Lawyers can ask for free legal advice online, but many legal professionals are still wary of giving it, say industry experts.
In Canada, there are now more than 10,000 licensed lawyers.
The federal government has created the Free Legal Advice Coalition to raise awareness about free legal aid and the potential risks it poses.
But experts say there are risks.
Free legal advice, they say, may not be a substitute for the advice of qualified lawyers, and that the legal profession is in the midst of a transformation in which legal professionals and the public are increasingly accepting of free legal help.
“The more people get the message that lawyers have no business advising people, the more likely they will be to seek it out,” said Paul Mathers, a former federal prosecutor who runs the law firm Mather & Co. “There’s a recognition that the public is increasingly accepting free legal assistance.”
What is free legal counsel?
Lawyers who work for a non-profit or a non public interest group are free to request advice from a lawyer with no cost to the client, regardless of how many legal documents are involved.
This is called free legal guidance.
It’s a free service, meaning no fees are charged and no money is exchanged.
This means you can get a free legal opinion without the need for an accountant.
“What you’re looking for is a professional who has a lot of experience,” said Mather.
A lawyer may not necessarily be a member of the legal community.
Some of the best-known free legal services include the Canadian Association of Independent Advocates and the Association of Professional Counselors of Canada.
A Canadian association of lawyers has created a website where you can request free legal service.
There are also free legal consultation groups around the country.
Some experts worry that a rising number of lawyers are turning to free legal representation as a way to cope with the changing landscape of the profession.
Many lawyers are seeking advice on issues such as employment, bankruptcy, child support, and family law.
Some legal groups are trying to work out what they can do to improve the way lawyers are compensated and supported.
And many of the new, online legal services offer access to legal assistance through an internet portal, rather than the traditional paper document.
“I’m concerned that some of the more innovative legal services are being run by non-lawyers who are in the legal business,” said Chris MacPherson, president of the Canadian Bar Association.
“Some are trying really hard to make it more accessible to the non-professional client.”
What do I need to know?
Legal advice is a legal document that lawyers can print out and hand to a lawyer.
It is generally confidential.
It has a title, an author, and is usually a brief, written description of what the lawyer is seeking.
For a legal consultation, lawyers generally need to have the client’s name and address, as well as a contact telephone number, fax number, email address, and a copy of the client contract or other documents that are part of the agreement.
Some free legal counseling services require a $100 fee, but some offer no fee at all.
“If you’re really looking to make a significant financial contribution to your legal fees, it’s not the right time to get that kind of service,” said MacPhersons.
For some people, legal advice is necessary to protect their rights, such as when a spouse or child is suing a spouse.
It may be more useful if a family member or close friend is in legal trouble, or if you are involved in a criminal case.
Free or low-cost legal advice can be good for you, said Macey Smith, the chair of the law and policy program at the University of Manitoba.
“For people who are struggling to pay bills, there’s a lot to choose from,” she said.
“We need people who have a financial incentive to seek legal help.”