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The Halton Legal Health Check-Up Project is About to Go into the Field

Ab Currie, PhD

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Legal Health Check-Up project, being developed by the Halton Community Legal Clinic, is moving out of the planning phase and into the field. Now that training for the seven intermediary partners in the use of the Check-up tool has been completed and the research instruments have been developed, the project is entering a preliminary phase in which data will be collected for three months or until three hundred Check-up forms have been completed with the assistance of intermediaries and submitted to the clinic for intake. The three hundred completed forms should provide sufficient data to assess the implementation phase of the project, to detect unanticipated issues and to make course corrections. That number of clients flowing in through the check-ups administered by intermediaries is intended to be small enough so that service can be provided to all new clients without undue strain on the capacity of the clinic while providing sufficient data to assess the early implementation of the project. It was decided early on in the planning that no part of the project would be for research only.

This phase of the research will allow the project team to collect data and carry out analysis to address several critical questions. How effective is the legal health check-up tool in identifying everyday legal problems? How closely do the everyday legal problems identified by people through the Check-Ups translate into actionable legal problems assessed at intake? Does the Check-Up process allow the Halton clinic to move the service “upstream”, identifying problems before situations become critical? How will the different intermediaries interact with clients and how will this affect problem identification? To what extent will the Check-Up tool allow the Halton clinic to extend its reach beyond its current clientele, into the hidden need of people marginally above current legal aid eligibility but still experiencing legal need with the same urgency as existing clients?

The Halton Legal Health Check-Up project is responding to the unmet need documented in the legal problems research and long experienced by service providers. By partnering with intermediaries to extend the reach of legal aid the Legal Health Check-Up project is moving from being reactive to the expressed demand that manifests as requests for service to proactively identifying unmet need, the Halton Legal Health Check-Up project is responding to the unmet need legal problems research has documented and has long been the experience of service providers.  Following the preliminary phase, the Halton pilot will continue to gather a larger body of data that will provide conclusive evidence. Importantly, following the preliminary assessment phase in Halton, several LAO legal aid clinics in the Southwest Region will then come on stream with versions of the legal health check-up approach that suit their situations.

These are exciting times for legal aid in the Halton region and in Ontario, responding to the unmet need now well-documented in the research literature with a new and exciting approach. At the same time, long time observers of legal aid will notice that the Halton Legal Health Check-Up project reaches back to the enduring ideals of the legal aid movement from the early days in the 1960’s, especially in the U.S when legal aid was conceived as part of a social justice movement and a key part of an attack on poverty. However, everything old is not new again without the commitment and the energy to continue making it happen, applying new knowledge about the access to justice problem and new ways of addressing it.