Legal awareness

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Legal awareness is the empowerment of individuals regarding issues involving the law.[1] Legal awareness helps to promote consciousness of legal culture, participation in the formation of laws and the rule of law.[2][3]

Public legal education comprises a range of activities intended to build public awareness and skills related to law and the justice system. This term also refers to the fields of practice and study concerned with those activities, and to a social and professional movement that advocates greater societal commitment to educating people about the law. Distinct from the education of students in law school seeking a degree in law (which is often simply called "legal education") and the continuing professional education of lawyers and judges (which is sometimes called "continuing legal education"), public legal education is principally aimed at people who are not lawyers, judges, or degree-seeking law students.

The term "public legal education" (PLE) is related to, and may encompass, several similar terms.[4] The terms "public legal information" and "public legal education and information" (PLEI) emphasize a difference between educating and providing information.[5] The term "community legal education"[6] is common in Australia[7] and the United States,[8] where it often refers to community-based public legal education activities led by legal aid organizations. The term "law-related education" (LRE) usually refers to public legal education in primary and secondary schools (and sometimes in higher education), as opposed to PLE for adults and outside of school.[9]


According to the American Bar Association, Commission on Public Understanding, legal awareness is, "the ability to make critical judgments about the substance of the law, the legal process, and available legal resources and to effectively utilize the legal system and articulate strategies to improve it is legal literacy".[1]

The Canadian Bar Association (1992, 23) defines legal literacy as the ability to understand words used in a legal context, to draw conclusions from them, and then to use those conclusions to take action.[1]

With little change to the Multiple Action Research Group's(MARG, an NGO working for the promotion of legal awareness) definition, legal awareness can be defined as, "critical knowledge of legal provisions and processes, coupled with the skills to use this knowledge to respect and realize rights and entitlements".[1][10]

Thought, philosophy, and different approaches to legal literacy[edit]

The "continuum approach" considers legal literacy as, "a capacity spread along a continuum, with lawyers and judges at one end and relatively incapable laypersons at the other". This approach was adopted by the legal scholar White who considered legal literacy to mean, "that degree of competence in legal discourse required for meaningful and active life in our increasingly legalistic and litigious culture".[1]

Author Bilder (1999) defines legal literacy as a, "spectrum of functional skills", related to the conduct of litigation.[11] The continuum approach explains, "a certain degree of legal literacy is required for effective participation in modern society, but it is not necessary for the average citizen to reach the professional standard of “thinking (and writing) like a lawyer".[1]

One of the recent approaches considers legal literacy as a metaphor. According to this view, the term is "intended to suggest some parallels between the institution of the law, and a system of language to be mastered, knowledge gained and understanding achieved".[12] These authors suggest that the term legal literacy can also function as a model for educators who seek to promote such literacy. Proponents of legal literacy may thus look to the teaching of language for guidance.[1]

Need and importance[edit]

Anoop Kumar, a researcher of Legal Literacy Mission, says in his study, "the legislature of the state and the parliament, while enacting the legislation, consider the objectives of it. Some laws lay down the substantive rights of the masses and some touch upon the procedural aspect of certain laws. But it is due to lack of awareness of beneficiaries that most of the legislations are ineffective at the stage of their execution."[13]

Legal awareness can empower people to demand justice, accountability and effective remedies at all levels.[10] Legal needs always stand to become crisis oriented because their ignorance prevents them from anticipating legal troubles and approaching a lawyer for consultation and advice in time. This magnifies the impact of their legal troubles and difficulties when they come.[14]

Without literacy people can get intimidated and alienated from law. This may evolve into a situation which results in people coming into conflict with the law, or being unable to obtain help from it.[15] Courts have acknowledged the barrier raised by a lack of literacy to asserting guaranteed rights effectively.[16] Low literacy may block people’s access to justice.[17] At times, literacy requirements have been used to block access to rights and benefits[18]

Goals and objectives[edit]

Womens read about their legal rights in a public awareness campaing (Benin)

Goals of the legal literacy programmes can be broadly divided in three types. Namely educational, competency and critical.[19]

In Reading the Legal World, author Laird Hunter expects legal literacy to achieve:[20] "People using the legal system must be able to guide themselves through a process that they understand [...] and, at appropriate places along the way"

  • recognize they have a legal right or responsibility, in order to exercise or assume it;
  • recognize when a problem or conflict is a legal conflict and when a legal solution is available;
  • know how to take the necessary action to avoid problems and where this is not possible, how to help themselves appropriately;
  • know how and where to find information on the law, and be able to find information that is accessible to them,
  • know when and how to obtain suitable legal assistance;
  • have confidence that the legal system will provide a remedy, and
  • understand the process clearly enough to perceive that justice has been done

Depending on the goals there can be a number of objectives for legal literacy programmes.[21]

