Legal, Legal, Legal: A Tool for Screening Legal Needs

She failed to legal legal, which is legally legal, per legal.” That’s how a rapid-fire exchange between a magistrate and lawyer sounds to Alex, the protagonist in Netflix’s hit series Maid.

In this particular episode, Alex appears at a custody hearing wearing clothes borrowed from the woman staying one floor above her at a domestic violence shelter. As she walks into the courtroom, Alex learns that her abusive partner has a lawyer; she does not. In a few brief moments of screen time, Maid shows how quickly and utterly survivors can be alienated in legal systems that have tremendous power over their lives.

Over ten episodes, the series goes on to show how legal needs intersect with other basic needs, from housing and food to work and childcare. When basic needs aren’t met, getting legal needs met is more difficult – and vice versa.

Sometimes art imitates life — and even research. Indeed, the series brought to the screen so much of what my research team has learned from survivors and victim service providers over the time that we’ve partnered with LINC — the Legal Information Network of Colorado, a program of Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center.

Our collaboration began years ago with an assessment designed to better understand the legal needs of crime victims in and around Denver as well as barriers to getting those needs met. We learned quickly that survivors faced a host of barriers to getting their legal needs met, which spanned civil and criminal systems and were tangled up with social, economic, and health difficulties.

As part of that work, we applied what survivors and providers told us in interviews and focus groups to developing a tool that agencies can pick and choose from to screen for legal needs. Hot-off-the-presses, a new article from our team here describes the development of this tool in the Journal of Family Violence.

You can look at the tool itself here. As you’ll see, the tool has items to assess client legal needs related to:

  • Information (such as learning what happens in a civil case or the difference between civil and criminal cases)
  • Criminal cases and law enforcement
  • Civil cases
  • Safety
  • Housing
  • Translational and interpretation
  • Compensation, benefits, and bankruptcy

And the tool includes more than 50 barriers to getting legal needs met.

One of our hopes is that this tool can help providers spot legal issues, regardless of whether their agency provides legal services. For example, an agency could include items from this tool in intake paperwork in order to spot pressing legal needs that might create additional barriers and burdens for clients. Providers, then, have new opportunities for making referrals to get those needs addressed or connecting survivors with the LINC website where they can find accurate legal information in plain language. That’s right — no more legal, legal, legal.

We also hope that this tool can be useful to communities seeking to identify points of collaboration and intervention to improve survivors’ access to legal services. After all, collaboration is key to survivor-centered, trauma-informed responses to crime in our communities.

***

Interested in reading more about the ways that legal needs after intimate violence are interconnected with other pressing issues? Check out my forthcoming book, Every 90 Seconds: Our Common Cause Ending Violence against Women, available now for preorder (Barnes & NobleIndie BoundAmazon).

Note: The citation for the article on this tool is: Wright, N. M., Srinivas, T., Lee, M. S., & DePrince, A. P. (2022). Development of a legal service needs and barriers measure for victims of family violence and other crime. Journal of Family Violence, 1-19. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10896-021-00348-4. The development of this tool was supported by Grant 2012-VF-GX-K018 awarded to Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this report are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. Thank you to the Steering Committee of the Legal Information Network of Colorado for partnering to make this research possible as well as all research participants and the Traumatic Stress Studies Group.

Published by Anne P. DePrince, PhD

Author of "Every 90 Seconds: Our Common Cause Ending Violence Against Women" (Oxford University Press), Anne is Distinguished University Professor of Psychology and Associate Vice Provost of Public Good Strategy and Research at the University of Denver. She directs the Traumatic Stress Studies Group.

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