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Calling for justice: comparing telephone and face-to-face advice in social welfare legal aid

Burton, Marie (2015) Calling for justice: comparing telephone and face-to-face advice in social welfare legal aid. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This thesis considers the impact of the major shift to telephone-only services that took place in social welfare legal aid in April 2013. It asks whether changing the method of delivery of social welfare advice from face-to-face to telephone transforms the nature and quality of that advice in ways that are detrimental to the client. The lawyer-client relationship has been a major concern of work carried out previously by law and society scholars. Significantly, none of these commentators considered the impact of the telephone as a sole method of delivery. This research aims to contribute towards filling the gap in the current literature by carrying out an in-depth qualitative study which compares telephone and face-to-face advice in social welfare legal aid. On the basis of empirical data, gathered through interviews and observations involving lawyers, advisers and clients, the thesis identifies three main sets of problems associated with telephone advice. First, local knowledge, community networks and working relationships with opponents put face-to-face lawyers/advisers in a better position to take action on clients’ behalf. Second, the absence of inperson interaction can have a negative impact on the interpersonal elements of the relationship, which can affect clients' willingness to give full instructions. Third, the practical aspects of taking instructions and giving advice are adversely affected by telephone-only delivery, particularly as a result of the absence of non-verbal communication, and the difficulties associated with dealing with documents. The overall conclusion of this research is that some clients are able to overcome the potential barriers of telephone advice, but less capable clients and those with more complex problems are put at a significant disadvantage. In the contemporary situation of scarce resources, this research directly challenges the government rhetoric that changes to the delivery of legal aid target services at those most in need.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2015 Marie Patricia Burton
Library of Congress subject classification: K Law > K Law (General)
Sets: Departments > Law
Supervisor: Mulcahy, Linda and Braithwaite, Jo and Black, Julia

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