Lawyers work for free today
Free legal advice and trial of Big Bad Wolf as part of Law Day
Saturday, Apr 26, 2014 06:00 am
Need a lawyer? You can get one for free today as part of Alberta Law Day.
Calgary and Edmonton area lawyers are on call this Saturday to give free legal advice to all-comers as part of Alberta Law Day.
The Canadian Bar Association established this annual event in 1983 to commemorate the signing of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Local lawyers plan to celebrate this April 26 with a number of mock trials at the Edmonton courthouse, including a custody battle between Mr. and Mrs. Batman, and by giving out free legal advice through an Ask-A-Lawyer booth.
The bar association has also set up a free dial-a-lawyer hotline for those who can’t make it to the courthouse, said Ola Malik, chair of the association’s access to justice committee.
By calling 1-888-644-8950 today, residents can get a free 15- to 20-minute consultation with one of 32 volunteer lawyers to talk about any legal issue.
“Anyone can phone in,” Malik said. “We’re trying to make it as easy as we can.”
Many people don’t have the time or money to hire a lawyer, given that a typical one-hour consultation can cost about $500, Malik said. Others are simply too intimidated to ask.
Others don’t realize they could use a lawyer until it’s too late, added Anna Pogosjan, former St. Albert resident and a volunteer lawyer for the hotline. Lawyers can help people enforce warrantees or get paid for contracts, for example, but only if they’re brought in before the statute of limitations runs out.
Legal aid is meant to help those who can’t afford a lawyer, said Suzanne Polkosnik, president of Legal Aid Alberta. But due to chronic underfunding, legal aid is really only an option for the poorest of the poor – those making less than $1,348 a month.
“That leaves a very large swath of individuals, including those earning minimum wage or receiving AISH (Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped) without that kind of access.”
Everyone else has to either sell their possessions to afford a lawyer or represent themselves, Polkosnik said.
Self-represented clients usually end up pleading guilty or having exceptionally long trials, said Steve Smith, Paul Kane alumnus and a volunteer lawyer for the hotline.
“The legal system as a whole is fairly complex,” he said, and tough to navigate without expert advice. Many cases are also high-stakes, with your money, family, or personal liberty all at risk.
“You don’t want to have to wing it,” he said, especially since the prosecution will always have expert lawyers on its side.
Law for all
It’s critical for people to have quick and fair access to legal advice in order to protect their rights, Polkosnik said.
Legal Aid Alberta helped about 30,700 people get lawyers last year while giving 230,000 legal advice, Polkosnik said. They’ll need more federal and provincial support in order to support more people.
There’s an embarrassment of riches out there right now when it comes to free legal advice, Malik said. Groups such as the Edmonton Community Legal Centre and Pro Bono Law Alberta are available year-round to help.
“Oftentimes, people don’t know where to go.”
Malik urged anyone who has or thinks they have a legal issue to call the hotline. Lawyers on it will help callers figure out their options and show them where to get help.
The hotline is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. this April 26.