Rise Women’s Legal Centre Publishes Evaluation Report

The Rise Women’s Legal Centre is a community legal centre located in Vancouver, B.C. that helps self-identifying, low-income women access family law services and learn about their legal rights. Rise recently published an Evaluation Report that provides details on services they provided between September 2017 and August 2018. The report includes information on the populations they served, the legal needs of their clients, factors that led clients to seek out services at Rise, the extent to which Rise met their legal needs, among a range of other topics.

Highlights from the report include:

  • Most clients (almost 50%) needed legal services for family law matters affecting their children, including help with custody/access/ parenting time matters and child support matters.
  • A significant number of clients sought legal services for matters which would contribute to their financial self-sufficiency, including property division (30%) and spousal support (27%).
  • More than 20% had accessed legal services prior to contacting Rise. These included clients who had run out of money to pay for a lawyer or exhausted their legal aid coverage accessing prior services.

The Rise Women’s Legal Services One-Year Evaluation Report is available in full here: Rise Women’s Legal Services – One-Year Evaluation Report (Diana TIndall) 2018-10-14.

Access to Justice: Highs and Lows of Pro Bono Week

By Thomas Cromwell

The last week of October is Pro Bono Week, a global celebration of the pro bono ethic in our profession. Across Canada and around the world, thousands of legal professionals provide their services without cost for the public good. In Canada, where there is a wide and growing gap between the need for legal services and people’s ability to gain access to them, pro bono is a part of the effort necessary to fill that gap.

We entered Pro Bono Week on a wave of optimism and achievement generated by the Seventh National Pro Bono Conference held in Vancouver on Oct. 4 and 5. The packed agenda included presentations by the chief justice of Canada, the chief justice of British Columbia, the attorney general of British Columbia and the president of the American College of Trial Lawyers.

The message from the top was clear: pro bono work by lawyers is part of our professional responsibility and its importance to the welfare of our community cannot be overstated. The large attendance at the conference and the lively engagement evident in all of the sessions generated optimism and enthusiasm.

While we can and must do more, there is much to celebrate.

But not all of the news about pro bono is good. Pro Bono Ontario (PBO) has indicated that in December it will have to close its court-based programs — two in Toronto and one in Ottawa — for want of funding for the administrative support essential to running these programs. PBO says that each year, volunteer lawyers help more than 18,000 clients in the civil, non-family justice system and, at the same time, reduce delays in the courts’ handling of these matters. An evaluation of the programs concluded that they provided a 10:1 return on investment. In other words, the public purse saved $10 for every dollar in funding. But that is apparently not enough to persuade potential funders to inject the modest resources needed to assure that these programs continue.

David W. Scott, one of the “parents” of these programs, has for many years spent a morning each month at the Law Help Centre at the Ottawa courthouse. He told me that during his October shift, he saw five people:

  • a single mother who is being pursued by a government department for support payments;
  • a friend of an Arabic woman who speaks no English who is defending herself from a landlord’s claim for rent;
  • a young man on parole who was the victim of a fraudulent claim when he was incarcerated;
  • a young mother who was being sued for return of employment insurance; and
  • a woman being sued for alleged non-payment of taxes.

Through the court-based program, David was able to provide modest but critical help. The closure of the Law Help Centre will mean that people like those who David saw — people in their thousands — will be left to their own devices. The need for these services is obvious and compelling.

The willingness of legal professionals to provide these pro bono services has been demonstrated. The business case for doing so seems unanswerable. But even this is not enough to save these programs.

Scott says that he is heartbroken. The rest of us should be ashamed. Who can seriously contend that we cannot find the modest resources needed to maintain these valuable services? If we wanted to, we would.

 

This article originally appeared on The Lawyer’s Daily on November 5, 2018. It is the twelfth article in The Honourable Thomas Cromwell’s exclusive Lawyer’s Daily column dedicated to access to civil and family justice.

The Honourable Thomas Cromwell served 19 years as an appellate judge and chairs the Chief Justice’s Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters. He retired from the Supreme Court of Canada in September of 2016 and is now senior counsel to the national litigation practice at Borden Ladner Gervais.

