Our approach

Legal need is not equal.  Our approach is designed to get help to those who need it most.

The problem

People who experience socioeconomic disadvantage have:

  • More legal problems
  • More serious problems
  • Less chance of solving problems

Just 10% of the population have roughly 70% of all legal problems.  Yet most of these people will never get legal help.  A staggering 50% of legal problems are invisible to the justice system.

Pro bono can't this issue on its own. But it can make a huge difference.

Our solution

Our solution is to target pro bono at socioeconomic disadvantage.  We also shoulder some of the administrative burden for lawyers.  In these two ways we:

  • maximise the impact pro bono has on promoting access to justice
  • value and respect the special contribution pro bono makes to our community

Our approach follows several key design principles.  These are based on best practice research around the world.  The principles are:

  • Make use of a willing pro bono resource
  • Target it at socioeconomic disadvantage to promote access to justice
  • Plan and structure it effectively to ensure it its valued and used efficiently
  • Promote pro bono culture
  • Gather data to understand what works
  • Reduce barriers by:
    • Improving co-ordination
    • Managing conflicts of interest
    • Removing regulatory barriers

Priority groups

We prioritise people at the greatest risk from legal problems. Our priority groups are:

  • Disabled people
  • People experiencing economic disadvantage (including unemployed)
  • Single parents
  • People who are in disadvantaged housing (including homeless)
  • People who experience family violence
  • Maori and Pasifika people
  • Children and young people
  • LGBTI+ people
  • Older people
  • Prisoners and detainees
  • Recent arrivals to New Zealand
  • Rural, regional and remote (RRR) New Zealanders
  • People who have been trafficked or exploited
  • Asylum seekers

We help other people too but we give more effort to reaching the people above.

Public good

We also target matters of public interest.  Some cases are too important to ignore because they promote the best interests of society.  While they often relate to groups of people, they do not have to.  For example, bringing a case for an exploited individual acts as a warning to others, and helps bring balance to the justice system.

We can make exceptions to our eligibility criteria if a matter is of public interest. We use the following questions to help us decide:

  • How significant is the subject matter?
  • Who is affected - and how many?
  • How serious is the issue?
  • Is the issue current, or is it historical?
  • Is there a better way to solve this problem?

The pro bono portal

We use a revolutionary online portal to make our referrals.  Matters are filtered automatically, based on preferences selected by the pro bono lawyers.  Lawyers also use the portal to ask questions, conduct conflict checks, and receive documents.

The Pro Bono Portal was developed by Justice Connect (Australia).  It was designed in collaboration with firms and lawyers.  It is now used in multiple jurisdictions, including Australia, United Kingdom, and Hong Kong, and has hundreds of firms and lawyers.  We couldn't do this work without the portal and we are extremely grateful to Justice Connect for their support.

Te Ara Ture operates its own, standalone version of the software.

More about disadvantage and access to justice

International research shows that legal needs are not distributed evenly across the population. The largest survey of legal need, conducted in Australia, shows just 9% of the population account for 65% of all legal problems. This is because some people experience:

  • More frequent legal problems
  • Multiple legal problems at one time
  • Legal problems that are more serious (i.e. more have more deleterious effect)
  • Legal problems that persist for longer

Socioeconomic disadvantage is pivotal to understanding why some people have more problems.  Socioeconomic disadvantage is usually defined as some sort of deprivation, hardship or inequality concerning a person’s standard of living, well-being, capabilities or other life opportunities resulting from the person’s socioeconomic status.  It is broader than poverty, reflecting multiple types of social inequality.

Socioeconomic disadvantage is a double whammy: it exposes a person to more legal risk and reduces their ability to resolve legal problems.

While New Zealand does not have the same detailed research, the Australian findings align with the evidence we do have here (as well as other international surveys). Follow the links to learn more about the Australian survey and follow-up research.

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