New to legal aid communications in September 2017, I was surprised and humbled – as a voter, political science and journalism major and newspaper reader/NPR listener – by my prior lack of awareness about civil legal aid and the vital role it plays in increasing access to justice in the legal system. Trends and research in communications and messaging, both specific to legal aid and more broadly in the communications field, will be important in months and years ahead to increase awareness about a complex issue that expands access to justice to low-income Americans.
In Summer 2017, the Public Welfare Foundation (http://bit.ly/PublicWelfareFnd) and Voices for Civil Justice (http://bit.ly/VoicesforJustice) presented “Building a Civil Justice System that Delivers Justice for All.” (http://bit.ly/CivilJusticeResearch2017) A key finding was that broad-based majorities of voters believe it’s important for all people, including low-income individuals, to have access to the civil justice system. Voters supported legal representation AND information services such as self-help centers and free legal clinics. The report also noted, “While most people have little awareness about civil legal aid or the value it adds, when they are educated on the topic, they are highly supportive.”
In the 2017 Global Communications Report (http://bit.ly/2017USC_CommunicationsRept), produced annually by the University of Southern California’s Center for Public Relations, research confirmed the 2016 trend (http://bit.ly/2016USC_CommunicRept) that communications professionals likely will spend less time pursuing traditional media relations / “earned media” over the next five years. Instead, the emphasis on content creation will rise and be utilized across multiple platforms, ranging from “owned media” (websites) to shared (social media) and paid. In addition, the move toward increased collaboration between marketing and communications professionals is expected to rise over the next five years.
Looking to 2020 and beyond, 3 areas of focus will direct legal aid communications:
- Emphasize core values. “Messages anchored in core values resonated strongly with voters,” the Public Welfare Foundation reported in its civil justice system analysis.
- Create content. Informational content, to be shared on “owned media” (such as company websites) and on social media, will balance a slightly decreased emphasis on traditional media relations / “earned media.”
- Align marketing & communications. Collaboration between marketing and communications departments is expected to rise in the next five years.
Overall, communications educating donors and citizens about “equal justice under the law” and “justice for all” helps provide a framework upon which to explain the complex issue of civil legal aid in multiple facets of domestic violence, housing, consumer protection and other areas of law.
Marion Hoffman Fraley works in communications for a regional legal aid organization. Her personal blog is at http://bit.ly/MarionHF_Windsong-at-Wintergreen. She is a University of Wisconsin-Madison alumna, former reporter and school communications professional in California and Pennsylvania. As part of a career relaunch after 19 years as a stay-at-home mom and volunteer in public schools, she is enrolled in Northwestern University’s Social Marketing Specialization MOOC (http://bit.ly/NUSocialMktg) through Coursera at http://bit.ly/CourseraHome. She can be reached via Twitter @MarionHF or LinkedIn at http://bit.ly/MarionHoffmanFraleyLinkedIn.