Access to Justice Week Begins Soon in Saskatchewan and Ontario

Saskatchewan’s second annual Access to Justice Week will run from October 20 – 26, 2018. The week will include discussions and activities that will engage different actors in the access to justice conversation as well as highlight projects and programs that aim to improve access to justice for all Saskatchewan residents. The week-long events will build on themes from the University of Saskatchewan College of Law’s 2017 Dean’s Forum on Access to Justice and Dispute Resolution and will include:

  • Legal information, Legal Advice, and Access to Justice; and
  • Expanding Engagement: Creating Connections

Learn more about Access to Justice Week in Saskatchewan here: https://law.usask.ca/createjustice/saskatchewan-access-to-justice-week.php. For a list of events scheduled for the 2018 Saskatchewan Access to Justice Week, visit: https://law.usask.ca/createjustice/A2J2018-AtAGlance.pdf.


Monday, October 22, 2018 marks the start of the third annual Access to Justice Week in Ontario, hosted by The Action Group on Access to Justice (TAG). The week will include a range of sessions including:

  • Mental Health – Access and Ethics
  • Indigenous Language Speakers and the Canadian Justice System
  • Addressing the Access to Legal Representation Gap in Family Law; and
  • Justice, Innovation and Community

Visit the TAG Access to Justice Week webpage for information on the sessions and to register to attend events by webcast or in person: https://theactiongroup.ca/access-to-justice-week/.

New Report looks at Judges’ Views on Children’s Participation in Justice Processes

The Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family (CRILF) has published the final report on their 2017 national symposium on children’s participation in justice processes.

Children’s Participation in Justice Processes: Survey of Justices on Alberta’s Court of Queen’s Bench presents the results of a survey of justices on Alberta’s Court of Queen’s Bench. The survey aimed to obtain judges’ opinions on the importance of obtaining children’s views in court proceedings which affect them, the best ways of obtaining those views, and the extent to which judges have had experience soliciting the views of children. The study concludes with a number of recommendations for hearing children’s views.

Children’s Participation in Justice Processes: Survey of Justices on Alberta’s Court of Queen’s Bench is available online here: http://www.crilf.ca/Documents/ABQB_Justices%20Survey_Child_Participation_-_August_2018.pdf.

New Report Examines Alberta’s Mandatory Early Intervention Case Conferencing Pilot Project

The early intervention case conferences (EICCs) is a pilot project that was implemented by Alberta’s Court of Queen’s Bench in September, 2017 in an effort to address the increasing delays until family law cases can be tried, increasing numbers of litigants without counsel, and the short complement of the bench relative to the province’s population.

The Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family (CRILF) recently conducted an evaluation of the EICC in order to determine if the Early Intervention Case Conference project is meeting its stated goals. The evaluation provides insights into what is working and what could be improved in the pilot project, and explores whether the project should be implemented as a permanent part of the family law litigation process in the Court of Queen’s Bench.

An Evaluation of Alberta’s Mandatary Early Intervention Case Conference Pilot Project final report is available online here: http://www.crilf.ca/Documents/EICC_Evaluation_-_August_2018.pdf.

Access to Justice: How it’s looking on the ground

by Thomas Cromwell

West Coast LEAF is a legal advocacy group whose mandate is to use the law to create an equal and just society for all women and people who experience gender-based discrimination. In other words, it is an organization dedicated to access to justice writ large. I was able to speak to Zahra Jimale, West Coast LEAF’s Director of Law Reform about its work, her conception of access to justice and, most importantly, how successful we’ve been in improving access to justice on the ground. Here is what she told me.
 
TC: Tell me about your role at West Coast Leaf

ZJ: In collaboration with the community, West Coast LEAF uses litigation, law reform, and public legal education to make change. We do our work in six focus areas: access to healthcare; access to justice; economic security; freedom from gender-based violence; justice for those who are criminalized; and the right to parent. As the Director of Law Reform, I provide leadership, strategic planning and project management with respect to policy and law reform in all of the six focus areas. I work with our team to develop the organization’s position statements and recommendations on implementation and reform of policy and law. I bring to this role my experience of founding and operating an independent family law practice where I provided a variety of family law services, including unbundled legal services, legal coaching, collaborative divorce, and mediation.

TC: What do you perceive as the biggest access to justice gap?

ZJ: There is a significant gap between what the public expects of the justice system and what the justice system delivers and is currently capable of delivering.

There is lack of deeper understanding of what it means to truly access justice; that justice is not simply achieved by accessing, but by obtaining just outcomes in an efficient and cost effective manner, regardless of the type of dispute resolution process that is pursued, be it court or alternative dispute resolution processes; that meaningful access to justice requires recognizing and dismantling the various barriers faced by many, and in particular, that there are intersecting barriers faced by certain populations because of historical and/or current systemic challenges. The complexity of the system, long delays, lack of access to affordable and timely legal advice and representation, and lack of adequately funded legal aid system continue to widen the gap.

