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Getting Legal Advice & Finding a Lawyer

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If you are separating from your partner, or are involved with, or going to be involved with, the court, it is always a good idea to speak with a lawyer. Only a lawyer can give you legal advice about your situation. Court staff and other legal information providers cannot give you legal advice. Court staff cannot promote or advertise any paid services, and as such cannot provide you with a list of lawyers.

1. What is the difference between legal information and legal advice?

Legal information is general information about the law, or the court process. Legal information can include information on how to resolve a dispute without going to court (for example, using mediation), the different ways to start a court application, how to find a lawyer, or about what different legal terms mean. Court staff and other legal information providers can give legal information, but not advice.

Generally, the word ‘should’ indicates you are asking for legal advice. For example, only a lawyer can tell you what you should or should not do in your situation, what specific court application you should make, or what you should say in your court forms.

Legal advice is when you are provided with specific information about your legal problem. Only lawyers are qualified to give legal advice. When you are involved with a family law issue, it is best to speak with a family law lawyer. There are many different types of law, and you want to speak with a lawyer who is familiar with your type of legal issue, and who has worked within the family court system.

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2. What does a lawyer do?

Lawyers are professionals who are trained and licensed to practice law and give legal advice. Lawyers are qualified to tell you specifically what you should do in your situation, and whether or not you should make a court application. They can appear in court for you or with you, and speak on your behalf. They can complete and file court documents for you.

A lawyer will give you legal advice based on the information you give them, so it is important that you tell the lawyer everything they need to know about your situation. A lawyer will give you advice based on the facts of your case, the current law that applies to your case, and their experience. A lawyer will give you the advice that is in your best interests, even if this is not what you want to hear.

A lawyer will act based on the instructions you give them, as long as those instructions are in your best interests and are ethical. A lawyer may decide to not represent you if you ask them to act in a way that would be unethical. Lawyers have a professional code of conduct that they must follow. Do not expect your lawyer to be rude or nasty to opposing counsel, court staff, the other party, or the judge.

A lawyer in a family law case represents one client only, and does not represent the child or children.

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3. Why do I need legal advice?

You can deal with a family law problem or go through the court process without a lawyer in most situations, but it is always recommended that you get at least some legal advice.

The court process in real life is very different from what you see on TV. Most people are not aware of the law or of how to present their case properly. There are also many rules to follow in the courtroom, including rules about what evidence can be accepted by the court, and what evidence cannot be accepted. Do not assume that you will be able to go into court and just ‘say your piece.’

If you do something wrong because you did not get legal advice, this can have serious consequences for you. For example, if you filled out your application wrong, or failed to mention important information in court, this can affect how your case is processed or decided.

It is important to get legal advice even if you are not going to court. For example, if you sign a separation agreement without getting legal advice, you may be giving up rights or entitlements without knowing it. A lawyer can tell you about your legal rights and responsibilities, and advise you about whether to sign important legal documents such as a prenuptial, cohabitation or separation agreement, or a ‘Quitclaim Deed.’

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4. What is ‘independent legal advice’?

Independent legal advice means that you and the other party or parties involved with your case get advice from different lawyers. A lawyer should only give advice to or represent one party, otherwise, this is a conflict. Even if you are getting along with the other party, both of you should still get advice from different lawyers.

If you are two grandparents making an application together, one lawyer can represent you both. If you and the other grandparent are living together and are making an application together for custody of or access with your grandchildren, this may be the one exception to this rule.

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5. How do I find a private lawyer?

You can find contact information for family law lawyers in the phonebook or online.You may have a friend or family member who knows a family law lawyer they can refer you to. If you have a lawyer for another legal issue, they may be able to refer you to a family law lawyer as well. For example, if you have a real estate or business lawyer, that lawyer may know a family law lawyer that you can speak with. Court staff cannot provide you with a list of lawyers.

You may be able to get help finding a lawyer through the Nova Scotia Barrister’s Society, on the website, or by calling (902) 422-1491.

Some lawyers will offer consultations. Some may offer free initial consultations, or you may have to pay a fee. Every lawyer may offer a different service.

To find a lawyer in another province, you can contact the Law Societies of the particular province or look in the Yellow Pages for lawyers practicing in that area.

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6. What are unbundled legal services?

