Julie finds herself in a situation she never dreamed of. She has lost her job unexpectedly; she has no income until her employment insurance starts, weeks from now. She lives in a small town and needs her car to get around and has no money for gas – it’s hard to get her special needs child to his medical appointments and search for work with no transportation. She can’t pay her rent this month. She has no family to help.
Who does she turn to for direction? Who know what help is available in her town or how to get it? She calls her best friend. “What should I do?” she asks, “Where do I start?” Her friend says “I don’t know, but you should talk to Sheila. She works at that government office downtown, she knows everything about this town.”
Social problems become legal problems for no good reason. If Julie can’t pay the rent, she might be in danger of eviction. What if her employment insurance is denied? What if her child acts out at school and is facing suspension?
Residents of rural and remote communities often have trusted and knowledgeable people they may turn to – the
“go-to” person for answers. This may be a social service worker, medical practitioner, hairstylist or a
librarian. The thing these trusted folk all have in common is a close connection with vulnerable members of the community and information to share.
The goal of the “legalWay Ambassador” module is to identify and train “Sheila” or our trusted intermediaries to:
— recognize preliminary signs of legal issues
— distinguish between legal information and legal advice
— know when and how to offer legal information including referral to a legal clinic
— know what resources are available to community members
— have familiarity with the legal clinic’s operation and services
The tools provided aim to support to those implementing this process.
Creating relationships with “Ambassadors” provides opportunity to identify potential legal issues early, sometimes before an issue requires legal services, and provide information or referrals in co-ordination with the legal clinic to get the community member the assistance they need.
Canadian data indicates that about 15% of the overall population experience 3 or more everyday legal problems. During a legal clinic pilot project, 64.2% of intake clients experienced 3 or more problem types. This is about 4 times the national average.
– Report on the Pilot Phase of the Legal Health Check-Up Project, A. Currie, Canadian Forum on Civic Justice