[Member Spotlight] Legal Empowerment in Practice: Barefoot Law

This member spotlight features an interview with Timothy Kakuru @Time, a founding member and the director of Barefoot Law, a member since 2012.

Name of organization: Barefoot Law

Country: Uganda

Adoption of legal empowerment approach:

BarefootLaw, a not for profit organization from Uganda which uses digital technology and other innovative methods to empower people to develop legal solutions for their justice needs.

What is your organization’s mission?

We believe in making access to justice readily available to 50 million underserved people across Africa by 2030. We are using innovation and technology to achieve our goal.

What kind of issues does your legal empowerment work address?

Ignorance of the law is a widespread problem across the continent with the direct result of people making unreasonable and at times unlawful decisions unknowingly. Ignorance of the law and the increased failure of rule of law has popularised extra-judicial actions by ordinary people in Uganda. It has led to a shocking number of mob justice incidents which still occur today and an undermining of the judicial processes and more people suffering injustice as a result. BarefootLaw therefore provides its services to beneficiaries across all areas of the law, from land conflicts to domestic violence to criminal cases.

How are you using legal empowerment to address the problems?

At BarefootLaw, we believe that by equipping people with the law, they can use it to educate themselves, empowering not only themselves but their communities as well, and if a justice need arises, this knowledge can be used to enforce their rights.

We provide free legal information, guidance and support to people who fall in the category of the underserved (these are people who are unable to receive legal information because they are too poor to afford a lawyer or cannot understand the complex legal language the law is normally shared through. Our services are provided in the following ways:

  1. Using online technologies like our websites, social media, and SMS, we creatively disseminate legal information that is easy to understand and use by the general population.

  2. Using innovative methods to educate our beneficiaries who do not have access to technology platforms or who are illiterate about the laws that govern them and how to utilize these laws to protect themselves and to enforce their rights.

As a primary measure, we reach over 500,000 people monthly across our various platforms and projects. We handle over 100 legal enquiries/ cases every day through our platforms, providing direct legal support and guidance in the process. We help with the resolution of about 20 legal inquiries/ cases every month. Some of the notable cases we have helped resolve have been reported in the news or had short documentaries made about them by our partners.

  1. Innovation in the legal field is just as important as any other field, mainly because the beneficiaries themselves are changing and the ways that they grasp information are changing over time. Therefore, innovation is necessary not only to make the message relevant but to keep the messenger relevant as well.

  2. BarefootLaw survives on a very lean model and we can help others in the network learn how to operate for increased efficiency even when they are working with insufficient resources.

  3. Harnessing technology for increased meaningful reach and impact. In a country where Internet speeds are slow comparative to most of the rest of the world, where the Internet does not reach as far as it does in many other countries, we have learnt how to harness and utilize the Internet in order to maximise our reach and impact and we can share this knowledge with others in the network.

Innovation- Is there an aspect of your legal empowerment work that is particularly innovative?

Innovation forms a core of BarefootLaw’s ethos and is a constant, as David Bowie once said, if it works today, it is irrelevant, and this mantra drives us towards coming up with new and creative approaches to access to justice.

Our innovation is visible in the BarefootLaw model, which takes into consideration the connectivity spectrum of the various populations in which we operate, and develops solutions tailored for these specific communities. Over the years, we have come to the realisation that in terms of access to justice, there’s no “one size fits all” approach and so various innovations have to be patched together, to come up with one model (the BarefootLaw model) which then achieves our aims, to make access to justice accessible to the poor and most vulnerable populations.

This can be seen in the use of technologies, from the most basic technologies like the SMS, to more complex technologies like Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence in our BIOS system.

Another innovative approach for us is in the use of data from hundreds of thousands of interactions, which data is then used to inform our interventions, and predict legal needs around the country, in some cases, even before these arise and so timely interventions are carried out.

What are the strategies you employ to ensure the long-term sustainability of your work?

BarefootLaw is designed to leverage different technologies to deliver services to different communities, depending on the access/ availability of these different technologies to that community. BarefootLaw also aims at heavily relying on community volunteers also referred to as “BFL nodes” these are people in communities who help share BFL’s information, organise activities with BFL in communities and act as conduits between BFL and the local communities especially in the rural areas.

Our human resource is another strategy we employ which currently ensures sustainability. We have been able to create a lean team comprised of volunteers who have a desire to help people attain justice.

The low cost of BarefootLaw operations helps to ensure that it is sustainable and also the ability for BarefootLaw to use different approaches to reach the community depending on the availability of resources.

Do you have any advice for other organizations about achieving scale?

Organisations should not only focus on scale, because scale alone is not enough, they should focus on achieving impact at scale, because it is by achieving impact at scale that the most poor and vulnerable of the 7+ billion people around the world will be able to access justice.

Because BarefootLaw is built on technological advances, scaling it is relatively easy hinging mostly on the availability of technology and the skills to use it. Given a short period of training, any literate person can join the BarefootLaw Nodes and share the simplified legal information that our team generates.

We believe that for scaling to be achieved, the local populations have to be involved in not just information dissemination, but information and idea gathering. Where the population is involved directly scaling will be successful and the nature of help provided will be relevant and beneficial to the communities.


If you have questions or thoughts to share about this member’s work, please share them below

Member Spotlights are short profile articles focusing on members of the Global Legal Empowerment Network. Spotlight articles use case studies to provide useful insights into the work of other network members. Whether you are working in the same country, with similar issues or want to understand new legal empowerment approaches, the Member Spotlight is a useful learning resource. You can read about organizations in our network here (https://community.namati.org/tags/spotlights)

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Great story and analysis. Thanks for sharing

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