Settlement Workers Guide to Identifying Your Client's Legal Needs

From Clicklaw Wikibooks

An important part of a settlement worker’s job is interviewing clients to assess their needs. Clients may need help getting a job, finding housing, managing money, or dealing with a family dispute. Many of these topics have both legal and non-legal issues. As part of the assessment interview, you can help identify legal issues by asking the client to tell you more about their situation. Here are some examples.


Your client asks for help finding a new place to live. By itself, this is not a legal issue, but once you ask for more information, it may become one:

“Our landlord told us we had to leave right away. If we don’t leave by next week he’ll call the police.”

You can explain that there are rules for tenants and landlords and show them what information is available online, what brochures they can get and where they can find others who can help with more information or legal advice.

Another client, when telling you why she needs to move, may say:

“My husband says he wants a divorce and I have to move out.”

You can explain that family law has rules for couples who are separating and divorcing. Help her find family law information online or give her some booklets. You can explain where she can get legal advice.

Managing money

A client asks about getting a credit card. Perhaps they have questions about how long it will take to pay off a card if they only pay a little, which is not a legal issue. However, if the client says:

“I need a new credit card because the one I have now won’t work anymore. The collection company is sending me letters.”

This is a problem that the law can help with. You can explain that this is called consumer debt and show them where they can get information and tell them where they might go for more help.

Finding a job

Your client asks for help finding a new job. When you ask what happened at the previous job they could say:

“I showed up for work yesterday and my boss fired me for no reason.”

Now this has become a legal issue. You can provide general information about employment law and where to get more help.

Once you recognize that your client has a legal issue, it helps to describe it as a legal topic.

Client says: Legal topic:
My tenant refuses to leave residential tenancy
My boss fired me for no reason employment law
My husband wants a divorce family law
A collection company says they'll take my car back consumer law

The more you know about legal topics, the more likely you will recognize them as your client explains their situation. One way to learn about everyday legal topics is to go to the Clicklaw. Click on a topic in the Solve Problems section and you will see a list of subjects included in that topic. Or you can click on all topics & subtopics A – Z at the bottom of the Solve Problems section.

For example, the topic Housing, tenancy and neighbours covers all these subjects:

  1. Builders liens
  2. Buying, owning, selling a home
  3. Condominiums & housing co-ops
  4. Homelessness
  5. Mortgages
  6. Neighbours
  7. Tenants & landlords
Identifying Your Client's Legal Needs
This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Drew Jackson, March 2014.

Creativecommonssmall.png Settlement Workers Guide to Helping Clients with Legal Information and Legal Referrals © Immigrant PLEI Consortium (IPC) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada Licence.

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