Ontario Civil Legal Needs Project Releases Report
Civil legal issues include wrongful dismissal, family law issues, eviction from housing, powers of attorney, personal injury, eligibility for service, and consumer debt. Resolving these issues can involve the courts, administrative tribunals and regulatory bodies.
The Project had three research components: an extensive telephone survey of low and middle-income Ontarians, focus groups with front-line legal and social service providers and a mapping exercise to identify existing legal services.
According to the executive summary:
"Civil legal needs are a pervasive and invasive presence in the lives of many low and middle-income Ontarians. One in three low and middle-income Ontarians have had a non-criminal legal problem or issue in the past three years and one in ten has had multiple legal problems. Overall, almost four in ten people who had experienced a legal problem and sought assistance in the last three years reported that they were still working to resolve their most important problem. The disruption that results in the daily lives of Ontarians when their civil legal needs cannot be met is signifcant. Unmet needs often cascade into greater problems for individuals and their families."Among the highlights of the report:
- Almost 70 per cent of low and middle-income Ontarians who have experienced a civil legal problem in the last three years sought legal assistance from a lawyer whom they paid
- Fully half of the low and middle-income Ontarians who had civil legal needs were able to access free help or to resolve their legal problems for less than $1,000 in legal service fees
- The study reinforces the necessity of diferentiating the needs of low and middle-income earners. There are vulnerability issues among many low-income Ontarians that compound the disruption and challenge created by a civil legal need. The specifc legal issues are often diferent for the two groups. Middle-income Ontarians anticipate the need for legal assistance with wills, powers of attorney, or real estate issues. Low-income Ontarians are more likely to need legal help with disability-related issues, social assistance, personal injury or employment issues. More Ontarians in the lowest income group rely on non-legal
sources of assistance for their problems, in particular friends and relatives
- Legal service delivery traditionally assumes individual representation and direct legal support from a lawyer or paralegal in a traditional litigation model. The study reinforces the value in continuing to rethink how legal services are provided to clients. Breaking down legal services into their component parts – or “unbundling” legal services – could in some cases provide clients the option of choosing which parts of a legal issue they resolve on their own and which parts are appropriate for professional help
- The study recognizes the important innovations which already have been developed: self-help centres allow self-represented litigants to access the justice system; the Lawyer Referral Service of the Law Society of Upper Canada; CLEOnet, a project of Community Legal Education Ontario that makes available an online collection of legal information and resources produced by community agencies and community legal clinics across Ontario