An urgent systemic change is required to reduce these barriers and an immediate action must be taken to address the growing access to justice crisis, especially in family law. Where individuals are unable to access lawyers due to prohibitive costs and lack of public service, they are left with no choice but to either forego rights and interests, including the protection of their children’s rights and interests, or represent themselves without appropriate legal advice and/or representation. This is why West Coast LEAF and a team of pro bono counsel is representing the Single Mothers’ Alliance and an individual plaintiff in an ongoing constitutional claim against the B.C. government and the Legal Services Society for failing to provide adequate family law services, in particular to women fleeing violent relationships.

Zahra Jimale

TC: There is a lot of talk about the access to justice problem, but do you see signs of improvement on the ground?

ZJ: Unfortunately, we are far from seeing meaningful access to justice. Although there has been a lot of talk and some action, particularly in diverting disputants away from the court system and litigation generally, the justice system remains inaccessible to those that need it most. The barriers to accessing justice and the significant adverse consequences, including safety concerns for those fleeing violent relationships, are ongoing. Even though nearly half of Canadians over the age of 18 experience at least one civil or family law problem over any given three-year period, justice system funding continues to be woefully inadequate.

TC: If you could do any one thing to improve access to justice, what would you do and why?
 
ZJ: I would change the way we perceive access to justice. I believe once we recognize access to justice as a human right that is fundamental to the protection and promotion of the rule of law, we will then be forced to take the necessary action to ensure that it is meaningful and protected. This includes increasing the public’s knowledge of the justice system and how to manage and resolve legal problems; making available cost effective and appropriate avenues for resolution; providing meaningful access to resources and services; ensuring adequate funding of legal aid; and maintaining appropriate judicial complements and effectively functioning courts.

This article originally appeared on The Lawyer’s Daily on August 13, 2018. It is the eleventh article in The Honourable Thomas Cromwell’s exclusive Lawyer’s Daily column dedicated to access to civil and family justice.

The Honourable Thomas Cromwell served 19 years as an appellate judge and chairs the Chief Justice’s Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters. He retired from the Supreme Court of Canada in September of 2016 and is now senior counsel to the national litigation practice at Borden Ladner Gervais.
 

Access to Justice: Diana Lowe on support for families as they restructure

by Thomas Cromwell

Alberta has been engaged for several years in an ambitious family law reform effort. I spoke to Diana Lowe, co-lead of the Reforming the Family Justice System (RFJS) initiative, about what they have been doing and what’s ahead. Here is the second part of my interview with her.

TC: What main innovations have been introduced and how are they working?

DL: The most significant change that has taken place, is a shift in the mental model or culture in the family justice system, away from improving access to lawyers, law and adversarial processes, and instead to a focus on family well-being through services that support families as they experience the pressures of restructuring. We are encouraging awareness of this shift by all participants in the family justice system, including families, and encouraging alignment with the Theory of Change in policy and programs.

We are beginning to see shifts in systems, policy and practices including the Court of Queen’s Bench that has adopted the Theory of Change in its Strategic Plan and is beginning to take action to put this into effect. Resolution Services in the Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General is developing a pilot to refocus the work of frontline staff as “justice system navigators.” These staff will be trained in brain science, and will develop maps of community services so they can assist families to obtain the supports they need for their social, relationship, parenting and financial needs.

This pilot is a collaboration with the County of Strathcona Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) and if successful, will be expanded to include FCSS organizations throughout the province.

Alberta has submitted a joint proposal (by the Alberta Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General, the Court of Queen’s Bench and the provincial court) to the federal minister of Justice, for the creation of an Alberta Unified Family Court. The proposal embedded the RFJS Theory of Change, supporting the use of services to assist Alberta families to access supports they need to help develop resilience, and to resolve disputes away from the adversarial processes of courts as much as possible.

TC: How is the experience of a family going through separation and divorce different from what it might have been five years ago?

DL: While the RFJS is still underway, there are many things that parents can do already to help them and their children thrive as they restructure. As co-convenor Justice Andrea Moen noted at our recent Collaborator Workshop, collaborative family professionals were out front in understanding that co-operation and collaboration between parents is essential for the health of the family and of the children. They led the way by creating teams of professionals to assist families.

The RFJS is aligned with the collaborative approach both to help families avoid adversarial court processes and to work out the restructuring of their family. Their approach is a model which ensures that families receive the kinds of relationship, parenting and financial supports that they need, and families can be guided by the model that collaborative professionals have created for supporting healthy families.

