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Saying goodbye to ELAN and hello to The Factum

Today we’re saying goodbye to ELAN and hello to LSS’ new blog: The Factum.

Since 2008,  we’ve used ELAN to keep you updated on new publications and services from LSS, changes to the law, and events and opportunities around BC. Over the last six years, the blog has grown and evolved. With that in mind, it feels only right to relaunch our blog to match what it has become.

Starting today you’ll be able to find all the updates you’d expect from ELAN — and more — on The Factum. The new site features a great new design that not only makes it easier to read, but also makes it mobile friendly, so you won’t have to squint to read an update on your phone! To stay up to date with The Factum, you can visit the blog, subscribe to the new email newsletter, or use an RSS reader.

Thank you to everyone who’s been loyally following ELAN. We hope to see everyone on The Factum.

The law: let me Google that for you

There’s an interesting anomaly when you look at how young people use the Internet. They use it for everything: to shop, socialize, waste time, find jobs, and pretty much anything else you can think of. What they don’t seem to use it for is to help them to solve their legal issues.

Catrina Denvir from the University College of London set out to look at this anomaly, and has released her initial findings. It’s fascinating, especially since we spend so much of our time and energy making legal information available online. To talk about this though, we’re going to have to pull the current back a bit and share some of our experiences making legal information websites.

The study

Ms. Denvir’s preliminary work looked at 100 students aged 18–24 from the University College of London. Participants were given six questions based on a hypothetical scenario (having to do with either housing or employment) and asked to try and answer them without the help of the Internet. They were then allowed to use the Internet to either verify or revise their answers.

So, how did they do?

The good

The Internet did increase the students’ knowledge and helped them answer the questions. On average, the students answered more questions correctly when they were allowed to use the Internet.

This is fantastic! Considering how much legal information we put online, it would be really disheartening if the opposite was true.

The bad

Students typically spent less than 10 minutes searching for answers. When you look at legal questions — and we don’t know how complicated the questions the students were asked were — 10 minutes doesn’t seem like a long time. From our perspective though, this isn’t too surprising. People’s attention spans are short on the Internet.

Some participants didn’t consider jurisdiction when looking at information. The Internet rarely recognizes borders. Search engines can lead people to sites outside their own jurisdiction, which is why it is so important to identify that our information is about the law in BC.

When students went to look for answers, they focused consistently on search engines. They rarely browsed through sites or used search functions in sites. This isn’t necessarily bad, but it isn’t good either. It means that sites need to make sure that they are in the top Google search results for pretty much everything they cover. For example, being on the first page of Google for “divorce” isn’t good enough; you need to try and cover as may iterations of questions around divorce as possible. That isn’t an easy task.

The ugly

Just because they could use the Internet to find information about the law and their rights didn’t mean that the participants knew what to do next. Despite knowing what their rights were, they often couldn’t identify what next steps to take. In a bit of serendipity, this is a problem that we’ve been mulling over for a while now. User testing of print and online information is critically important to make sure that people can take action. We are increasingly aware that you can have a fantastic pamphlet explaining the law, but if it doesn’t explicitly lay out what the next steps are, people will often flounder. We’ve been including clear steps in many of our publications — our self-help guides for example— and we’re working to include more of that in the future.

What does this mean?

It means that the Internet can be an effective tool for helping people solve their legal problems, but you need to meet users — not just youth — on their own terms. It’s a bad habit to think that just because these people have a legal problem, they will adapt and consume the information the way that we want them to. It’s not an easy process, but it’s an important one. Lately we’ve been putting more and more effort into putting ourselves in a room with the people who use our publications and finding out what works for them and what they want to see. That is ultimately the lesson that we need to take from this.

Catrina Denvir’s full report will be available early in 2014.

–Nate Prosser, Online Outreach Coordinator

What’s in a name?

ELAN name change

You’ll be seeing some big changes coming to ELAN in the next few months. One of these changes is that ELAN won’t be called ELAN anymore. We want to change the name of the blog, and we want your help to come up with the new name!

ELAN has existed, in one form or another, for years. Since it first started out as a faxed newsletter, ELAN has grown a lot in terms of what we write about and who our readers are. These are all good things, but it means that the name ELAN just isn’t a good fit anymore.

We’re looking for a name that is short and to the point. It should tell you what you’ll find on the blog and it should, ideally, relate back to legal aid. Those are the criteria we’re working with and we want your help to brainstorm ideas. As a reader of this blog, you have a great perspective on what this site represents.

