Module 1:

How to help your clients

Helping your clients take next steps

Do you think that your client has a legal problem? If so, your client has taken an important first
step by talking to you. But the sooner your client starts to deal with their legal problem, the more likely they are to avoid a crisis.

As a community worker, there are some tips you can give your client that might help them take
steps to deal with the problem – or to help them get organized so that they can take action with similar problems in the future. The tips you choose to share with your client will, of course, depend on your assessment of your client’s confidence, skills and experience. With this in mind, you can encourage your client to:

  • try talking with or writing to the person they’re having the problem with.

    • if they have already called or written but not heard anything back, encourage them to follow up
      • for some tips on mediation and negotiation strategy, check out this “Settlement Smarts” guide prepared by Dr. Julie Macfarlane for the National Self-Represented Litigants Project
    • try to find out who the best person is to speak to about their problem in the organization or business and start to deal with that person
    • find out if there is a complaints process they have to follow
    • write down what happened in the order that it happened, with dates
    • start keeping a log of anything else that happens – for example, keep a dated record of any incidents that take place or payments made
      • an easy way for your client to do this is to make brief notes on a blank calendar page – you could help by printing off some calendar pages for them to use

    If your client needs legal advice for their specific situation, you can suggest they:

    • read any relevant legal information you’ve helped them find
    • write out a list of the questions they want to ask the lawyer, paralegal or legal clinic
    • gather all documents related to their situation that they need in advance of the appointment
    • bring all documents related to their situation, identification and contact information to the appointment

    There are also steps you can take to help your clients deal with their legal problem. For starters, you can encourage them to learn more about their legal problem. You can show them where to find legal information – or, you may have already given them some print or online information.

    If your client needs legal advice or other legal assistance, you can:

    • help them book an appointment with a lawyer, paralegal or legal clinic
      • if your client needs help with English, find out if the lawyer, paralegal or legal clinic can help them in their own language or if an interpreter is needed
    • make brief notes about what the client told you about their problems for them to take to their appointment (this will be especially helpful if your client has discussed the situation with you in detail, including dates that things happened to them)
    • make a list of the documents that you think your client should bring to the appointment – and encourage them to bring the documents they have which might relate to the problem to their appointment. Some examples:
      • housing law problem: copy of the tenancy agreement, any rent receipts, any eviction notices or notices of hearing
      • employment law problem: copy of the employment agreement, copy of the Record of Employment if the client has been fired or laid off, copy of any documents related to their employment insurance claim
      • social assistance problem: copy of any letters or notices that your client has received from Ontario Works or the Ontario Disability Support Program
      • family law problem: copy of any court documents, support orders or agreements with their partner
    • Help your client put their documents in the right order.
    • With your client’s permission, speak with a family member or other support person about your client’s problem, with a view to establishing a clear picture of the facts.
    • Speak with the lawyer, paralegal or legal clinic directly about your client’s problem. The lawyer, paralegal or legal clinic will need written authorization from your client to allow them to speak to you.

    These steps will go a long way in helping your client deal with their legal problem.

    You can also download a PDF version of this information, a checklist about the information, or the whole module.