The terminology surrounding PLE tends to be confusing. In some jurisdictions Public Legal Education is referred to as Public Legal Education and Information (PLEI), in others as Public Legal Information (PLI), and still others as Community Legal Education (CLE) or Community Legal Information (CLI). The term Law-Related Education (LRE) is used by some, but not everyone, to distinguish public legal education that is carried on in the schools from that which is directed to adult audiences. The reasons for these distinctions in terminology are largely historical and often have to do with fitting programs within the mandates of particular agencies, especially funders.
Efforts to define PLE with any precision have largely failed. Each of the words that make up the term public legal education are themselves concepts that elude definition.
- Public has many meanings in PLE encompassing both the general public and specific sectors of it, including “intermediaries” who in turn serve their own “publics”.
- Legal has been no easier for public legal education proponents to define than “law” has been for legal theorists. Suffice it to say that the focus of PLE tends to be on “black letter law”. But it is by no means limited to either substantive or procedural law. PLE covers the broader terrain of legal philosophy, theory, history, law making, the administration of justice, social policy-development, and reform. It also ventures into the domains of dispute resolution, restorative justice, and other means of achieving justice.
- Education signals that PLE services are not limited to the provision of information. PLE encompasses the development of knowledge and understanding about our justice system and the examination of alternative justice processes, including those of other cultures. PLE programs assist participants to develop skills in engaging with the justice system whether as concerned citizens, professionals, litigants, witnesses, or jurors. PLE programs also cultivate attitudes that enable Canadians to interact effectively with their justice system.
Public Legal Education – like any concept, public legal education is often understood by looking at what it is NOT – it is not legal advice, not legal representation, not continuing legal education for lawyers.
Since PLE is not easily defined, it has come to be associated with the activities of the organizations that have expressly taken on PLE mandates. Those activities range from one-page pamphlets to interactive online electronic services; from mock trials for high-school students to community-based law-reform activities. Those who practice PLE continue to challenge themselves to extend the limits of the field, crossing boundaries, serving as agents of change, and animating imaginations.
adapted from Lois Gander, The Changing Face of Public Legal Education in Canada