  • List of possible objectives:
    • raising awareness and building capacity
    • training of trainers
    • community education and empowerment
    • exposing law students to social justice work
    • strengthening community solidarity and supporting grassroots advocacy


Economic barriers,[22] language barriers, social taboos[23] and a lack of zeal among the legal fraternity may lead to obstacles in gaining requisite levels of legal literacy. According to Hanna Hasl-Kelchner,at times lack of zeal among lawyers make them prone to saying no and killing a deal rather than working through the issues and finding solutions that are both practical and legally sound.[24]

In a note to the UN General Assembly 67th session, the UN Secretary General states, "the deprivations that persons living in poverty encounter throughout their lives — lack of access to quality education, reduced access to information, limited political voice and social capital — translate into lower levels of legal literacy and awareness of their rights, creating social obstacles to seeking redress".[22]

The absence of a legal culture and the resulting illiteracy are the main reasons for the large number of cases in the courts. If the accused citizen knows that an act is a crime punishable by law, they may not do it.[25]

In the domain of law a vast category of users need to exchange legal information world-wide and carry out activities in a context where a common understanding of law beyond language is highly desirable. However, this requirement is hard to meet, due to the variety of languages and modes in which the legal discourse is expressed as well as to the diversity of legal orders and the legal concepts on which these systems are founded.[26]

About lesser significance to legal literacy in US legal education, Leonard J. Long professor of law, Quinnipiac University School of Law says, "law students, law firms, consumers of legal services, and society as a whole would benefit from having a legal profession comprised and dominated by people who are literate in American law, its history, and its jurisprudence. But legal literacy is not promoted mainly because it is not viewed as necessary for the practice of law.This is part of the anti-intellectual tradition in American law generally, and in American legal education specifically".[27]

Institutional and corporate legal literacy[edit]

Corporate, institutions and NGOs are subject to and are supposed to follow various sets of laws.[24] Legal awareness is an important part of professional work life.[28] According to John Akula,when law-sensitive issues arise, corporate executives often find themselves in what is, for them, unmapped territory, often without requisite law training.[29] When corporate executives work with attorneys they need to develop a common language to bridge probable communication gaps to achieve legal astituteness.[30]

According to Hanna Hasl-Kelchner, legal literacy can help to bridge the gap between law and business by simplifying legal terms into language that makes business sense and offers a new way to think about the law as a useful business tool.[24] Hanna Hasl-Kelchner says, "corporate legal literacy involves balanced understanding of cross disciplinery influences bringing in legal risk exposure,avoiding lawsuits and transforming potential business legal issues that threaten growth and profitability, into opportunities for building stronger business relationships, delivering sustainable stakeholder value, improving competitive advantage and foremost embedding compliance into the corporate culture to achieve organizational excellence".[24]

According to Hanna Hasl-Kelchner, corporate legal literacy tackles companies' legal risk profiles on both the employee and organizational levels. There is a need to identify the infrastructure needed to support legal literacy and promote effective communications throughout the organization.[24]

Designated legal officers[edit]

Apart from external legal advisors, internal legal officers[31] and in certain countries like Australia and India, The company secretary is responsible for advising on good governance practices and compliance of corporate governance norms as prescribed under various corporate, securities and other business laws, regulations and guidelines made thereunder.[32][33]

Related concepts[edit]

There are certain related concepts including legal consciousness, legal mobilization and legal socialization that helps to put legal literacy in perspective.[19]

Civics and socio-legal literacy[edit]

Despite semantic proximity education of civics, civics literacy and legal literacy are not exactly the same. In the "legal literacy" semantic components are the dominant notion of the "right," "law," "responsibility to the law," and "civic literacy" added to them the concept of "civil society", "individual rights and freedoms" and "man's responsibility to civil society".[34] In the formal civic education system, human rights can be taken up as a part of civic education, values education and social studies, though they may have the limitation of presenting only certain aspects of human rights rather than their integrated whole, and duties of citizens may be overly emphasized to the detriment of certain rights and freedoms.[35]

At the elementary school level, usually minimal level legal literacy introduction is taught through civics, but which is not necessarily adequate for the rest of life.[citation needed][original research?] Applied legal education is imparted through business and commerce school and some other branches.[citation needed][original research?] News media also plays a part, but is unable to meet all socio-legal literacy needs. NGOs and legal aid centers provide for limited legal literacy.[citation needed][original research?]