Hiring a lawyer to take on just part of a case can make legal costs much more affordable. This practice – known as ‘unbundling’ or ‘limited scope retainer’ – is now offered by many lawyers in Nova Scotia. Unbundling legal services means you can hire a lawyer for just a section of your case, such as completing your court forms, offering general direction, or assisting you by writing an affidavit.  

The Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society updated its Code of Professional Conduct on February 22, 2013, to make rules that allow lawyers to represent you for specific tasks rather than an entire case. These new rules are meant to provide guidance to lawyers who provide unbundled services. 

Click here to read an article from the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society about unbundled legal services.

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7. How can unbundled legal services work for me?

Some people may not be able to afford to hire a lawyer to deal with all aspects of the person’s case, so unbundling helps to increase the availability of legal services for all Nova Scotians.

If you know that you will be handling some parts of your own case, you can hire a lawyer to handle other parts that you may not know how to complete. This way, you and your lawyer work as a team to address your legal problem. If you decide that you want a lawyer to work on some tasks for you, it’s very important to be clear on which tasks you will each be handling, so communicate regularly and ask questions.

Here are a few examples of what a lawyer may be able to provide in your case with unbundled legal services:

  • completing court forms,
  • offering general legal advice and direction,
  • assisting in writing an affidavit,
  • attending a hearing, and
  • providing legal research.

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8. Can I represent myself?

You can represent yourself in court, but it is always recommended that you at least get some legal advice.  When you act as your own lawyer, this is called being ‘self-represented.’

People sometimes self-represent because they want to act as their own lawyer, but often it is because they cannot get a lawyer. This may be because they do not qualify for legal aid, and cannot afford to hire their own lawyer. Many people represent themselves in family court matters for this reason.

Even if you start the court process on your own, you can hire a lawyer or consult with one for advice at any time.

The following video was made available through the Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick and Family Law NB.

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9. Are there services that can help me represent myself?

There are several materials available to people who are self-representing, that may assist them in the court process. You can visit the Courts website for information guides and frequently asked questions. There are also videos about representing yourself in court that you can view online. Some of the information in these videos may only apply to matters in the Supreme Court (Family Divisions) in Halifax and Cape Breton.

Family Law Information Centres, or ‘FLICs,’ exist in the Halifax and Sydney Supreme Court (Family Divisions). FLICs provide general information on family law and court processes, as well as written materials on different family law topics. Staff in FLIC can direct you on how to find a lawyer, and to community resources that may be helpful to you. FLICs also offer information sessions on family law topics, like divorce, and provide a computer for filling out and printing forms.

Court staff may be able to direct you to other services as well.

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10. How do I get legal advice if I can’t afford a lawyer?

There are many ways to get legal advice if you cannot hire your own lawyer. These ways may include getting a lawyer through Nova Scotia Legal Aid, meeting with a Summary Advice lawyer, accessing a lawyer through an Employee Assistance Plan, reachAbility, or lawyer referral service, or meeting with a private lawyer for a consultation.

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11. What is the LISNS Lawyer Referral Service?

The Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia (LISNS) is a charity that provides legal information and resources, and operates the Lawyer Referral Service. You can contact the Lawyer Referral Service to get the name and contact information for a lawyer in your area. You then contact the lawyer to arrange for a 30 minute appointment. This appointment is $20 + tax.

If you decide to hire the lawyer after the initial appointment, and the lawyer agrees to represent you, you will need to discuss how much the lawyer will charge to represent you.

For more information about this service, visit the website, or call (902) 455-3135 or toll-free at 1-800-665-9779.

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12. What is the Access Legal Help NS program?

The Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia has recently announced its launch of Access Legal Help NS. This legal resource provides an online source for people to find free legal help. 

This program is not intended to replace any pro bono services already being offered in Nova Scotia, including Nova Scotia Legal Aid. Instead, it is the first provincial pro bono program in Canada designed to refer qualified individuals or organizations to programs already in existence and to "fill in the gaps" where they are needed, both geographically and in area of law.

Those who qualify for this service can get a ½ hour summary advice appointment with a lawyer at a basic legal advice clinic. Access Legal Help NS is not intended to provide service to those who can afford to pay.

Click here for more information about this service.

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13. What is an Employee Assistance Plan (EAP)?