There are many different supports that are available to assist families, including collaborative family practitioners, co-parenting experts, wellness coaches, grief counsellors, financial advisers, step-parent supports, and of course mediators and lawyers. Examples of these supports are published regularly in Divorce Magazine. Families can use technology tools that encourage parents to work together to achieve better outcomes, including coParenter and Undo.

Supports for families are also available in most communities in the province through Family and Community Support Services partnerships between the provincial government and municipal governments; at Parent Link Centres; and through Triple-P Parenting Resources.

The RFJS is supporting the Ministry pilot in the County of Strathcona that will see families seek these supports, as part of our goal for better outcomes. As families are encouraged to seek out these supports early on in their decision to restructure, they are better able to deal with the emotional, parenting, relationship and financial challenges that commonly occur upon separation and divorce, and to avoid tangling these issues into legal processes.

TC: What’s next?

DL: Our Outcomes Framework identifies our key priorities for the coming year as:

  • Working with the legal profession to encourage brain science education by family lawyers, and identifying implications for shifts in ethical responsibilities and practices of family lawyers.
  • Working with the courts to ensure they are familiar with the Theory of Change, and are encouraged to align court processes with it.
  • Continued work with the Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General on the pilot with FCSS, and other family justice initiatives.
  • Helping to enhance the public understanding that “parents fighting about their children causes harm,” and to provide information about supports to improve resilience and well-being of family members.
  • Working with frontline service providers and supports for families, to empower them to provide the social, relationship, parenting and financial supports that families need when they’re restructuring.
  • Working with other ministries (Health, Education, Community and Social Services, Children’s Services) to share the Theory of Change and seek alignment with it, and the integration of services for families, in order to help families thrive.

This is the second of a two-part series. Read part one here.

This article originally appeared on The Lawyer’s Daily on July 30, 2018. It is the tenth article in The Honourable Thomas Cromwell’s exclusive Lawyer’s Daily column dedicated to access to civil and family justice.

The Honourable Thomas Cromwell served 19 years as an appellate judge and chairs the Chief Justice’s Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters. He retired from the Supreme Court of Canada in September of 2016 and is now senior counsel to the national litigation practice at Borden Ladner Gervais.

Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family Publishes Report on Canadian Legal Incubator Initiative

A recently published report by the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family (CRILF) examines the Aspire Legal Access Initiative (ALAI), a program based in Alberta that provides law school graduates with articles in family law and improves access to family law services for Calgarians. ALAI is modelled on legal incubator programs that have increased in popularity in the United States as a means to offer legal services to people who would not otherwise be able to access help. Similarly, through the ALAI program, Calgarians who earn too much to be eligible for legal aid but too little to afford private counsel receive legal assistance from law students and a senior lawyer. ALAI is the first legal incubator project in Canada and has been adapted to meet Canada’s article requirements.

The Evaluation of the Aspire Legal Access Initiative report outlines the satisfaction and opinions of clients, articled students and stakeholders from the legal community who accessed the program and also offers recommendations aimed at ensuring the program continues to operate as intended. An Evaluation of the Aspire Legal Access Initiative is available online here: http://www.crilf.ca/Documents/Aspire_Evaluation_-_July_2018.pdf.

Access to Justice: Diana Lowe on the theory of change

by Thomas Cromwell

Alberta has been engaged for several years in an ambitious family law reform effort. I spoke to Diana Lowe, co-lead of the Reforming the Family Justice System initiative, about what they have been doing and what’s ahead. Here is what she told me.

TC: What was the impetus for Alberta’s family law project and what are its objectives?

DL: The Reforming the Family Justice System (RFJS) initiative was inspired by two very different but important pieces of work. The first is new scientific knowledge about brain science and brain development, which includes understanding the impact of toxic stress and how it is harmful to children’s brains. This is the kind of stress that occurs when families have unresolved disputes and children are exposed to fighting between parents. Brain science tells us that fighting between parents actually harms the development of children’s brains. The effects are physical as well as mental, impact the child throughout their life, and in fact can be intergenerational.

The second is the recommendations in the reports of the national Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters (Action Committee). The Action Committee is made up of leaders from across Canada, and published five reports in 2013, which are available online here.

The name we gave to this initiative is “Reforming the Family Justice System,” but we increasingly refer to it as “reimagining” the family justice system. In short, the RFJS is aimed at wholesale systems change. The change we’re seeking in the RFJS is not the traditional focus of access to justice initiatives, which aim to improve and increase access to legal processes and services. Rather, we seek well-rounded solutions that support families as they restructure, and most importantly, ensuring that children are safe and able to thrive even as their families are changing.

