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Free legal advice

Why pay when you can get 30 minutes with a lawyer for next to nothing?


Many of us end up picking legal advice the same way we choose between pizza delivery places: we flip open the Yellow Pages and start hunting. Thankfully, there’s a smarter way. It’s called a lawyer referral service. Such services are operated by law societies and non-profit legal associations in almost every province and territory in Canada. Instead of blindly selecting a name from the phone book, the referral service connects you with a lawyer who specializes in the type of law you need help with.

The best part is you get to meet with the lawyer for 30 minutes and it won’t cost you more than taking the family to McDonald’s. Often your bill will only amount to $20 or $40. In Ontario it’s only $6 and in Alberta and Manitoba it’s free.

What can you get done in 30 minutes? Quite a lot, actually. Since most people don’t know where to begin, they’re often only looking to get basic questions answered. They want to know, Do I have a case? What do I need to do next? Do I even need a lawyer? It lets them get oriented and decide their next step, says Kelly Robertson, who co-ordinates the lawyer referral service in PEI for that province’s Community Legal Information Association.

Don’t expect to get any paperwork done, but you’ll get solid advice, says Allan Kaplan, a Toronto lawyer who’s part of the lawyer referral service in Ontario. “I’m giving the same kind of advice I would give to paying clients.”

The only downside is that because such services are voluntary for lawyers, only a small number take part. So depending on how busy they are, it may take a while to get an appointment. And if you live in Saskatchewan or New Brunswick, you may have to keep the Yellow Pages handy — neither province currently has a lawyer referral service at all.