Legal and Community Partners Supporting Each Other to Help People With Legal Needs

July 5, 2018
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From an article in SLAW: When people are dealing with a legal problem they often don't approach a lawyer as their first step. Frequently, people go to a source they're in closer contact with: frontline staff working in local community-based organizations.

Frontline workers are people working in settlement agencies, housing or health support, libraries, community centres, and in many other community services. They listen attentively, show empathy, and try their best to refer clients in the right direction. Frontline workers get to know their clients' circumstances and their larger set of problems. In some cases, they share languages and cultural backgrounds with their clients. Their primary work is to provide non-legal supports but, because they’re already connecting with people, are trusted, and are knowledgeable, they are well-positioned to also provide legal information and referrals.

In recent years, The Law Foundation of Ontario has provided millions of dollars in grants to increase the capacity of frontline workers in non-legal organizations to help people with legal problems. Last year, we commissioned a research report to examine how frontline workers – a kind of trusted intermediary – were helping people with legal problems and how the legal sector is and could better support them in their efforts.

The report, Trusted Help: The role of community workers as trusted intermediaries who help people with legal problems, by Karen Cohl, Julie Lassonde, Julie Mathews, Carol Lee Smith, and George Thomson, shares what we learned about trusted intermediaries – who they are, how they help, and how the legal sector can work with and support them as they support people with legal needs.

Read more: Legal and Community Partners Supporting Each Other to Help People With Legal Needs