If you have a suggestion for the new name, please leave it in the comments below or email them to elan@lss.bc.ca.

Update on funding of legal aid cases

LSS logo

On Friday, LSS board chair Tom Christensen and I met with Attorney General Suzanne Anton, QC, Deputy AG Richard Fyfe QC, and Assistant Deputy Minister Jay Chalke QC.

As a result of developments at that meeting and discussions with the executive committee of the LSS board, I can provide assurance that LSS will be able to pay accounts for all existing referrals to the end of the fiscal year. Consequently, LSS is no longer recommending that lawyers avoid booking hearing dates for legal aid work from February 17 through March 31, 2014.

We continue, however, to face a significant cost pressure in criminal tariff services and our discussions with government are ongoing. Unless they are relieved, these pressures will require LSS to significantly reduce some important client services for a period of time between November 2013 and April 2014. We anticipate a decision and announcement on these other restrictions in the near future.

Thank you for your ongoing commitment to making justice work in BC. We will keep you apprised of developments.

Mark Benton
Chief Executive Officer

Message from LSS Board Chair Tom Christensen

LSS logo

The following is a message from LSS Board Chair Tom Christensen that was sent out to all legal aid lawyers today. For more background on the financial situation please see his previous message and this earlier message from Mark Benton, our Chief Executive Officer.

I am writing to update you on LSS’s evolving financial position for the balance of this fiscal year.

Since my last message to you, Mark Benton, QC, and I met again with Attorney General, Suzanne Anton, QC; and her two Deputy Ministers, Richard Fyfe, QC, and Lori Wanamaker, FCA. LSS and ministry staff are also in regular contact. Those discussions continue to be constructive. The Attorney General also advises that her ministry is facing serious cost pressures and is looking for ways to reduce its own spending.

As you know from previous messages, LSS’s current fiscal pressures in the criminal tariff are a consequence of the success in reducing the court’s backlog so that cases move through the judicial system more quickly.

The LSS Board has directed that any operational savings within LSS should be first directed to maintaining CFCSA services. I am pleased to advise that we are now confident that the previously highlighted cost pressure in the CFCSA tariff is manageable, and LSS will be able to maintain these services through the fiscal year. This will ensure cases where children have been taken into care under the CFCSA will be dealt with as expeditiously as possible.

We continue to face a significant cost pressure in criminal tariff services and to consider options. Our discussions with government are ongoing, and Mark and I expect to meet with the Attorney General in the next few days in our joint effort to maintain services.

Thank you for your ongoing commitment to making justice work in BC. We will keep you apprised of developments. As always, we welcome your feedback on how we can better support you at LawyersResources@lss.bc.ca.

Tom Christensen
Chair, LSS Board of Directors

October 4, 2013

Abbotsford’s new local agents

Two of Abbotsford’s best known lawyers — John Conroy, QC, and Rob Dhanu — have joined the Legal Services Society as local agents! Local agents are your gateway to legal aid in your own backyard. Local agent offices are where you can apply for legal aid, learn more about legal aid services, and find free legal information and education materials.

John Conroy has been practising law in Abbotsford for almost 40 years. Born in Montréal, he grew up in Africa and has lived in the Fraser Valley since the 1960s. He has been involved in legal aid since the beginning of his career, including five years as the director of Abbotsford Community Legal Services and ten years as the director of prison legal services for LSS.

Rob Dhanu was called to the Bar in 2004 and, after three years as a federal prosecutor, opened an office in Abbotsford. A University of Victoria graduate, Rob is a member of the South Asian Bar Association and a founding member of the South Asian Criminal Justice Network, an organization that addresses issues such as domestic violence and substance abuse in the Indo-Canadian community. Rob is fluent in Punjabi and has extensive experience working with the First Nations in the Fraser Valley.

Joining John and Rob as intake assistants are Linda and Celia who worked with Chris Maddock, the former local agent for Abbotsford, in a similar capacity for many years.

You can find the locations and contact info for all our local agents on the Legal Services Society website.

RICHER: A Medical-Legal Community Partnership

Responsive, Intersectoral, Children’s Health, Education and Research (RICHER) representatives recently met with Dr. Barry Zuckerman of Boston Medical Center to talk about the Medical-Legal Community Partnership (MLCP), based in the Downtown Eastside. Together, we explored the potential to address a wide range of legal issues affecting low-income people. Currently, there are over 250 medical-legal partnerships (MLPs) in the US and several in Canada, including the RICHER MLCP and the Legal Services Society’s own Fir Square initiative.

