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Beyond Outreach: Evolving Legal Aid at Halton Community Legal Service

In an interview for a recent Law Times article[1] I expressed the view that one of the main objectives of the legal health check-up (LHC) approach is to establish outreach in order to identify people with unexpressed legal need and to provide pathways along which people can travel to obtain help with legal problems. I have written about this in previous reports[2] The intermediary – clinic partnerships and the legal health check-up questionnaire are the means of identifying unmet legal need and the working relationships between the legal clinic and community groups are the pathways to justice. The LHC has been effective but the approach to legal aid at the Halton Community Legal Service (HCLS) is evolving beyond outreach.

A significant number of new clients are coming through the LHC process through organizations other than the partner intermediary groups with which HCLS developed formal relationships. This means that knowledge of the legal health check-up is diffusing throughout the broader community. Many community groups are becoming aware of it through the grapevine and are using it.

HCLS has recently implemented a secondary legal consultation service. Secondary consultation is a service in which professional legal advice is made available to service providers in the community. Any community organization can contact a lawyer at HCLS to obtain legal advice about an issue a service provider has encountered assisting one of their own clients. The legal assistance is provided to the community organization to help its staff provide better service to their own clients. The uptake for this service has been encouraging. Since the service began in the fall of 2016[3], 50 community organizations have made over 130 requests for legal advice. This is important because we know how legal problems are inherent aspects of many everyday problems, problems that may first come to the attention of other service providers in the community. Brief legal advice provided to service providers early on may be an effective early intervention strategy, dealing with problems before they become complex legal issues and the individuals become direct legal aid clients. Up to this point, housing services for the poor, mental health services and health care providers have been the most frequent users of secondary consultation.

As the legal health check-up and secondary consultation evolve, HCLS is receiving numerous requests from community organizations for public legal education sessions, requests by community organizations to become involved in research on poverty issues, and to work with problem-solving or therapeutic courts in the Halton Region. Like the legal health check-up that has diffused throughout the community and secondary consultation that has attracted a wide range of users, the community is coming to HCLS and HCLS is reaching out to the community.

The type of legal aid service evolving at HCLS involves more than adding outreach to identify unmet legal need, although it is doing that well. It is more than secondary consultation and early intervention, although this is very promising. Legal aid at HCLS is becoming woven into the fabric of the community. Outreach to community organizations is evolving into partnerships between the Halton clinic and community groups based on the recognition of an identity of interests. It appears that legal aid is coming to be commonly understood within the community as part of the common enterprise of fighting poverty, contributing its unique and highly specialized skills to the public good.

– Ab Currie, Ph.D.
Senior Research Fellow, Canadian Forum on Civil Justice
Research Consultant, Halton Community Legal Service

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[1] Project Looks at the Needs of Disadvantaged Ontarians, Law Times, (May 1, 2017) at p 4

[2] Ab Currie, Ph.D., Extending the Reach of Legal Aid: Report on the Pilot Phase of the Legal Health Check-Up Project (March 2016) and Ab Currie, Ph.D., Engaging the Power of Community to Expand Legal Services to Low-Income Ontarians (March 2017). Both reports accessible at www.cfcj-fcjc.org/a2jblog or at www.haltonlegal.ca See also Ab Currie, Ph.D., The Sub-regional Rollout of the Legal Health Check-up (January 2016) at www.legalhealthcheck-up/bundles/pdf.subregionalrolloutreport

[3] HCLS began promoting secondary consultation in the fall of 2106 although there was a preliminary trial launch in May 2016.

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