Retaining legal services is not always an affordable or accessible option. For those who have found themselves cycling through the court system or building up legal fees when further complications arise, it can be discouraging. Unfortunately, many individuals feel reluctant to sort through their legal troubles due to financial factors or the worry of what pursuing them will mean for the future. It is important that individuals are aware of alternatives to simply ignoring their legal troubles and hoping they go away.
Fortunately, there are various free services offered throughout the city to help individuals without the added stress of an intimidating invoice to pay off. These services provide guidance for those who may have questions and have no idea what to do with their concerns.
Calgary Legal Guidance (CLG)
CLG is a non-profit legal organization located in downtown Calgary dedicated to providing free legal guidance services to individuals who have little to no income, including those experiencing family violence, homelessness, or health issues. Individuals who cannot afford a lawyer or have no access to paid services are welcome to book an appointment with pro bono professional lawyers who offer their time on a volunteer basis.
CLG offers a number of programs and various clinics to provide on-going legal representation, advice, legal education and support such as summary advice clinics, social benefits assistance, pre-apprehension child welfare, and homeless outreach — just to name a few.
Pro Bono Law Alberta (PBLA)
PBLA is a non-profit charitable organization that promotes access to justice in Alberta. PBLA has volunteer lawyers who provide pro bono assistance to individuals who otherwise have limited access to legal services.
PBLA has various services depending on what help is needed:
- Civil Claims Duty Counsel (CCDC) – provides brief legal assistance to self-represented litigants with civil matters in the Alberta Court of Justice, both in Calgary and Edmonton.
a. On a first-come first-served basis, volunteer lawyers are available to provide a 30-minute consultation with legal advice, information on court procedures, assistance with document preparation and review, help preparing for trials, and other court appearances.
- King’s Bench Court Assistance (“KB Amicus Program”) – provides summary legal assistance to self-represented litigants with civil matters at the Court of King’s Bench. Applicants must meet program criteria to receive 30 minutes of free consultation. Services are split between morning and afternoon services.
- Morning – In-person assistance for those without legal representation who need help with Morning Chambers Appearances in Applications Judge and Justice Chambers. This usually includes help with applications, bankruptcy, motions and other appearances. However, any matters relating to criminal, corporate, family, pre-trial conferences and mediations are not assisted.
- Afternoon – In-person legal advice clinic for civil matters including foreclosure, bankruptcy, builders’ liens, wills and estates, or other civil matters. They provide further information on court procedures, preparing for trial, motions and other appearances, and helping completing forms. (Currently not offered in Edmonton)
- Help for Non-Profits and Charities –non-profits and charities with discrete legal issues can apply to the Volunteer Lawyer Services (VLS) Roster Program for assistance with a specific legal issue. The program will match lawyers with non-profits and charities who can receive assistance on a variety of legal issues that impact their day-to-day operations including such things as general contract drafting and reviews, volunteer waivers, or bylaw reviews.
BLG Business Venture Clinic
The BLG Business Venture Clinic is a student-run, pro bono legal clinic at the University of Calgary that provides free legal information to entrepreneurs in Calgary. Local entrepreneurs are paired with law students who provide assistance while working with lawyers. Work provided by the students is reviewed while guidance and feedback are given to ensure advice is complete and accurate.
Students in this clinic can prepare memos and can also draft basic corporate-commercial agreements and legal documents.
Student Legal Assistance
Student Legal Assistance is another student-run pro-bono legal clinic at the University of Calgary with law student caseworkers. The clinic runs under the guidance of advising lawyers with approximately 100 students pursuing their JD degree. These students also provide further outreach services to various Calgary agencies including the Calgary Dream Centre, CUPS Calgary, and Alpha House.
The students can make appearances in court, make pleas, run trials, and attend dispute resolutions, negotiations, and early case resolutions for their clients. Students also cover various areas of law including but not limited to criminal, civil, family, traffic/bylaw, landlord-tenant, and others.
Women’s Centre of Calgary
The Women’s Centre provides a safe and supportive space for women who have issues around poverty, hunger, family breakdown, parenting, homelessness, unemployment, domestic violence, and more. The centre is supported by over 700 active volunteers dedicated to women helping women and provides legal advice clinics with female lawyers who volunteer their time to ensure more women can access legal advice regardless of their economic situation. These sessions are offered on a one-to-one basis with half hour sessions by appointment. They address areas around family issues, civil cases, immigration, and other areas of law. However, criminal law is not covered, and these lawyers do not provide legal representation.
What if I don’t qualify for any of the above options?
While Calgary has various ways in which individuals can seek affordable options to get started or work through their legal concerns, unfortunately not everyone qualifies due to the demands on these programs.
If you have a legal issue and do not qualify for the above programs, we recommend checking out our blog post on ways to reduce your legal costs, which can include looking for alternative or fixed-fee providers, who can provide a level of certainty in cost to obtaining legal advice.