There is no ‘official’ definition of public legal education (PLE). It is a generic term for any activity that helps the public or some segment of it be more aware of some aspect of the legal system. From there is quickly becomes more complex. The diverse range of underlying ideologies and the myriad ways they are manifested in action sometimes makes it hard to find much of a family resemblance between all that is included under the PLE umbrella.
Some see PLE as a narrowly defined set of activities that transmit discrete bits of information from one person (usually a lawyer) to another person most likely directly but perhaps indirectly.
Others embrace a more expansive and dynamic use of the term to capture on-going public engagement with legal matters that call on individuals both within and beyond the formal legal system to cooperate in
- co-creating knowledge;
- generating insights;
- developing critical thinking, analysis, and practice skills; and
- acquiring competencies and confidence in using legal resources and remedies to address personal, professional, community, or social issues.
PLE is sometimes seen as the composite of the meanings of each of the words: Public, Legal, and Education
PLE is also sometimes best how it evolved: the forces that shaped it.
The scope and nature of PLE continue to evolve: what needs and opportunities will it respond to in the future? What might hold it back?
Documents of interest: What is PLE?
Public Legal Education – What is it and why should we care about it by Walter Pavlic. Law Matters, April 2005. Canadian Bar Association Alberta.
What is public legal education? Department of Justice Canada.