Community Legal Clinics and even private practice lawyers offer free information – you just need to know where to look
We all know there are laws that protect us in all kinds of situations, from divorce to employment, human rights to housing, child protection and crime. Some are easy to learn more about, while others, such as those that come from common law principles, are not easily discernable or understandable for those without a legal education. That’s why public legal education is so important.
It’s true that we can all access federal and provincial legislation and regulations onine. There is even a free database of Canadian legal decisions at CanLii.org. But the best source of legal information is a good lawyer or trusted organizations. Fortunately, there is free legal education and information across the province. Community Legal Clinics, in particular, have mandates to educate their communities about the laws that they practise and how those laws impact them.
Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO) is a specialized Community Legal Clinic which exists to produce accessible resources to help people understand their rights and responsibilities in the areas of law that impact low-income communities. CLEO’s websites (cleo.on.ca and yourlegalrights.com) are fabulous sources of accurate legal information in language that is easy to understand, and often has been translated into many different languages. You can find information about housing, family law, criminal law, consumer rights, Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program, Employment Law, Canada Pension Plan benefits, Immigration and Refugee Law, Human Rights and the legal system in general. Steps to Justice (stepstojustice.ca) is its newest resource website, offering answers to more than 300 of the most common questions that lawyers are asked, and includes a live chat feature.
Staff lawyers, paralegals and community legal workers at Ontario’s 76 Community Legal Clinics offer free Public Legal Education presentations on a regular basis. Information sessions often take place at public libraries or accessible communal spaces. The best way to find out about upcoming sessions is to contact your local CLC. Presenters also do sessions for organizations and their clients if invited, so if you work for an organization that serves low-income folks, contact your local CLC to see if someone can present on your area of interest. CLC lawyers and staff often speak a variety of languages, so it may be possible for a lawyer to present in the language of the community your organization serves.
Many DUI lawyers working in private practice also offer free legal information and education sessions in their areas of practice. Most large law firms in Canada have websites and blogs with valuable information and answers to common legal questions.
CLCs are good places to call if you have no idea where to start with a legal issue. The Law Society of Upper Canada is also a good place to call. The Law Society offers a lawyer referral service, where you can have a free 30-minute meeting with a lawyer who practises in the area of law you need.
Understanding your legal rights is the first step in protecting them. The more you know about the law before you are in a position where you have to engage with the legal system, the better off you will be if or when that time comes.
It is important to remember that legal information is just that – information. For advice on your particular situation, you will have to consult a lawyer one-on-one.
Rachael Lake is a staff lawyer with Waterloo Region Community Legal Services, practising in the areas of Disability and Employment Insurance Law. Reasonable Doubt appears on Mondays.
A word of caution: You should not act or rely on the information provided in this column. It is not legal advice. To ensure your interests are protected, retain or formally seek advice from a lawyer. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Waterloo Region Community Legal Services.
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