Dr. Zuckerman is an MLP leader in the United States. He talked about the benefits of the model in a recent issue of Pediatrics:

The health system is effective in diagnosing and treating a patient with asthma and maybe with good social work or visiting nurse staff, etc., can have an impact on asthma triggers in the home. The connection to legal aid programs resulted in identification of poor quality housing in a group of buildings owned by 1 firm. Health care teams would be unlikely to identify the owner of a building or see the pattern of risk linked to other buildings owned by the owner. Not only was treatment of the affected index patients addressed, but 11 of the 19 other buildings received significant repairs that improved the housing quality and likely (but not proven) reduced the risk for asthma and other housing-related illnesses. (Medicine and Law: New Opportunities to Close the Disparity Gap,  Pediatrics 2012; 130:5 943 – 944)

We talked about civil, family, and child protection issues, barriers to accessing legal help, and possible solutions. One of the challenges is to provide the right service, at the right time, in the right place; to put support in the path of the client. We discussed the role of place-based services, triage models to identify legal issues, and the importance of sharing knowledge.

LSS supports the RICHER MLCP through training on legal resources and community engagement. In December, we organized an information session for community agencies and service providers that was very well received. We are planning a follow-up later this year so that agencies can continue the conversation with providers. We continue to be active at the RICHER table.

–John Simpson, Manager Community and Publishing Services

Burns Lake, meet your new local agent

We’re pleased to welcome Warren Chapman as the new local agent for Burns Lake and area. Warren has been practising law in the Burns Lake area for 25 years. He first started practicing in the area with the Yinkadinee’ Keyakh Law Centre Society, where he spent 10 years before opening his own practice.

“I’m really looking forward to being a local agent because I know absolutely everybody around here,” says Warren. He is very familiar with all of the bands, the chiefs, the people, and several generations of First Nations families.

Originally from London, Ontario, Warren received his law degree from Queen’s University and was called to the bar in 1977. He then moved to British Columbia and articled in Fort St. John. He has been a part of the Burns Lake community for 25 years.

“Burns Lake is a beautiful area,” says Warren, who has done legal aid for more than 30 years. “I only intended to stay here for a couple of years, but my wife and I just loved the area.”

Joining Warren will be two legal assistants, who will assist with carrying out legal aid duties, Shauna and Stephannie. Shauna attended the College of New Caledonia in Burns Lake and has been working with Warren since 2005. Stephannie grew up in Burns Lake and also attended the College of New Caledonia in Prince George. She has been working with Warren since 2011.

The team opened their doors to legal aid clients in March 2013. You can find their office hours and contact information here.

Annual Intake Training Conference 2013

This year’s Annual Intake Training Conference proved to be a great hit! Held at the Sheraton Wall Centre, which was a great venue, the conference this year focussed on the new Family Law Act and professional development. From the feedback received, we can tell most of the intake assistants really enjoyed the sessions. A few of the comments were:

The sessions provided skills and tools to take away; e.g, listening skills, how to communicate with clients more effectively, identifying conflicts with clients (conflict of interest).

Food was great — not much wasted. Had a great time, learned a lot, and looking forward to going back to my office with renewed energy.

Best conference I have attended!

Good to have contact with other workers, exchange of info and ideas. It helps with feelings of isolation in small communities. Good hotel choice, healthy food. Thanks for good efforts!

Intake staff are usually the first people applicants meet when they apply for legal aid. Applicants could be facing criminal charges, going through a divorce, dealing with having their child taken away, or new refugees coming into Canada. Intake can be an emotionally taxing job. One of the big takeaways from the conference was that participants really appreciate a chance to meet and talk to each other about the problems they all face.

Many of the sessions touched on this theme. Donna, our Aboriginal community legal worker, spoke about the experiences of Aboriginal people when interacting with the system and encountering the child protection system. Other sessions included “Dealing with clients in distress,” “The Child, Family and Community Service Act,” “Self-compassion,” and “Diversity/Intercultural Communication.”

Watch the Family Law Act Conference opening live

Today we’re holding our Family Law Act conference. We’ve gathered advocates, legal professionals, transition house workers, and more from across the Lower Mainland and the province to learn about the new act and how it impacts their work.

While we can’t bring everyone to the conference, we can broadcast the opening. Tune in here at 8:30am to watch presentations from our Executive Director Mark Benton, Wayne Robertson (Executive Director of the Law Foundation), and Jay Chalke, Assistant Deputy Minister from the Ministry of Justice.