Just in Time? Helping Legal Services Consumers

Published: 23 May 2014

Legal aid cuts are likely to set in soon. A new review conducted for the Legal Services Board looks at how supporting people as a decision is made and educating people about future events help consumers to make better decisions.

We need to establish which interventions are likely to be most effective for supporting and improving decisions taken by consumers facing particular legal problems.

With legal aid cuts likely to bite, a new review that we conducted for the Legal Services Board highlights how we can help legal services consumers help themselves.

The latest research in the health, finance and legal sectors suggests that both ‘just in time’ techniques, providing support as a decision is being made; and ‘just in case’ techniques, which involve educating people about events that may happen in the future, have considerable potential to help consumers make better decisions.

For example, the review shows that ‘just in time’ interventions can help people develop a good understanding of their underlying problem and the actions that they might take. Checklists, decision trees and cognitive mapping are particularly effective. The research shows that ‘just in time’ interventions in health and medical settings are generally quite effective and lead to better patient decision making. However, it is important to recognise that the options available to deal with a health or medical problem are usually well understood. In contrast, legal situations are often less clear-cut so it is important to conduct research to work out how these ‘just in time’ procedures can be made to work in the legal services context.

Research on the effectiveness of ‘just in case’ interventions is very mixed. Work by Law for Life on support for legal services consumers has developed a useful framework for thinking about user needs, but there is, as yet, no evidence that information acquired during the intervention is actually used later when making legal decisions. The same problem is true for ‘just in case’ interventions in finance and health. The work in finance suggests that greater knowledge leads to better financial decision making – the problem is that information acquired during a ‘just in time’ intervention is not remembered later, so rendering the intervention ineffective.

A major weakness with evaluations of both ‘just in time’ and ‘just in case’ interventions is a lack of clarity about how improvements in decision making should be measured. Current measures include knowledge gains pre- and post- intervention, amount of decisional conflict and happiness with the decision. Each of these is flawed. For example, knowledge gain is problematic for ‘just in time’ interventions because evidence that someone knows something does not mean they use it to make a decision. It is also problematic for ‘just in case’ approaches since research indicates that what is remembered at the end of an intervention is usually forgotten some time later when people have an opportunity to use the information to make a decision.

Perhaps most importantly, we need to establish which interventions are likely to be most effective for supporting and improving decisions taken by consumers facing particular legal problems. There are likely to be both common and distinctive difficulties and demands associated with, for example, decisions taken when dealing with separation and divorce as compared with suing an employer for compensation following a workplace accident. A comprehensive mapping of interventions on to different legal problem areas requires research looking at the demands and the difficulties faced by people in each legal area and then determining which intervention is best suited.

For further information, analysis and insight, please download the new report which is available at the Legal Services Board website.

Simon Maule

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Simon splits his time between our offices in Leeds and London. He formerly ran the UK corporate comms practice at Gavin Anderson & Company.

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