There is a need for affordable and sustainable legal services. Low income and marginalized citizens often cannot access justice. Legal aid agencies are underfunded and overburdened. Courts struggle with many self-representing clients who have difficulty understanding the legal process and completing necessary but complex forms. This problem has been identified by lawyers, judges, bar associations, and justice researchers.
There is also a need to ease the burden for lawyers and legal assistants who prepare and file court forms. The complexity of the court forms drives up law firm overhead costs by increasing legal assistant costs. The Legal Café will provide simplicity for lawyers and legal assistants by managing court forms in a way that online applications like DivorceMate have simplified calculations for child support, spousal support, and special expense calculations.
Similarly, courts have been over burdened by the high number of people without lawyers who are filling out court forms incompletely and inaccurately. Through the technology of the People’s Legal Café website, court form rejections will be significantly decreased which will reduce delays at the courts and create cost savings for the courts.
Also, public libraries struggle as legal information providers to the general public. Citizens regularly visit the library seeking information to help them makes sense of and access the law. Often they leave with outdated materials and information from other jurisdictions, leading to frustration on the part of library staff members and the public. Public libraries wish to refer citizens to accurate and timely information.
The Canadian Rights and Freedom Centre, partnering with three regional public library systems, have developed an innovative plan to deal with this problem by creating the People’s Legal Café. The Legal Café will be available online as an application. This application will simplify the process of completing complex court forms for the self-representing public, lawyers, and the courts. The Legal Cafés will also exist as a storefront, in select public library locations, to support self-representing individuals to file the proper forms.
Fees to access the forms will be based on whether the customer is an individual or a pro user. Individual users of the online application will pay on a sliding scale, dependant on level of income. Law firms and non profit organizations will have access to the online application as pro users. Pro users will either pay an annual fee or, if they are a non profit that screens for income the online merged forms will be free. To be sustainable, the Legal Café will operate as a social enterprise. Profits will flow back to both the Canadian Rights and Freedoms Centre and the public libraries to raise their capacity to undertake other socially significant projects within their mandates. A partnership of:
Canadian Rights and Freedom Centre: www.canrightsandfreedoms.ca
Colchester East-Hants Public Library: www.lovemylibrary.ca
Cumberland Public Libraries: www.cumberlandpubliclibraries.ca