Evaluation of Summary Legal Advice Services in Alberta

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Evaluation of Summary Legal Advice Services in Alberta

Community Legal Clinics in Alberta

In Alberta, there are four community legal clinics located in various regions across the province with the mission of supporting low-income individuals who do not qualify for government-funded Legal Aid for their legal issues. Each clinic is a unique organization with a unique set of services, but all are in large part funded by the Alberta Law Foundation, and were initially founded on the same model whereby volunteer lawyers provide up to forty-five minutes of free summary legal advice to the client by appointment. Today, all four clinics still have the summary legal advice clinics as a focus of their service.

Despite being delivered for over 40 years in some regions, there has been minimal documentation measuring the impact of summary legal advice services on clients in helping them to resolve their legal issue.

Development of the Evaluation Process and Tools

Starting in 2014, the four legal clinics operating in six locations (Lethbridge, Calgary, Red Deer, Edmonton, Grande Prairie and Medicine Hat), embarked on a journey into the world of program evaluation and impact measurement with the assistance of a consultant hired by the Alberta Law Foundation. Over the course of a year, the consultant worked with the clinics to develop and implement an evaluation process for the summary legal advice model. This included an education component, small test projects at each organization, and eventually, as a group, the development of a common logic model and tools designed to measure the intended outcomes. The purpose of the evaluation exercise is to assess the benefit provided by the current summary legal advice services and permit the legal clinics to modify their practices and processes to improve service to clients.

The measurement tools include an initial survey distributed to all clients following their clinic appointment, and a follow-up survey distributed via email link two months after the initial clinic appointment. Only clients who agreed to participate in the follow-up survey and who are not receiving any further service from the organization in dealing with their legal issue were sent a link to the follow-up survey. 

fter one-year of data collection, the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family analyzed the survey responses from all four clinics and produced a report summarizing the results (see the link at the end of the article to access the full report). Although the data is preliminary and does not allow for  firm conclusions to be drawn about the efficacy of the summary legal advice service model and its impact on the ability of clients to find a resolution for their legal issue, findings from the first year revealed interesting insights about the clinic clients, the types of legal issues they face, and the service they received at their appointment.

Highlights from the first year of evaluation

Initial Survey
(all clients are asked to complete a survey immediately following their clinic appointment):

  • - From February 1, 2016 to January 31, 2017, 6,054 clients attended a summary legal advice appointment. A total of 3,312 clients completed the initial survey, resulting in a response rate of 54.7%. 
  • - The respondents were very well educated with 64% having some university/college education, which is similar to the results for the general population of Canada.
  • - The vast majority of respondents (93%) were comfortable receiving advice in English.
  • - 92% of respondents indicated that they had enough time with the lawyer to talk about their legal issue.
  • - The outcome measures showed very positive results with over 89% of respondents agreeing that they increased their understanding of 1) their legal rights and responsibilities; 2) the options available to them; and 3) the pros and cons of those options.
  • - 92% of respondents agreed that they knew what to do next about their legal issue because of the advice they received.

Follow-up Survey
(sent via email to clients who agreed to participate and did not receive any further service from the clinic with regards to their legal issue): 

  • - Of the 855 follow-up surveys sent out during the data collection period, 130 responses were received from clients, resulting in a response rate of 15.2%.  
  • - The demographics remained similar to those collected on the initial survey.
  • - The outcome data remained very positive indicating that two months after the clinic appointment, over 69% of respondents agree that they still have a better understanding of their legal rights, responsibilities, options, and the pros and cons of those options.
  • - Further, the follow-up survey results show that 73% of respondents followed the advice received and another 15% intend to follow the advice.
  • - Interestingly, the results show that there is a significant drop in the positive responses for all four outcome statements on the follow-up survey in cases where clients indicated they were not given a written summary of the advice following their clinic appointment.
  • - A few small changes were made to both the initial and follow-up surveys after the first year of data collection, most resulting from feedback from clients when completing the survey or the way they responded to certain questions.

Over the next several years, data will continue to be collected and analyzed, and the four clinics, as well as the Foundation, will be looking to better understand the impact of summary legal advice on the client’s ability to work towards a resolution of their legal issue, and how the delivery of clinic services might be adapted to best meet the needs of the clients.

The full report can be found on the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family’s website: