Posts in General interest
Chatting about MyLawBC and more
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In a new podcast from the National Self-Represented Litigants Project (NSRLP), Sherry MacLennan, our Director of Public Legal Information and Applications, sits down to talk with Professor Julie Macfarlane about MyLawBC and finding new ways of delivering legal information.

You can listen to the podcast below and find links to everything they discuss on the NSRLP website.

Have your say on BC’s Human Rights Commission
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The Government of BC has announced that the BC Human Rights Commission will be re-established. To help shape this, a public engagement is now underway until November 17, 2017. British Columbians are asked to share their experiences and ideas on how a human rights commission can meet its goals of promoting and protecting the principles of dignity and equality.

You can participate online by adding comments to the government’s BC Human Rights Commission page.

Are our publications working? The Publications Development Coordinator finds out

If I tell people that I’m a “Publications Development Coordinator,” they have no idea what that means. Instead I usually just say that I talk to people about what they think is working (or not) with our publications and then I bring that information back to the editors and designers so that they can improve them. We can make an educated guess on what information people need and how they’re going to use it by getting input from lawyers, experts, and people who work with the public. We can try our very best to put ourselves in other people’s shoes. But we won’t really know how people use the publication and whether it’s meeting their needs until we hear from people who are actually going through the legal situation.

In some cases, it’s difficult to find people to talk to because they’re dealing with a legal issue that normally occurs away from Vancouver. Or it might be difficult to locate people because they’re dealing with a more sensitive legal issue. That’s where I get help from people around the community. Sometimes that help comes in the form of the organizations like YWCA Metro Vancouver, which helped me meet with people who have experienced abusive relationships to talk about how they would use the Live Safe End Abuse fact sheets. Our legal aid office in Terrace also recently helped connect me to people to listen to what they had to say about A Guide to Aboriginal Harvesting Rights.

For each publication, I have a “worksheet” – a list of instructions and questions that I use to ask the person their thoughts on the cover, design, and content. I also ask them to complete tasks using the publication. During the session, I observe where people experience frustration or confusion or if they have trouble finding a piece of information. I preface each interview with, “I didn’t have any part in producing this publication, so I won’t get offended!” This statement usually draws a laugh but also gives people permission to be brutally honest.

Recently, I was looking for people to usability test the upcoming Gladue Submission Guide. This guide helps Aboriginal people make an oral or short written submission about themselves and their family history which helps the judge apply Gladue principles when deciding bail or sentencing. I needed to find Aboriginal people who had gone through the criminal system for their feedback. With some help I was put in touch with a few people who would be potential users of this guide.

The guide is a little different than our other publications. It’s more of a workbook where people can fill in their answers under different sections to create a Gladue submission. It also provides information about Gladue rights, Gladue factors, and restorative justice. During the session, I asked each person to read a section and let me know if any words or concepts were unclear or difficult to understand. I didn’t ask them to share what they would have written, but the people that I spoke to were very candid and open about their history. Overall the response was positive. One woman said that she wished she’d had it earlier. During a different user testing session two of the people interviewed wanted to take the booklet so they could use it right away.

When I find out that a publication isn’t working for people it’s good news because we can work on making the publication more useful. This job has been a way for me to gain an understanding into the often difficult and complicated lives of the people who need legal help. Everyone who works at the Legal Services Society contributes towards making sure everyone has access to justice. When you’re not on the front-line that can sometimes be hard to see. Through my position as Publications Development Coordinator, I’m able to get a tiny first-hand glimpse into how LSS and its publications can make a positive difference in people’s lives.

-Patricia, Publications Development Coordinator

Changing your relationship status: Social media and family law
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This is an update to an article that ran in our previous blog ELAN on Sep 17, 2012. “I saw you tweeted that Tumblr post I put on Facebook.”

A few years ago, that sentence would have been complete gibberish, and you’d think twice about sitting down beside someone who said that on a bus. Nowadays, however, you wouldn’t give it a second thought. That’s how ingrained social media has become in our everyday lives; in fact, more than half of all Canadians use Facebook every day.

As social media penetrates our lives, it’s no surprise that it’s having greater and greater implications under the law. A quick search of CanLII — an electronic legal research database — shows that 1,108 court decisions mentioned Facebook in 2016 in Canada. Ten years ago there were five (Facebook was created in 2004).

While its use in criminal law has been big news before — tracking down rioters, for example — its effects on family law have been more subtle.

A survey in the UK found that Facebook was cited as a contributing factor to more than one third of divorce cases. For example, Facebook’s list of suggested friends alerted two women to the fact that they were married to the same man. Not only is social media a contributing factor to family law cases, it’s increasingly being used as evidence in these cases.

Your status updates and posts, which are often public, could affect custody, spousal support, or more. They can be used to demonstrate a number of things:

  • your state of mind;
  • proof of communication;
  • proof of time and place; and
  • evidence of actions

This isn’t necessarily limited to what is publicly visible, either; a judge in Connecticut ordered a couple to divulge their Facebook and dating site passwords during their divorce proceedings.

It’s not entirely clear how social media will continue to shape and affect family law, but apparently, it’s having an effect, so perhaps it’s best to keep an eye on what you’re posting.

You don’t need a tractor to have a will
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On June 8, 1948, Cecil George Harris lay dying in a field, pinned under a tractor. While help eventually came, he spent nearly 10 hours under that tractor and died in hospital the next day. When Harris left the house that morning, he didn’t have a will, but he soon feared he’d need one. While trapped, he dug out his pen knife and scratched a message into the fender of his tractor:  

In case I die in this mess I leave all to the wife. Cecil Geo Harris

A few days after his death, this message was found. The fender was removed and the court followed through with his impromptu will. You can still see the fender on display at the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Law.

Wills written this way are called holographic, or handwritten, wills. They’re not valid in BC (with a few exceptions). That isn’t to say that there isn’t an easy way to write a will in BC.

MyLawBC is our newest website and one of things it does is offers a quick and easy way for you to write a will. Since it was launched earlier this year, almost 2,000 people have used MyLawBC to help write their wills.

The first thing you need to do is to go through the Make a will pathway. This is where the site asks you a series of questions about your situation. It then uses your answers to figure out how it can help you.

If you need a simple will — that’s a basic will that avoids situations like owning a business or property outside of BC — then you’ll be given a Word form template. As you fill out the form, it populates a will with the information you put in. Once you’re done, you’ll have a will that contains all the necessary legal language. All that’s left to do is for you to sign it.

MyLawBC is free to use, so there’s no excuse to wait until you’re under a tractor and absolutely need a will to write one.

Clear Skies in Haida Gwaii
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One of the biggest advantages of our community partner program is that we get to hear from people across the province. BC is big and diverse and what works for a city of 100,000 people two hours from Seattle might not work for a community of 5,000 people two hours from Whitehorse. That’s a sentiment our community partners often, rightly, remind us of. Last year we decided to try something different; we developed a comic book (and video) called Clear Skies. It was a new approach for us, one that focused on using a story to explain the law. We hoped that as readers learned about Marnie and her kids and how they dealt with family violence, readers would also learn about the law.

This approach resonated with a lot of people, including Elizabeth, a literacy outreach worker and our community partner in Haida Gwaii. (Credit where credit is due: Elizabeth told us we should make comic books a while before we actually did.) When Clear Skies came out, Elizabeth went above and beyond.

One of the reasons Clear Skies resonates with people is because it tells a story they recognize. Elizabeth used that as a springboard, hosting a discussion group where people gathered to watch Clear Skies and talk about how it reflected their experiences. On a beautiful sunny evening, a group of 18 people (including educators, victim services workers, and people who help children who have witnessed abuse) sat down for a frank discussion about abuse.

The feedback from the session was great. People thought that the comic accurately represented family violence and humanized an intimidating process. That’s great to hear and what we were aiming for. What’s more important, though, is that we got to hear this feedback. An opportunity like this is hard for us to organize from our Vancouver office; even if we could get the same people to come out, we wouldn’t have the same rapport as someone from the community. That personal connection really makes a difference.

Thank you to Elizabeth for taking the initiative and setting this up. We hope we’ll have the opportunity to help with more sessions like this in the future.

Law Day in Nelson
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Arrested in Nelson

The following post is from Amy, our community partner in Nelson. Community partners provide legal information and help connect people to legal services. They can be found all across BC. In a highly publicized trial in Nelson, BC, Sneezy the Wolf was found guilty of mischief for destroying the houses of the three little pigs. The mock trial, written and performed by local students, was just one of the many highlights of Nelson's Law Day this year. Held at the local courthouse, Law Day provided an opportunity for members of the public to tour the courthouse, library, and jail cells; get their mugshot taken; participate in a bail hearing; and learn about other aspects of the justice system.

The Advocacy Centre, a community partner of the Legal Services Society (LSS), was invited to have an information table. It was an excellent opportunity to highlight some of LSS’ resources. Young people were invited to participate in a scavenger hunt to find the answers to a series of questions. The question for our table was "Who does Legal Services Society help?" It was a great opportunity to share information about the free legal help available through LSS. Other tables included displays about criminal identification techniques, electronic monitoring, and victim services.

This was the first Law Day in Nelson. The turnout was terrific, and we look forward to participating in the second annual Law Day next year.

Legal Aid BC wins communications awards
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LSS publications were big winners in this year’s Communicator Awards! One of the largest international awards to cover excellence in communications, the Communicator Awards honour “materials that transcend innovation and craft — work that made a lasting impact, providing an equal chance of winning to all entrants regardless of company or agency size and project budget.” Five of our six entries won an award. Entries are scored on a 100-point scale by the judges. Generally, Excellence winners receive a score of 90 or above and Distinction winners receive a score of 70 to 89.

This year, the collaborative and agile methods we used to create MyLawBC.com were also applied to development of the site-related materials. We entered three of those publications into the competition, and all of them won awards (two Awards of Excellence and one Award of Distinction). Our new approach really allowed the creativity and talent of the team to shine through, and will continue to inform (and improve!) our work moving forward.

Introducing the award winners:

How can we resolve family law issues?, a MyLawBC infographic, won an Award of Excellence in the content marketing category. This infographic gives readers a visual overview of what their options are when dealing with family law matters.

All About Mediation, also a MyLawBC infographic, won an Award of Excellence in the content marketing category. This infographic uses fun, engaging visuals to help readers understand how mediation can help them resolve their family matters out of court.

Coping with Separation Handbook, a MyLawBC booklet about the emotional aspects of separating, won an Award of Distinction in the brochure — handbook category. See our recent Hot Off the Press notice for a detailed description of this booklet.

Clear Skies won an Award of Excellence in the brochure — educational category. This comic book, co-produced last year with the Healthy Aboriginal Network, has proved to be very popular. We’ve had to reprint it twice since it first came out in July 2015. To learn more about this comic book, see our July 2015 Hot Off the Press or have a look at the promotional page for this booklet on the Aboriginal Legal Aid in BC website, where you can also find links to the video, plus more.

And Safety in Same-Gender Relationships, co-produced with QMUNITY and published in March 2015, won an Award of Distinction in the brochure — educational category. For more about this booklet see our March 2015 Hot Off the Press notice.

Congratulations to everyone involved for the well-deserved wins!

Articling students get additional powers in BC
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As of September, articling law students in BC can now serve as commissioners and take affidavits. Until this change, only lawyers, notaries, and a few select other professionals could act as commissioners. Affidavits are documents you prepare for court that contain the facts of your case. You have to swear under oath that what you’ve written in the affidavit is true. A commissioner must witness you signing the affidavit.

After law students complete their law degree, they must spend a year articling before they’re allowed to become a practicing lawyer. During this year, lawyers supervise the articling students and work with them to help them learn the profession.

What’s so great about eBooks?
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Recently you may have noticed that we’ve been releasing eBooks. So far, three books are available:. A Guide to the Indian Residential Schools Agreement, Consumer Law and Credit/Debt Law, and Living Together or Living Apart. You can read eBooks on a dedicated eBook reader like a Kobo, on your phone, or on a tablet like an iPad. If you don’t already read books on one of those devices, then you might be wondering what the benefits are. EBooks offer two big advantages over traditional books. First and foremost is space. They are light, easy to carry, and able to store thousands of books on a single device. Our entire library of publications wouldn’t even begin to fill up a Kobo that you could fit in your back pocket.

Another advantage is that eBooks can give you some discretion when you’re out in public. Since there isn’t a cover on display, it’s harder for people to tell what you’re reading. For example, if you were reading Living Together or Living Apart on the bus, you might feel a little self-conscious that someone you know would see you reading about divorce. With an eBook, that isn’t an issue.

What about PDFs — are eBooks better than PDFs? EBooks might be a better option if you’re reading on an eReader or tablet. EBooks, unlike PDFs, automatically adjust to be read well on any screen size, which means less zooming and scrolling as you read.

Going forward, we’ll experiment more with eBooks and release more publications in eBook format.