If you are employed, you may have an EAP through your workplace, or your current spouse or partner may have an EAP that you can use. EAPs provide services to employees, and sometimes this will include a free or discounted meeting with a lawyer. Check with your Human Resource Department or a supervisor or manager to see if you have an EAP.

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14. What is reachAbility?

reachAbility is a charitable organization that operates a Legal Referral Service for people with disabilities. Through this service, persons with a disability may receive a free one hour session for legal advice from a lawyer who volunteers with reachAbility.

The reachAbility lawyer will not represent you for the whole court process. You will have to pay the lawyer after the first free appointment, unless you make special arrangements with the lawyer.

For more information about reachAbility, visit the website, or call (902) 429-5878, or toll-free at 1-866-429-5878.

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15. What is Legal Aid?

‘Legal Aid’ refers to the Nova Scotia Legal Aid Commission, and the lawyers employed by the Commission, in offices throughout the province. Legal Aid lawyers represent people involved in criminal law and family law matters, as well as people involved in administrative board hearings (for example, Welfare Appeal Boards) and people involved in poverty law matters.

In order to obtain legal advice through Legal Aid, or find a lawyer to represent you through Legal Aid, you must apply for Legal Aid and meet the income requirements. Generally speaking, if you are on social assistance or have an income similar to what you would earn on social assistance, you may qualify for Legal Aid.

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16. Do I qualify for Legal Aid?

Whether or not you qualify for Legal Aid will depend on your income, the type of case you have (for example, a family law case), and whether or not your case has merit.

If you think you qualify for Legal Aid, you must contact your local office, and ask about their application process. Visit the Legal Aid website for contact information, or call your local office at:

Amherst  (902) 667-7544
Annapolis Royal (902) 532-2311
Antigonish (902) 863-3350
Bridgewater (902) 543-4658
Bridgewater  (902) 354-3215 (Liverpool sub-office)
Dartmouth (902) 420-7921 (family law) or (902) 420-8815 (adult criminal)
Halifax (902) 420-3450 (family law) or (902) 420-6583 (adult criminal) 
Kentville (902) 679-6110
New Glasgow (902) 755-7020
Port Hawkesbury (902) 625-4047
Sydney (902) 563-2295
Truro (902) 893-5920
Windsor  (902) 798-8397
Yarmouth (902) 742-7827

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17. I think I qualify for Legal Aid, but my court matter isn’t happening where I live. What do I do?

You may still be able to get a Legal Aid lawyer assigned to your case, if you qualify for the service, even if your court matter is being dealt with somewhere else. For example, if you live in Kentville, but your court matter is proceeding in Halifax, you can go to the Kentville office to apply for Legal Aid. If you qualify, you will most likely be assigned a lawyer in a Halifax or Dartmouth Legal Aid office to help you with your case.

If you live in Nova Scotia, and your court matter is happening in another province or territory, the same thing may happen. Nova Scotia Legal Aid has agreements with most other Canadian provinces and territories that might allow you to get a lawyer in the other place to help you. In these situations, you would still go to the Nova Scotia Legal Aid office nearest you to fill out your Legal Aid application. There may be some limits on whether you can get Legal Aid help in the other province, though, as Legal Aid plans are different in each province. Legal Aid plans in some provinces may not offer help with family law issues. Check with the Legal Aid office closest to you for more information.

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18. What if the other party already has Legal Aid? Can I get it too?

More than one party can be assigned a Legal Aid lawyer, if they qualify for Legal Aid. Usually, one of you will have a lawyer through the main Legal Aid office, while another may be referred to Dalhousie Legal Aid Service (if in the Halifax area), or be given a Legal Aid certificate (so that you can be represented by a private lawyer who accepts these certificates).

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19. Can I get help from Nova Scotia Legal Aid if there is no court case? What is the Nova Scotia Legal Aid Early Referral Process?

If Child Welfare (the Department of Community Services) is involved with you and your children, and you live in the Sydney area, you can get help from Nova Scotia Legal Aid even if you are not going to court.

Two things may happen. You can get confidential legal advice from a lawyer, or the Early Referral (ER) Mediation Process may work for you.

The ER Process is an upfront mediation process offered by the Department of Community Services, the Department of Justice and Nova Scotia Legal Aid. Nova Scotia Legal Aid will represent you and the Department of Justice will represent the social worker. You, your lawyer, and the social worker and their lawyer, will meet. This is called ‘Lawyer Assisted Case Conferencing.’ It is a type of mediation.