TC: Has the initiative identified the main problems that need to be solved?

DL: We’ve developed a Theory of Change that guides us in our work. It recognizes that “family justice issues are primarily social, relationship and financial, that contain a legal element.” By this, we understand that we need to untangle social, relationship and financial issues from legal issues, and create paths to empower families to obtain the social, relationship and financial supports that they need to address these problems, outside of adversarial legal processes and away from the courts. We are recognizing that legal — adversarial — responses to what are primarily social, relationship and financial problems, cause harm to families.

TC: Can you explain what you mean by “Theory of Change”?

DL: The concept of a Theory of Change is commonly used in systems change processes (it is described in detail here). Our work on the RFJS Theory of Change began in December 2014, and was based on the recognition that “… relationship breakdown is not a legal event that has some potential social consequences; it is a social phenomenon that has some legal consequences.” (Action Committee, Family Justice Working Group Report, Beyond Wise Words at p.14).

Facilitators led a number of different groups of Convenors and Collaborators through discussions which encouraged the group to really drill down to the systemic causes for the problems in the family justice system. Participants discussed why these causes exist, including what the worldview is that creates and fosters them, and what society’s basic myths and metaphors are about family justice, as these are part of our current mental model, or culture, which is a barrier to change. The group then focused on the new mental model that we want to create, and on high-level strategies to move forward. What made sense to the group was that our Theory of Change would follow a progression from problems, through strategies to outcomes, filtered through the lens that recognizes “Family justice issues are primarily social, relationship and financial, that contain a legal element.”

The Theory of Change for the RFJS is a living document that helps us maintain our focus on the “big picture” and on what is required to support the changes we are seeking. It helps us to be more explicit about the change that underpins the RFJS, to see where our various initiatives and areas of work fit into this big picture, and where we can integrate and align efforts to achieve the desired impact. It also helps us identify indicators for evaluation.

This is the first of a two-part series.

 

This article originally appeared on The Lawyer’s Daily on July 23, 2018. It is the ninth article in The Honourable Thomas Cromwell’s exclusive Lawyer’s Daily column dedicated to access to civil and family justice.
The Honourable Thomas Cromwell served 19 years as an appellate judge and chairs the Chief Justice’s Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters. He retired from the Supreme Court of Canada in September of 2016 and is now senior counsel to the national litigation practice at Borden Ladner Gervais.

Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family Publishes Report on Summary Legal Advice Services

A recent “Summary Legal Advice Services in Alberta” report from the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family (CRILF) examines two years of data from almost 8,000 client surveys regarding summary legal advice received from community legal clinics in Alberta. The clinics that participated in the study are:

  • Calgary Legal Guidance
  • Edmonton Community Legal Centre
  • Central Alberta Community Legal Clinic (Red Deer)
  • Lethbridge Legal Guidance

Key findings from the report include:

  • 93% of clients were very comfortable or comfortable receiving legal advice in English
    • Of note: It was impossible to determine the number of potential clients who did not attend the clinics because they are uncomfortable receiving legal advice in English
  • Family law matters accounted for 46% of clients’ legal problems, followed by landlord-tenant disputes (14%) and immigration and sponsorship issues (9%); family law matters were most likely to a problem for clients aged 35 to 44
  • 90% of clients reported that they had a better understanding of their legal rights and responsibilities, their legal options and the pros and cons of those options, and what to do next as a result of attending the clinic
  • 40% of clients had 15 to 29 minutes with the clinic lawyer; 38% had 30 to 44 minutes
  • 90% of clients felt they had enough time with the clinic lawyer to talk; clients with appointments longer than 30 minutes were more likely to agree that they had a better understanding of their legal issue and what to do next than clients with shorter appointments
  • Almost two-thirds of clients received a written summary of the lawyer’s advice; those receiving a summary were more likely to agree that they understood their legal rights and responsibilities, their legal options and the pros and cons of those options, and what to do next
  • The number of clients receiving a written summary increased by 14% between the first and second years of the project
  • The majority of clients responding to a follow-up survey administered two months after clients’ appointments had made use of the advice they received
  • 63% of clients were women, 54% were between the ages of 25 and 44, 61% had completed or taken some post-secondary education and 40% were employed full- or part-time

The complete “Summary Legal Advice Services in Alberta: Survey Results from the First Two Years of Data Collection” report is available on the CRILF website here: http://www.crilf.ca/Documents/ALF_Clinic_Survey_Year_2_-_May_2018.pdf. This report was produced at the request of the Alberta Law Foundation.

 

The details in this post were taken from information circulated by the CRILF.