If you’ve been using the eBooks we’ve released, we’d love to hear your feedback.

A sneak peek at MyLawBC

We’re happy to offer a sneak peek at what MyLawBC will look like and announce that the site now has an emblem! Since last October, we’ve been working on creating a design and look for MyLawBC that matches our vision. It’s important for any website to have a strong visual identity. After users work their way through MyLawBC, they’ll receive a personalized action plan. We want users to feel that the site is friendly and approachable. This emblem design brings to mind the act of highlighting information that is important specifically to them.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the recent online survey to vote for an emblem. More than 200 people from across BC weighed in. To read more about the decision, and see the MyLawBC site layout for the first time, watch the MyLawBC Development blog video.

What are the costs of going to court alone?
Linda, a Public Policy grad student at SFU, is part of a group researching the costs of self-representing in court.
Linda, a Public Policy grad student at SFU, is part of a group researching the costs of self-representing in court.

Going to court without a lawyer is a daunting task. It’s also not that uncommon. It’s estimated that half of all family law litigants don’t have a lawyer. If you look outside of family law, it can get as high as 80% depending on the issue and court it’s being tried in. We know that self-representing can take a toll — both on the person and the court system — but we can’t put a dollar value on that toll.

Getting a sense of the costs is just what a group of graduate students from Simon Fraser University is trying to do. A group of Public Policy students is in the middle of a research project looking at the monetary costs of self-representation in court. They want to put a dollar value on this process, including looking at missed work, time spent preparing for court, and court fees.

In the end, these students want to create a better understanding of the experience and impact of self-representation so that the justice system can develop better strategies to help those who have to go to court by themselves.

Right now, these students are looking to gather some information from people in BC who have, or are currently, representing themselves in court. If that’s you, please take a few minutes to fill out their online survey.

International rugby — Innovating justice with the Netherlands
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I’ve never played rugby. I once went to see a Six Nations game in the rain — and drank a mug of Bovril, which sounds weird, but when in Rome (or Scotland) — but I can’t say that I understand the game. I also don’t understand what rugby has to do with software development, but they both have scrums. I recently spent a week in a scrum developing a roadmap for MyLawBC. For the last few months we’ve been working with HiiL, a non-profit in the Netherlands, to develop a new website called MyLawBC. The heart of the site is guided pathways. The basic idea behind guided pathways is that when you come to the site, it will ask you some questions about your problem. Based on your answers, it will diagnose your legal problem and give you an action plan unique to your situation, which will help you take the steps you need to resolve it. Hiil and the Dutch Legal Aid board created a similar site called Rechtwijzer, so we’ve been working with them to learn from their experiences.

Rechtwijzer screengrab
Rechtwijzer screengrab

Two weeks ago, we held a weeklong scrum in our Vancouver office to map out how these guided pathways will work. When you Google “scrum software development” you’ll probably run across a definition that uses the words agile framework, complex projects, and innovative scope. It’s very different from how we normally think and work, and it’s a lot of work, but it gets results.

November scrum

Two folks from HiiL, Jin Ho and Tsvetelina, came to Vancouver to help us conduct the scrums. We had nearly 30 people from all different walks of life helping us develop the tool: lawyers, community workers, other legal organizations, government officials, intermediaries, members of the public, and LSS staff. We worked on pathways for family law and family violence; wills, estates, and life planning; and foreclosure.

We started with the end points, figuring out where we wanted the user to be at the end of the process. For example, if we take divorce, then one of the possible end points could be the person being divorced, happy, and in stable living conditions with a plan for communicating with her ex. From there, it’s a matter of working backwards and figuring out how the user gets to that point and what information, instructions, and resources they need along the way. Sounds easy right?

I spent most of my time working on the foreclosure pathway, which is based on our booklet Can’t Pay Your Mortgage. I thought that it would be easy enough. I mean, there’s really only two outcomes (you keep your house or you lose it), and the court process itself is pretty linear. I was wrong. There are a lot of ways you can get to or be involved in that court process. It was the easiest of all the topics we covered, but that doesn’t mean that it was easy.

The end of that week was unusual. Most of us had spent over 40 hours working only on this and were noticeably tired, but everyone was still excited to keep working on the project. I don’t know if you can be simultaneously burnt-out and keen to keep working, but somehow we were. The pathways were mapped out, but we still wanted something tangible, or at least as tangible as a website can be.

