivery and discuss possibilities for further innovations in Northern Ireland.”
A productive discussion followed, bringing together local NGOs, DSD, Legal Services Commission and other interesting stakeholders to compare and discuss current initiatives and plans for future developments, and measures to address digital exclusion.
About Roger Smith
Roger Smith is an expert in domestic and international aspects of legal aid, human rights and access to justice.
Formerly a director of the Legal Action Group, JUSTICE and West Hampstead Community Law Centre, he now works as a freelance writer and journalist. He writes for the Law Society Gazette and the New Law Journal and edits the newsletter of the International Legal Aid Group.
Roger is a visiting professor of law at London South Bank University and an honorary professor at the University of Kent and a solicitor.
He is a member of advisory, steering or other boards of a number of organisations including the Public Interest Litigation Service Northern Ireland, The Rights Practice, Inquest, and the Centre for Professional Legal Education and Research at the University of Birmingham.
He was awarded an OBE in 2009. He received a lifetime achievement award from the Law Society in October 2012.
He co-wrote ‘Face to face legal advice services and their alternatives: global lessons from the digital revolution’ with Professor Alan Paterson of the University of Strathclyde, a report published by Nuffield Foundation in January 2014.
His latest work, Digital Delivery and Legal Services to People on Low Incomes, is due to be published by Legal Education Foundation on 8 December 2014.
Roger Smith online:
on Twitter: @rogerjgsmith