Enhanced family duty counsel role in Barrie
Friday, February 15, 2013
A new expanded duty counsel initiative in the court-based Family Law Information Centre (FLIC) in Barrie is helping prepare more low-income people for family law proceedings than in the past and streamlining the court process as a result.
Family duty counsel lawyers are traditionally in Ontario’s courtrooms, dispensing legal advice to low-income clients who arrive without a lawyer. They represent clients only for that day in court, and may also provide information to help them resolve their issue on that date or prepare for their next date. They may also offer information and referrals to nearby programs for social, housing or other services.
Barrie staff lawyer Cynthia Neathery does more
Barrie staff lawyer Cynthia Neathery has augmented such court duties with many more services since her arrival at LAO in October 2012. A family lawyer with 25 years of experience, she provides eligible clients with concentrated face-to-face advice and assistance in Barrie’s FLIC, located right in the Barrie courthouse.
Four half-days a week, she provides the FLIC’s walk-in clients with 20 minutes of free legal advice on family law matters as well as referrals to information on LAO’s website or other agencies.
Cynthia also makes appointments to meet with people who are eligible for legal aid support or whose matters require assistance in addition to summary legal advice. She meets with these clients at pre-arranged, scheduled appointment times of up to an hour during the other half-day she’s at the FLIC office – within two or three weeks instead the month it usually takes to see a private lawyer.
Serving diverse low-income clients
She firmly believes that knowledge and timely legal advice can help Ontario’s low-income family clients resolve their legal issues and navigate the justice system more effectively.
“My clients are diverse,” says Cynthia. “I see teenage parents, persons with literacy issues … people whose first language is not English or French … elderly retirees who are separating … individuals with mental disabilities … and individuals who have never been involved with the justice system before.
“Some clients just need an explanation of what they can claim and what will happen in court. Others need support to fill in all the forms they need for their court appearance. Still others benefit from case research to make sure their paperwork includes information that complies with case law.
“And some just need reassurance. Now that I’ve been doing this for four months, I’ve found that many clients benefit from having counsel they can check in with before their court date to make sure they’re ready.”
A growing demand for these services
With increasingly large numbers of family law clients choosing to self-represent, there’s a growing demand for expanded duty counsel services.
“We are getting a lot of positive feedback on this initiative from our clients and from our judicial partners,” says Christine Lunn, district area director for LAO’s Central District.
“It’s great for family law clients who need more assistance than summary legal advice, because they can arrive in court with all their documents prepared correctly. It’s great for duty counsel in courtrooms, because they can help their family law clients move their cases forward. And it’s great for judges and court staff. They appreciate not having to adjourn cases because the necessary documents are incomplete.”
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