Legal advice through video

Ponoka and district residents who can’t afford a lawyer or can’t drive to Red Deer to get free legal advice now have another option

Ponoka and district residents who can’t afford a lawyer or can’t drive to Red Deer to get free legal advice now have another option: private video conferencing.

The Community Legal Clinic in Red Deer has recently collaborated with Ponoka Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) to provide summary legal advice to low-income residents of Ponoka and area, explained Kathy Parsons, executive director of the clinic.

A few years ago she realized one of the barriers to access the clinic was its location in Red Deer. “Because our mandate is central Alberta, we started to investigate the best way to try to get services to where people are.”

The plan to try video conferencing came about and funding from the Alberta Law Foundation provided the software needed to use video conferencing. Sessions are one-on-one with clients and lawyers and the need for Internet security was paramount to everyone involved. She feels it has many benefits because a lawyer in Stettler can be giving advice to a client in Ponoka.

Those who need help are asked to call the clinic first to ensure they meet certain criteria and to match them to the appropriate lawyer.

“If you have a family matter then you are matched with a lawyer that practices family law,” she stated. “You’re actually getting advice from a lawyer that practices in that area (of law).”

Ponoka residents have accessed their services before but the first one to use videoconferencing is planned for January. Parsons feels both clients and lawyers enjoy the freedom this option allows them.

“It’s better than just chatting on the phone, it feels like more personal service and it gives the lawyers a better chance to connect with the clients.”

The clinic works with Ponoka FCSS as it is an organization people use to find out where they should go for help. It also ensures there is a location and hardware for clients to use.

Parsons has worked with FCSS over recent months to work out details as most times clients meet with a lawyer between 5 and 7 p.m. “We were quite excited with their interest in bringing it to Ponoka.”

A family advisory project with the clinic also helps people about to go into family court on Fridays in Red Deer. A volunteer lawyer or the staff lawyer provides people with advice before they see a judge in provincial court or the Court of Queen’s Bench. “It also helps identify those that are in the court process already who don’t have lawyers because they can’t afford them and might not necessarily have heard of our services prior to actually getting there.”

For more information residents can contact the clinic at 1-877-314-9129 or Ponoka FCSS at (403) 783-4462. Visit the clinic’s website at www.communitylegalclinic.net.