Best Practice Guidelines for the Development and Maintenance of Online PLEI in BC
Public legal education and information (PLEI) is defined as:
- "... an activity that seeks in a systematic way to provide people with the opportunity to obtain information about the law and the justice system in a form that is timely and appropriate to their needs, but does not include advocacy or representation on behalf of individuals, nor the provision of legal advice."
- - Department of Justice, Access to Justice Agreement 2007-2009 (cited on the website for the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice)
These are best practice guidelines for the development and maintenance of online Public Legal Education and Information (PLEI) in British Columbia.
1. Research the need for the project
Before starting a new online legal information project, conduct research. Identify if there is a real need for the project. Use Clicklaw to see if similar resources already exist.
2. Create audience-focused legal information
Clearly identify the intended audience and tailor the project to their knowledge and skills. Consult with members of the intended audience and representatives of the target audience. Involve them in the development of the project as advisory group members or evaluators.
Use plain language. Consider users’ literacy levels and cultural backgrounds and provide them with the contextual information they need to better understand it.
3. Meet appropriate usability and accessibility guidelines
In order to be effective, online legal information must be easy to use and accessible for all users. Issues to consider:
- If designing a new website or assessing the effectiveness of an existing one, evaluate how well the site works for the user through all stages of development, not just at the end of the process.
- Design the website so it is accessible to users with a wide range of disabilities (WCAG 2.0 Level AA standards)
- Make it easy to navigate and to find information through clear menus and search functions
- Websites need to work across all browsers, such as Firefox, Safari and Chrome
- Online formats need to work effectively on all delivery platforms, including mobile devices
- If developing new electronic resources or publications, produce them in HTML formats, rather than PDFs. PDFs are not as easy to read on some types of devices, and search engines like Google may not rank the content of PDFs as favourably as other web content.
4. Ensure that information is accurate
It is critical that both legal and non-legal information contained in online PLEI is accurate.
Have a qualified lawyer check the legal content and ensure other content is also accurate (for example, if you’re providing information about a legal service, contact that service to confirm that their particular information is correct.
5. Note the currency of the information
Clearly provide a date that the legal information is accurate to.
6. Identify who produced the resource
Provide information about your organization to help the user assess the credibility of the resource.
7. Maintain your resources
At least every 12 months, review the content to ensure it is still accurate. Also review the effectiveness of the format. For example, use tools such as web analytics to analyze how your site or product is used and what you can do to improve its effectiveness.
8. State the jurisdiction of the legal information
Include a statement, or other contextual clues, that clearly indicates the relevant jurisdiction of the site or particular information. Searches for legal information can provide search results from a number of jurisdictions. Many members of the public are unaware of the concept of jurisdiction and do not realize that law can differ from place to place.
9. Link to other relevant resources
Provide access to relevant online legal information produced by other legal organizations. Providing links to other material reduces the need to produce duplicate material and is the best way of ensuring that the user has access to the range of information that they need. It also increases search engine optimization for PLEI in BC. Consider providing a direct link to one or two key resources, and a contextual link to Clicklaw.
When providing links to primary sources such as case law and legislation, include information on researching legal information (such as Janet’s legal research guide - coming soon) Use standard citation when linking to primary sources (CLBC to provide information on how to do this).
10. Provide access to a legal glossary
Consider including access to a plain language legal glossary. If possible, include links to the glossary in the content.
11. Use standard terms where possible
Using standard terms across a website helps the user understand complex legal information. Use the Clicklaw taxonomy as a starting point. Consider using an internal thesaurus to support people who use more than one term.
12. Include information on how to obtain further advice and support
Provide information on the ‘next steps to take’ and how to obtain further assistance, from a range of services. Provide contact details if possible. Where appropriate, link to Clicklaw’s HelpMap and/or PovNet’s Find an Advocate map.
13. Raise awareness of PLEI in BC
All PLEI groups in BC have a role to play in raising awareness of PLEI in BC. Although a coordinated communication strategy will require more resources than are currently available, some initial steps can include:
- Add new resources to Clicklaw. These can also be featured and promoted on Clicklaw’s Blog.
- Share information about new resources through your internal and external communication channels.
- Pay attention to search engine optimization (SEO) through the use of metadata and keywords so your resource appears in relevant search results. Adding your resource to Clicklaw increases your SEO.
PLEI groups and funders need to develop a better communication strategy to share information about legal information resources and services (in development, new and existing).
About these Guidelines
These guidelines assist people who fund, produce or maintain online PLEI. The goal is to improve the quality of online PLEI through best practice guidelines on how to produce and maintain PLEI and make best use of resources.
How to use these Guidelines
These guidelines are for anyone producing PLEI, from the smallest community group to the largest government department. Whatever the size of your organization, we encourage you to consider the guidelines before you start a new online resource or assess existing resources.
If you already have an existing website or other online resources, we encourage you to use these guidelines as an annual ‘check up’ on their quality, and to develop strategies to address any issues highlighted. We welcome your contribution to these guidelines.
These guidelines can be used effectively by organizations with limited resources. See the rest of the Clicklaw Website Contributor Guide for recommended resources that will help you implement these guidelines.
Adapted from: Best practice guidelines for the development and maintenance of online community legal information from the Victorian Legal Assistance Forum in Melbourne, Australia by the Clicklaw Steering Committee. May 13, 2015