With the proliferation of technology and the internet, in particular, many law firms started sharing helpful legal content online, on social media, and on their own websites.
From construction laws and their interpretations, to privacy legislations, to consumer rights, to intricacies of divorce procedures - many of these subjects have been discussed on Twitter threads, in LinkedIn posts, lawyer blogs, and newsletters.
However, many of them are not geared towards consumers. While the intention is clearly to educate, share knowledge, and inform about various resources available to the public - the language and terminology used is still full of legalese.
For a regular person who doesn’t understand terms like “covenants”, “affidavit”, and “negligence” - these resources come at the cost of having to spend hours looking up terms and putting together sentences to understand the full context.
Fortunately, there are free resources on the internet that make it possible for an average Canadian to learn how to deal with certain situations (such as being laid off or getting evicted), or even ask a question and get an answer from a lawyer in plain English.
Below we discuss 3 websites where Canadians can find free legal help.
Started in 2009, Quora is the largest Q&A platform in the world. It covers a diverse range of topics, and it’s equally possible to stumble upon highly scientific questions like “How many molecules are there in a human body?”, as well as deeply philosophical “What is the purpose of the Universe?”.The platform is also a host of thousands of questions and answers pertaining to law.
Many people use Quora to find out if certain activities are illegal, or to ask for advice. And while most responses don’t come directly from lawyers, there are many people who claim to have gone through a similar situation, and thus are qualified to provide an answer.
One of the features worth exploring is “topics” that aggregates similar Q&A into thematic groups. For example, if you have an immigration-related question, you can search “Immigration to Canada” and that Topic will come up, filled with previously asked questions and ongoing discussions.
Because the community is so diverse, however, most of the answers to those legal questions are not always coming from lawyers. Quora doesn’t require a user to be a lawyer, to answer a legal question. Hence, plenty of answers are coming from non-lawyers.
It might work for general legal questions, but it is probably not ideal for inquiries that are hyper-specific. Laws differ between provinces (or states), and change frequently in some industries (such as technology and privacy). For that reason, Quora has its limitations when asking questions about Real Estate in India, or Immigration in Canada - similar to shortcomings of posting on Reddit or asking in Facebook groups.
Next are 2 resources that are specifically designed with legal questions in mind.
LegalLine is a web resource that provides answers to most frequently asked legal questions, and helps find a lawyer or a paralegal for hire. Started in 1993 as a phone line to access legal help, LegalLine has been serving the Canadian community for over 25 years. They accept inquiries online and over the phone, and have partnered with over 8000 institutions to promote their legal resources.
The most helpful part of their website is the answers’ page, containing over 2100 answers to the most frequently asked legal questions. Questions are assembled into a series of articles, that cover various areas of the law on the Federal, Provincial and Municipal levels.
Contrary to Quora, where all questions and answers are provided by their community, LegalLine takes a more curated approach. It uses the help of its volunteers to identify and answer the most standard and recurring questions in each category. Editing is done by staff, and answers are posted on their website as well as in their print guide.
LegalLine is a great resource in plain English, to understand the Canadian Law. Answers steer clear from using heavy jargon and legalese that only lawyers can interpret with ease.
Although a great starting point, answers might seem a bit too general. To resolve a more specific inquiry, a person would need to call their direct line - similarly to how legal clinics currently operate in Canada. Unfortunately, answers to those more specific questions that come in from users every day are not available for other users to refer to.
Designed as a Q&A platform for Legal Help, coSquare was launched in 2020 to provide Canadians with free legal help during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dubbed as “Quora for Legal Help”, it allows anyone to ask a question anonymously, and get a quick response from a licensed lawyer.
The main advantage of the platform is the quality of its legal contributors. coSquare verifies every lawyer to ensure they meet education requirements, and are qualified by the regulators to practice law.
Thanks to a diverse community of legal contributors, coSquare is accepting questions coast-to-coast, and can provide relevant answers to most inquiries within days.
One of the most popular features on the platform is the ability to tag questions based on the province and the category it relates to (such as “Immigration” or “Landlord & Tenant issues”). Question is then matched with the lawyer who specializes in those matters, making sure that all answers are relevant and up-to-date.
There are over 300 questions that were answered on the platform since August.
Unlike LegalLine, all answers are publicly available through coSquare - meaning that users can browse answers to similar questions, before asking their own. Although more complex cases would eventually require hiring a lawyer, this service definitely solves the problem of getting a simple legal question answered by a qualified person, at no charge.