That comes later. Early next year is when the first prototype should be ready and when the fun will really start.

— Nate Prosser, Online Outreach Coordinator

Welcome to The Factum!
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Hello everyone and welcome to The Factum! The Factum is a new blog from the Legal Services Society. It’s a place to talk about the law in British Columbia and how people can navigate the legal system. While we talk a bit about all aspects of the law, we mainly focus on how the legal system affects people who can’t afford a lawyer.

Thanks so much for supporting The Factum and we hope you continue reading it in the future!

Gamification

This post originally ran July 14, 2014 on the ELAN blog.

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Recently, a ground-breaking conference on gamification was held in San Francisco that drew hundreds of participants. What, you ask, is gamification?

Gamification is taking ideas from games and using them in other contexts to encourage people to take certain actions. Fitness apps are a good example of this. On the one end of the scale, there are apps like Fitocracy, which awards you points for working out and lets you compete with friends. On the other extreme you have apps likeZombies, Run!, which has you listen to a story as you run; every once in a while, zombies will attack and you have to run as fast as you can. Once the danger has passed, you can return to jogging. (Some of you may recognize that this is actually interval training.)

You may be wondering what this has to do with legal aid. The idea of gamification definitely sounds like it’s a bit out there, but if you think about it, it really is just an application of behavioural psychology. Now that’s something that we’re really interested in. We spend a lot of time trying to explain really long and complicated processes. We know that some people will drop out of any online process, legal or otherwise. There could be a lot of reasons for this – from the stress of a situation to getting distracted by the family pet – regardless of the reason, we need to know if there are ways we can tweak how we present information to encourage people to keep at it and not give up.

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How do you motivate people to do things that they know they should do but can’t quite make themselves do? In general, I think most people who come to us start out very motivated; they want a divorce or they need to help a friend find help with their legal problem. But the fact is that most legal issues can’t be solved in one sitting. They take time and, as that time passes, things crop up in their lives that affect how motivated they are.

One of the experts in motivation is BJ Fogg, a professor at Stanford and a keynote speaker at the San Francisco conference. To oversimplify his message to one sentence: for someone to do a certain behaviour, they need to be motivated to do it, have the ability to do it, and then have the thought to do it. In our case, we’ve put a lot of work into making sure that people have the ability to use our resources. With what we’ve learned about the theory of motivation, we have a good starting point for making our resources more engaging, which should hopefully help people stick with them to achieve what they set out to.

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San Francisco Fact: Joshua Norton, Emperor of the United States of America and Protector of Mexico, was one of San Francisco’s most famous residents. He declared himself Emperor of the United States in 1859 and lived out his life in San Francisco as a local celebrity and even issued his own currency, which was accepted in the city.

He was once arrested by a police officer who wanted him institutionalized. There was a public outcry and the Police Chief ordered Norton released saying, “that he had shed no blood; robbed no one; and despoiled no country; which is more than can be said of his fellows in that line.” After that, he was saluted by any San Francisco police officers who saw him in the street.

–Nate Prosser, Online Outreach Coordinator

Finding BC laws online
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This post originally ran April 10, 2014 on the ELAN blog.

Starting April 2, 2014, you can now find all BC laws on www.BCLaws.ca. This information is publicly available for no cost.

Previously, BC legislation was split between BC Laws and QP LegalEze. BC Laws had only current legislation and had limited functionality. QP LegalEze was meant for lawyers, with all BC legislation and many other documents related to legislation. It was also a more full-featured site that required a subscription to access.

Under the new system, all the content on QP LegalEze will be available for free on BC Laws.

Where to find our publications on Crown Publications

This post originally ran March 24, 2014 on the ELAN blog.

If you regularly order our publications from Crown Publications, you may notice that the “quick link” to LSS publications is missing. You can now find our publications via the BC Public Legal Education & Information link.

Over the last few months, we have been collaborating with People’s Law School BC to help them move from their in-house ordering and shipping system to using Crown Publications. Starting April 1, 2014, you will find both LSS and People’s Law School publications via the BC Public Legal Education & Information quick link.

All of our publications, and those of People’s Law School BC, are available for free from Crown Publications. You can find instructions on how to order publications on our Publications page under I want to get a publication.

Consolidating the ordering system for both our organizations’ publications makes it easier for users to find and receive the information they need. Any other public legal information providers that are interested in having their publications distributed by Crown Publications can contact us at distribution@lss.bc.ca for help and advice.