Just a Click Away Conference, Feb. 23 & 24, 2011

The Just a Click Away Conference is taking place this Wednesday and Thursday, February 23 and 24, 2011. Funded by the Law Foundation of Ontario’s Access to Justice Fund, Just a Click Away is an initiative to enhance how technology can be used to deliver legal education and information to the public in Canada.

Clicklaw is part of a breakout session at the conference, “Portals and Other Models for Online Public Legal Education: What Are the Next Steps?”. The session builds off of a series of preconference webinars exploring models used to provide access online to public legal education and information. This video recap of the webinars features five portal websites, including Clicklaw, as well as one content-rich site in different jurisdictions across Canada and the US.

Five Portals and a Content Site from Clicklaw on Vimeo.

Justice, Law and Ethics in Education Masters from SFU

Just added to Clicklaw’s Learn & Teach section is information about a new graduate studies opportunity from SFU. Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Education, Law and Society is now accepting applications to their new graduate program, Masters of Ed.: Justice, Law and Ethics in Education. The focus is on legal, justice and ethical issues in education, plus ways to more effectively teach law-related education in the community and schools. The deadline for applications is March 15, 2011, and the program starts in September.

Just a Click Away Webinar Series

Clicklaw was featured in a webinar that took place on January 11 as part of the Just a Click Away initiative. The goal of the overall initiative is to enhance access to justice through effective use of technology. The initiative features a national conference in Vancouver on February 23 – 24, 2011. A preconference webinar series features approaches being used in various jurisdictions to provide access online to public legal education & information. In addition to Clicklaw, the webinars feature CLEONetACJNet (now LawNet), PovNet, LawHelp.org, Educaloi, and InMyLanguage.org.

The Importance of Plain Language

A national conference is taking place this week in Montreal called “Explaining the Law to Others: Message Received… and Understood“. This event is focusing on the importance of plain language in communicating the law. People attending include lawyers, judges, government communication specialists, academics, and non-profits involved in communicating the law. These varied groups are connecting to look at how we can communicate more clearly to our diverse audiences, be they clients, the courts, decision-makers, or the public.

One of the requirements for resources on the Clicklaw website is that they are written in clear language. The concept of clear or “plain language” has been around for decades. But there are signs that we’re reaching a tipping point in seeing plain language become a more prominent part of the discussion in the legal field. Just last month, the United States passed the Plain Writing Act which requires government forms to be written in plain language.

Clicklaw and sites like it continue to grow quickly, suggesting the public is hungry for plain language information about the law. This conference, attended by 300 people and the first of its kind in Canada, brings together so many perspectives, and is another step toward making legal information easier to understand. It’s great to see this happening at a national level, and to connect with others involved in plain language from across the country. Thank you for hosting this, Nathalie and team from Educaloi!

Educaloi will have information about the conference proceedings available in the near future. We’ll post a link to them on the Clicklaw blog when they’re released.

Parenting After Separation Program Expands

Parenting After Separation HandbookThe Parenting After Separation program expanded on October 1, 2010 to four new mandatory PAS sites (Campbell River, Courtenay, Penticton and Vernon) in the Provincial Court.  In addition, the Ministry of Attorney General is  promoting voluntary participation in PAS for Supreme Court litigants.  These free, three-hour sessions are offered in 17 locations in B.C. and help separating and divorcing parents ensure their decisions take into account the best interests of their children.  Sessions also inform parents very generally about the litigation process and about non-adversarial options for resolving issues involving children. 

The program has been offered for more than 12 years by the Ministry of Attorney General.  Ministry evaluations show: participants are very satisfied with the program; fewer cases proceed to court as a result of attending a session; and cases that do proceed to court resolve with fewer appearances.

Click on the link at the top for more information on how to find the program in your community. You can also check out these Parenting After Separation resources on Clicklaw.

Expanding Role of Technology and Access to Legal Information

Two recent reports on legal needs consider the role technology and access to legal information play in helping people work through legal problems.

A recent report from Ontario looks at the everyday legal problems of low and middle-income earners in that province. “Listening to Ontarians: Report of the Ontario Civil Legal Needs Project” (PDF, 1.9MB) finds that one in three low and middle-income Ontarians reported having a non-criminal legal problem in the past three years. The range of problems included disputes between divorcing couples, wrongful dismissal, eviction from housing, personal injury, and consumer debt.

When faced with a legal problem, the top three places people seek assistance and information from are:

  • a lawyer in private practice
  • friends or relatives
  • the Internet

The report finds that Internet penetration is relatively high among low and middle-income Ontarians, with 84 per cent having access to the Internet at home, work, school or somewhere else. Among those who sought self-help through the Internet, almost 9 in 10 found this assistance to be at least somewhat helpful. The report concludes:

“Technology holds great promise in expanding the reach of affordable legal information, advice and representation. The resources provided through [websites from several legal organizations in Ontario] and other online sources of advice, information, and referrals suggests the potential of the Internet for empowering individuals to engage in self-help. Provided that the websites are accessible, online resources can enable individuals to self-select the right level of legal assistance for their problem.”

Meanwhile, as part of its renewed approach to advancing access to justice, the Canadian Bar Association has released a 125-page research report, “Moving Forward on Legal Aid: Research on Needs and Innovative Approaches” (PDF, 1.6MB).

The report summarizes recent research, both in Canada and internationally, into the legal problems experienced by the poor and nearly poor. It concludes that a majority of low-income people experience legal problems that make their day-to-day lives more difficult, and yet continue to have no meaningful access to legal advice and assistance in many civil legal matters. Access to legal information has improved:

“The greatest strides have been in the area of access to legal information and there have been many important developments in this field both in terms of harnessing technology, be it via telephones or websites, and in terms of creating resources for SRLs.”

But much work remains to be done. The report calls for reform to the legal aid system, support for “access to justice communities”, and expanded pro bono services.

Passing of the Torch: LawLINK and Electronic Law Library

In the last two weeks, two public legal information websites in BC have been retired and now redirect visitors to Clicklaw. The Electronic Law Library was developed over 10 years ago for public librarians in BC to assist people in finding the laws and legal information on the Internet. In 2002, LawLINK was designed as a gateway into legal information for low income and marginalized communities.  

Both sites were developed by the Legal Services Society, and were excellent resources. They set the stage for a site like Clicklaw to take the next step in providing enhanced features and consolidating legal information on one site. We recognize the great work done by the Legal Services Society, and are honoured to continue the tradition of providing the public in BC with access to legal information.