Connecting paralegals to the public via phone - Legal Aid Call Centre in Sierra Leone

I have long been curious about how the Legal Aid Call Centre in Sierra Leone functions! @sarahkamara @jenefersesay @baindukoroma @malcomkamara – please feel free to answer one of my questions or to write up your general reflections on how the legal aid work you are now doing compares to your prior work as a paralegal!

  • How do you advertise the availability of the call center? Do you get the word out through paralegals, or lawyers, or by other means?

  • Is there a certain geographic area that the Legal Aid Call Centre targets? Is it Sierra Leone-wide? Focused on areas without active paralegals? Focused on areas where phone advice could supplement the work of existing paralegals?

  • How do the legal issues you handle by phone compare to the most common legal issues brought to paralegal centers in Sierra Leone? Do you frame the phone services in such a way that people typically call with issues suitable for phone-only advice? Or are case types similar?

  • Given that mediation is one of the most common paralegal tools used in Sierra Leone, what do you do if you receive a call that could be resolved through mediation between two parties? Do you refer the case to a paralegal or other justice service provider in the client’s area? Are you able to provide any kind of mediation or negotiation service by phone?

  • It was fascinating to read in @danielsesay’s summary of women’s issues in Sierra Leone that you made provisions to distribute 2000 mobile phones to leaders of women’s groups and organizations across the country, to ensure women can make calls even if they don’t have access to a mobile phone at home. Have you already distributed these phones? If so, do you have any sense of what proportion of your calls come from someone using one of these phones?

I look forward to better understanding your call center operations! The initiative seems so valuable when thinking about how to scale-up legal aid or paralegal services to a large population in a cost-effective way!

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Laura I’m answering your questions which I’m sure will give you a better understanding of the legal aid call centre. The centre is up and running and helping a lot of people with legal and other advice and information.

Based on the huge radio listening population, and the distance covered by radio stations, radio advertisement stands out as our major means of advertising the availability of the call centre. We use a number of Radio stations around the country to air the call centre jingles which are done in four main local languages. The jingles explain the services of the centre.

Our partners and other paralegal organisation who serve as service providers also help to send out messages about the centre. In addition to the jingles, we also do radio discussions - Just recently, the manager who is a female lawyer and a paralegal were on a radio to discuss the work of the centre. Another way to send message about the availability of the Call Centre, is through our callers (clients). How does this work? It works by ensuring quality services to our callers which will encourage them to tell other people in their communities about the call centre. Additionally, we have just designed a brochure that explains the services of the call centre and its availability. These brochures are distributed by other organisations and the Namati Legal Empowerment Advocates who work in the provinces.

The call Centre receives calls from any person that calls on the 369 helpline; however, the centre prioritises certain categories of case type, people, and areas for calls.

Foremost of these categories are cases that affect women and children especially in the rural communities in the provinces although we still provide services to people including men in the city.

On the mediation aspect, the Call Centre does not conduct mediation but rather make referrals to appropriate service providers including other paralegal organisations. The family support unit in the Sierra Lone police is one of the service providers we do refer cases to.

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Laura, with regards to the question of comparing issues handled by paralegals on phone and issues handled by paralegal centers in Sierra Leone, people call with wide range of issues and they expect to get ADVICE, EDUCATION and REFERRAL as the case may be. Sometimes we receive calls that do not have any justice related issues but we talk to them though, example of such is information relating to ebola.

Asking whether the case types are similar? Most times, YES. The difference between the Paralegal on the field and those at the call Centre is that the former sits face to face with their clients while the later only hears the caller’s voice on the phone without seeing him /her.

There are some people who only need some pieces of advice or counseling to solve their problems whilst some others need MEDIATION, ADVOCACY, and NAVIGATING AUTHORITIES as the case may be. When we receive calls from people who need the later services, we refer them to the appropriate service providers like paralegal organizations, Police Stations, Social Welfare etc. depending on the kind of services we explored while communicating with them on the phone. Some people insist to come to the office to meet us (paralegals) face- to-face but we tell them such is not possible but we continue to encourage them to go to the service providers.

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