These are dark days if you care about justice. New estimates reveal that over 5 billion people live outside the protection of the law. These are people who can be driven from their land, intimidated by violence, and excluded from society.
Against the backdrop of this staggering figure, community paralegals offer hope.
Community paralegals demystify law and empower people to advocate for themselves. They are at the heart of the growing global movement for justice. But to date, they have been largely ignored by scholars and writers.
A new book by Namati’s CEO, Vivek Maru, and World Bank senior economist Varun Gauri starts to fill that void. Community Paralegals and the Pursuit of Justice is the product of 8 years of research and writing by 14 authors. The first-of-its-kind collection studies paralegal movements in 6 countries: South Africa, the Philippines, Indonesia, Kenya, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.
Each chapter is rich with vivid accounts of paralegals helping communities to take on injustice, from unfair lease agreements to unlawful mining to denial of wages. From these stories emerges evidence of what works and how.
The book explores questions like:
- How have community paralegals adapted to and influenced their changing political contexts, from repressive regimes like apartheid South Africa to newfound democracies and, in some cases, back towards repression?
- Is it possible for paralegals to receive public funding without sacrificing their independence?
- What are five qualities of the most effective paralegals, and how can organizations nurture those qualities?
This book, says Maru, is for all of those working for justice: "I hope it will make us better at what we do, and bring attention to our cause."
The book can be downloaded for free via the Cambridge University Press website.
“A must-read… If ‘access to justice’ is an abstraction to you, it won’t be once you read the stories in these pages of paralegals and clients seeking justice. Those stories are unforgettable. They hold lessons for all of us.”
Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, current chair of The Elders
“Thoroughly original…Anyone interested in the future of law and justice will have to reckon with this book.”
Pratap Mehta, Vice-Chancellor, Ashoka University
“Frontline legal advocates can help people turn law into the guarantor of equality it is supposed to be. This book shows us how.”
Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative
"[A] powerful … guide to understanding one of the most promising emerging fields in the world today… Each individual story is inspiring, and the global potential of this profession to change countless lives is thrilling.”
Ricken Patel, Founder and CEO, Avaaz - The World in Action
We’d love to hear what you think. Do the lessons the book draws about paralegals and legal empowerment ring true to you? How do the experiences described compare with your own? Share your thoughts with the global legal empowerment community here.