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Checking In on the Halton Legal Health Check-Up Project: Internal and Collateral Developments

Ab Currie, PhD

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Legal Health Check-Up Project (LHC) developed by Halton Community Legal Services (HCLS) is pioneering an intermediary partnerships approach to legal aid delivery. The LHC form is a tool for Halton’s community-based intermediaries to identify and respond to everyday legal problems experienced by their clientele.

Legal problems are identified during the course of standard interactions between intermediary partners and the people they provide service to as a part of their professional mandate. These exchanges may occur in a variety of settings, for example, a church carrying out its pastoral work, a regional family health service, an employment service or a multicultural services agency.  In addition to problem spotting, intermediaries also refer clients with justiciable problems to legal clinics. During the pilot phase of the LHC Project the roles of intermediaries developed to also include a variety of tasks with HCLS aimed at addressing clusters of multiple legal and non-legal problems.

There is a natural and logical basis for the partnerships between intermediaries and HCLS.  Through discussions with clinic management and staff, and community residents, intermediaries gain exposure, understanding and a greater perspective of everyday legal problems, in particular as relates to the ways that legal problems derive from life’s everyday problems. Conversations surrounding these types of problems often arise during encounters with intermediary organizations.

Additionally there is increased awareness of problem clusters and the manner in which non-legal and legal problems combine in seemingly intractable ways.  On a practical level, there is an understanding that there is help available for the intermediary/service provider from the clinic when there are legal aspects to the problems that they are trying to solve for their clients.  Intermediaries often come to the realization as well that legal problems are not exclusive to the domain of courts and lawyers but rather, they are a part of daily life and, by extension, the areas in which they work and provide assistance. The intermediary partnership approach is a means of outreach t that assists with legal aid delivery.

Outreach has increasingly become recognized as an important tool that contributes to identifying legal problems experienced by the general public, and for addressing legal needs. This approach is based on findings from present-day legal problems research that indicates a high prevalence of serious legal problems among the public that are often not recognized as legal in nature, and for which individuals do not seek help until the situation escalates.

The partnership approach also contributes to the integrated and holistic nature of the HCLS delivery model, two facets of legal aid delivery that are now recognized as essential for the legal needs of the public to be met effectively. Achieving this means that clinic lawyers and community legal workers have to become what one intermediary described as “a new kind of lawyer,” one who is prepared to go beyond the law to understand the complexity of poverty and deal with the reality of the lives of the disadvantaged.  Intermediaries, particularly bureaucratic service providers, have to move beyond the single mandated service orientation with which the poor are constantly confronted, toward an openness to address a wider breadth of problems, and to offer help.

Following the pilot phase of the project, the LHC is moving in both internal and collateral directions. Internally, more intermediary partners are being brought into the network of access to justice services that are increasingly available through the LHC project. In addition, a web-based, supported self-help approach is being developed to assist both intermediaries and the larger numbers of clients requesting assistance.

The HCLS model is being adopted by three neighbouring clinics: in Hamilton, Guelph Wellington and Brant Haldimand Norfolk.  Rather than simply replicating the model developed by the Halton clinic, these three clinics recognize that innovation necessitates more than simply adopting the Legal Health Check-Up in a box. Instead they are adapting the project to their respective communities and needs.  The key is not the LHC tool but rather the conversation that the tool initiates between intermediaries and clients.

The Legal Aid Clinic of Guelph and Wellington County is concentrating on developing intermediary partnerships in the more rural parts of the service delivery area. This is an important challenge. Developing partners in less resource-rich rural areas is a critical aspect of extending the reach of legal aid. An initial idea is to build supported partnerships with well-connected individuals in the area as well as with service organizations. In Guelph and Wellington the focus is also on developing a seamless approach that allows for the exploration of different avenues to combat poverty and effect real change. In addition, the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic is working on establishing more community relationships with intermediary partners as a means for smoother and more consistent service delivery. Hamilton has also emphasized the need to develop more integration among intermediaries. This move lends itself to a strong network of access to justice services and, better access to these services overall, a primary goal of other clinics. The Brant Haldimand Norfolk Community Clinic, like the other clinics, is developing relationships with community-based intermediaries. They describe the ideal approach as one that entails being with the client from the initial point of contact to a point where they have made significant steps toward getting the assistance that they need – the essence of a different kind of lawyer.

The expansion to the three neighbouring clinics promises an important new step in the learning process.  As mentioned above, HCLS will continue to develop and refine their model. The Hamilton, Guelph Wellington and Brant Haldimand Norfolk legal aid clinics will undoubtedly develop a wealth of knowledge as they explore legal needs and community capacity in their respective communities. The exchange of information and the lessons learned among the four legal aid clinics will add an important dimension to the development of the intermediary partnership/legal health check-up approach and expanding access to justice.