About Legal Capability
OJEN believes that building legal capability in young people is one of the most effective preventative strategies for advancing access to justice. Everyone will come into contact with the legal system at some point in their lives, whether through the family courts, employment matters, civil disputes, landlord and tenant issues, or something else entirely. If a person knows how to manage that conflict, seek out appropriate assistance, and understand legal processes, they are more likely to resolve their legal issues quickly and at lower personal cost.
The term “legal capability” emerged as a way of thinking about what public legal education organizations could achieve through their work. The concept was influenced by research and writing on financial capability, which emphasized the skills, comfort with technical terms, and practical understanding people would need to manage their money. For us, legal capability is the measure of a person’s real, practical ability to manage the legal aspects of everyday life, and it relies on some of those same core elements – knowledge, legal life skills, and comfort with legal professionals and processes.
Of course, it also depends on what resources, opportunities, and systems they have to interact with. That’s why OJEN’s programs always try to introduce young people to simple, trustworthy sources of legal information and affordable help. It’s why we try to create opportunities for communities to learn about the legal system and also for legal professionals to learn about (and from) the community, ensuring that young people have a voice in the legal system and its reform.
Justice education is all about building young people’s legal capability. A legally capable person is someone who can recognize that an issue has a legal dimension; knows how, when, and where to ask for help; and understands that they will get the best outcome to their legal issue if they deal with it at an early stage. To build these capabilities, people need a combination of knowledge about the system and what help is available, skills for communicating their experience and preparing for legal processes, and confidence in both themselves and the justice system. Building confidence in the justice system and trust in professionals requires more than just information about rights and procedures. Opportunities to meet lawyers and judges directly, to have open and honest conversations with them, to be heard and treated respectfully by law enforcement, to have terms and processes explained in a relaxed environment – are all easy forms of direct interaction that build trust in our justice system, give people the confidence to pursue resolution of their legal matters and build the basic skills to manage the legal aspects of everyday problems.