The goal of the ER Process is to help you as a parent understand at an early stage what is going on and help you make the right decisions for you and your children.

If you live in the Sydney area, you should consider ER if:

  • you do not understand why Child Welfare is involved
  • you are concerned about what might happen with your children
  • Child Welfare staff are asking you to sign a document called a ‘Case Plan’
  • Child Welfare staff are suggesting you voluntarily place your children in foster care or in the care of another family member
  • Child Welfare wants you or your children to be assessed by a professional
  • Child Welfare has requested you to do drug testing

If you have any questions about the ER Process, you can call Nova Scotia Legal Aid at (902) 563-2295, or ask your social worker with the Department of Community Services.

For more information about child protection, click here.

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20. What is the Dalhousie Legal Aid Service (DLAS)?

Dalhousie Legal Aid is a community law clinic, where staff lawyers and third-year Dalhousie law students provide legal advice and representation to clients who qualify for this service. DLAS law students work under the direction of staff lawyers. Generally, to be assigned a lawyer through DLAS, you must first apply for Legal Aid through the main Legal Aid office near you.

DLAS mainly does family law and youth criminal issues, but may offer assistance to clients in other areas as well.

For more information about DLAS, please visit the site, or contact them at (902) 423-8105.

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21. My Legal Aid application was rejected. Can I appeal this decision?

Yes. You must put your request for an appeal in writing, and send the request to the lawyer who made the decision, or to the Nova Scotia Legal Aid Appeal Committee. The Committee’s contact information is:

102 – 137 Chain Lake Drive
Halifax, NS
B3S 1B3
Phone: (902) 420-6578 or 1-877-420-6578
Fax: (902) 420-3471
mail@nslegalaid.ca

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22. What is the Summary Advice Counsel service?

This service is available throughout Nova Scotia, including in Halifax, Sydney, Kentville, Truro and Yarmouth. Your case or issue must be somehow related to the court where the Summary Advice lawyer is located. For example, if you are making an application to the court in Halifax, you should book an appointment with the lawyer in Halifax.

The Summary Advice Counsel is a lawyer who assists people who need legal advice on a family law matter, but who do not have a lawyer. The Summary Advice lawyer provides basic legal advice, free of charge, regardless of how much you make or where you get your income.

The purpose of the Summary Advice Counsel service is to give people a better understanding of their legal rights and responsibilities. The Summary Advice lawyer can give basic information about legal terms, how to start or respond to a court application, court processes, legal documents, and other aspects of family law.

The Summary Advice lawyer can give advice on child custody and access, child and spousal support, property division, divorce, and most other family law matters and court processes. The Summary Advice lawyer does not provide advice to parents involved in child protection matters, or for matters involving Mi’kmaq Family Services. The Summary Advice lawyer may provide advice to a non-party to a child protection matter. For example, if you are not directly involved with a child protection proceeding and are applying for custody of or access to the children involved.

The Summary Advice lawyer does not go to court with you. For more information about this service, click here.

You can contact your local Summary Advice lawyer to book an appointment by calling the appropriate number below:

Annapolis

902-742-0500

Pictou

902-485-7350

Antigonish

902-863-7312

Port Hawkesbury

902-625-2665

Amherst

902-667-2256

Sydney

902-563-2085

Bridgewater

902-543-4679

Truro

902-893-5840

Halifax

902-424-5616

Windsor

902-679-6075

Kentville

902-679-6075

Yarmouth

902-742-0500

 

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23. What do court staff members do?

Court staff are people who work in the courts. Even though some court staff members may be trained as lawyers, they do not act as lawyers when working for the court, and cannot provide legal advice. Court staff can provide you with accurate information in a timely and courteous manner. Court staff must remain impartial at all times, and cannot advocate for either party. This means that they cannot help one party in a way that may give them an advantage over the other party.

Court staff cannot:

  • tell you if you should start a court case
  • tell you if you should take a particular course of action
  • tell you what words to put in a court form
  • give you their opinion about your legal matter
  • speculate about what decision a judge might make
  • give you advice on how to present your case in a court
  • talk to a judge for you. You can only talk to a judge during a scheduled court appearance.

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Last updated on August 19, 2014 - 10:29am
Crafted by Gesso Communications
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