Legal literacy mission[edit]

National Legal Services Authority (India) conducted a five-year nationwide "National Legal Literacy Mission" from 2005 to 2010.[20][36]

Legal Literacy Day[edit]

On 9 November National Legal Literacy Day is observed in India.[37]

Internet and legal literacy[edit]

The Internet as a legal research tool is advantageous for most primary legal research materials, which can be located for free to supplement fee-based services and library collections. The Internet offers increased access to resources, low- or no-cost access, and real-time information via social media.[38]

Important institutions promoting legal awareness and legal literacy[edit]

Bar councils, lawyer federations and various NGOs take the lead in promoting legal awareness and legal literacy. In India, as per the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, the National Legal Services Authority (NLSA) has been designated to take appropriate measures for spreading legal literacy and legal awareness amongst the people.[39]

In Indiana, in the United States, Outreach for Legal Literacy (OLL) is a community service program in which law students teach law to fifth-graders in local elementary schools.[40]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g What is legal literacy? Examining the concept and objectives of legal literacy (Accessed on 31 Mar 2013)
  2. ^ Ashok Swain, Ramses Amer Globalization and Challenges to Building Peace (Accessed on 1 April 2013)
  3. ^ Bharadwaj Study Package For CLAT Page vii "Legal Awareness is the most important component for the students preparing for LL.B. entrance tests. It is altogether a new subject for the students preparing for the said examinations. In the absence of any comprehensive book on this topic in.."
  4. ^ Gander, Lois (2003). "The Changing Face of Public Legal Education in Canada". Canadian Forum on Civil Justice Newsletter (6): 4. 
  5. ^ McDonald, Susan (1998). Public Legal Education in Ontario Legal Clinics. pp. 53–57. 
  6. ^ McDonald, Susan (1998). Public Legal Education in Ontario Legal Clinics. pp. 50–53. 
  7. ^ "Community Legal Education services". Legal Aid Western Australia. Retrieved 2007-03-23. 
  8. ^ "Community Legal Education course". Center for Legal Aid Education. Archived from the original on 2007-08-29. Retrieved 2007-03-23. 
  9. ^ Cassidy, Wanda (2000). "Law-Related Education: Promoting Awareness, Participation, and Action", 297–98, in Weaving Connections: Educating for Peace, Social and Environmental Justice (Tara Goldstein & David Selby, eds.). ISBN 1-894549-01-5.
  10. ^ a b Multiple Action Research Group - Justice through research empowerment (Accessed on 2 Apr 2013)
  11. ^ (Bilder1999, 51)
  12. ^ (Manley-Casimir, Michael E., Wanda M. Cassidy, and Suzanne de Castell 1986, 47)
  13. ^ Kumar, Anoop, Social science research network National Legal Literacy Mission - An Evaluative Analysis (Accessed on 2 Apr 2013)
  14. ^ Justice P.N. Bhagwati, In 1986, in case of Sukhdas V. Union Territory of Arunachal Pradesh, reported in AIR 1986 S.C. at page 991, Justice P.N. Bhagwat
  15. ^ (Canadian Bar Association 1992)
  16. ^ (The John Howard Society of Canada1996)
  17. ^ (Council of Canadian Administrative Tribunals 2005)
  18. ^ (South Carolina v. Katzenbach (No. 22, Orig.))
  19. ^ a b Retrieved 31 March 2013
  20. ^ a b Kumar, Anoop, National Legal Literacy Mission - An Evaluative Analysis (March 26, 2013). Available at SSRN: or
  21. ^,10181,FP.html retrieved 31 March 2013
  22. ^ a b " Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights" page 6 from Note by the Secretary-General on Extreme poverty and human rights for UN GA 67th session A67/278 Distri:General 9 Aug 2012 webpage retrieved 30 March 2013 16.00 IST
  23. ^ Arise: A Women's Developmental Magazine Published by Acfode, Issues 2-16 snippet view as seen/referred to on 30 March 2013 on Google books
  24. ^ a b c d e Hasl-Kelchner, Hanna (2006). The business guide to legal literacy: what every manager should know about the law ISBN 9780787982553. pp. 1–12 & inside flap page (Accessed on 9 Nov 2013). 
  25. ^ website retrieved 30 March 2013
  26. ^ Multilingual Legal Information Access: an Overview- Ginevra Peruginelli Retrieved 30 March 2013
  27. ^ RESISTING ANTI -INTELLECTUALISM AND PROMOTING LEGAL LITERACY by Leonard J. Long Professor of Law, Quinnipiac University School of Law Retrieved 31 March 2013 12.30pm IST
  28. ^
  29. ^ The Importance of Legal Literacy for Executives-John Akula, Senior lecturer in Law at MIT Sloan School of Management Retrieved 31 March 2013 13.00pm IST
  30. ^
  31. ^ The 2011 In-House Counsel Compensation Survey, Question 10,[1] Profiles of In-House Counsel 2006 [2] Who Does Your Counsel Report To? (2001) (The Majority Report to the CEO)[3]
  32. ^ What is a Company Secretary?
  34. ^
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^ Supreme Court of India website as read on 26th Feb 2013
  38. ^
  39. ^ The act as seen on 26 Feb 2013 14.30 GMT
  40. ^ Retrieved 31 March 2013 14.00pm IST