Providing Answers to Common Legal Questions
Most of us don’t really worry about important legal questions until they become relevant to our lives, whether that’s due to bad luck or a poor decision. Regardless of our situation, however, it’s nice to have in-depth answers when, and if, we are looking for them.

A new website, stepstojustice.ca, is dedicated to providing just that. Wondering what consequences come with defaulting on a home loan? Curious if you may have a case to sue a former employer for wrongful termination? These are just a couple examples of questions that you can find answers to with Steps to Justice.

According to Paul Schabas, the treasurer of the Law Society of Upper Canada, “the website is sort of like an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) of law. It’s a great resource, especially when you know you are getting answers from reputable institutions in the justice system.”

The website, which launched last month, was pioneered by the Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO). They worked closely with the Ministry of the Attorney General, the Law Society of Upper Canada, and Legal Aid Ontario, as well as courts and community legal clinics across the province.

The Internet has given individuals greater access to a plethora of legal information. However, it is easy to become overwhelmed with the magnitude of information available. Another problem is the accuracy and reliability of information.

“What has happened over the last decade or so is that more and more information about people’s legal rights has become available online,” says CLEO executive director Julie Mathews. “The idea behind Steps to Justice is to provide accurate, easy to understand, practical information to people so that they can figure out what steps to take to deal with their legal problem.”

As it stands, the site currently offers answer to more than 350 legal questions. These questions span a number of legal focuses, including housing law, employment law, and family law. CLEO polled lawyers across the province to come up with a set of questions they are most often asked.

In addition to targeted answers, the site also provides links to pertinent resources, forms, and checklists. It also offers a Live Chat feature that gives users real-time assistance with finding the answers they’re searching for. Mathews is also quick to point out that systems are already in place to train community groups in the website’s functionality so that they can assist less tech-savvy individuals, or those who may not have the Internet easily accessible.

As demand grows, Mathews says, new questions and answers will be added to the site’s database. Additionally, the company is working on making existing content available in French through cliquezjustice.ca, and they have plans to provide content in other languages as well.

“There are an increasing number of people representing themselves in family courts and other courts and tribunals,” Mathews says. “Some of them are self-represented throughout. Some are represented in stages. Some need different levels of help. This is intended to address this growing problem. It won’t fix it, but it will help.”

Julie McFarlane, a law professor at the University of Windsor, spends a lot of her time researching and developing resources for self-represented litigants. She believes that the website is a step in the right direction, but believes it’s only a small factor in addressing the real problem at hand, and that problem is the lack of affordable legal services.

“The legal profession has to figure out how to sell services to ordinary people, or we are not going to solve the problem, even with the most wonderful online information in the world,” McFarlane says. “People still need lawyers. They still need guidance and help.”

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Posted by: DSR
Wednesday, March 1, 2017
Tag: Legal
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