Measuring Justice: The opportunities and challenges of measuring legal advice outcomes

As part of the Improving Lives Through Advice (ILTA) grants programme we produced a literature review of the diverse methodologies and frameworks advice organisations employ to measure outcomes and impact.

Providing accessible legal advice is crucial for navigating complex legal systems and empowering individuals and communities. However, understanding the effectiveness of such services poses unique challenges. This review investigates various approaches organisations use to address clients’ immediate legal needs while fostering a broader societal understanding of legal rights.

Key recommendations to overcome some of the challenges associated with measuring outcomes are:

  • Fostering a Learning Culture: Organisations should prioritise a culture of continuous improvement, providing training opportunities, and celebrating successes related to outcomes measurement. This helps build staff buy-in and internal capacity.
  • Collaborative Approach with Funders: The literature calls for a more collaborative approach. Organisations should work with funders to develop bespoke measurement tools that align with realistic expectations and the complexities of advice work. This advocacy is crucial for establishing a shared understanding of success.
  • Recognising Complexity and Value: Funders must be encouraged to recognise the inherent complexity of advice work and the importance of a comprehensive approach to outcomes measurement. This shift is required to capture the true transformative impact services can have on clients’ lives.

Key considerations when measuring outcomes are:

  1. Theory of Change (ToC) is recommended as a structured approach for understanding causal pathways and clarifying goals, assumptions, and links between elements in advice sector programs, while recognizing that ToC models can become overly complex in fields like legal advice.
  2. Attributing outcomes directly to specific advice interventions is a significant challenge due to the complex interconnectedness of factors, unpredictable client decisions, and time-delayed impacts.
  3. The literature strongly advocates for mixed methods approaches, combining quantitative data with qualitative methods like client narratives, to capture a comprehensive understanding of outcomes and the nuanced impact of advice services.
  4. Participatory design involving clients in shaping measurement tools and defining successful outcomes is crucial for ensuring relevance, increasing engagement, and reflecting client priorities in advice programs.
  5. Establishing consistent outcome standards across the advice sector, while allowing flexibility for local contexts, is a key challenge but offers opportunities for broader comparisons, advocacy, and demonstrating the collective impact to policymakers and funders.

This literature review was conducted by Naveed Somani, consultant at RLI consulting, the Independent Evaluator for the ILTA grant programme. ILTA is delivered by The Access to Justice Foundation and is supported by funding from The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest non-statutory community funder in the UK, and with thanks to National Lottery players. You can find more information on ILTA here.