Settlement Workers Guide to What is Legal Information and What is Legal Advice
Understanding the difference between legal information and legal advice is very important. In this section, you will learn how they are different, and why it is important that your client also understands the difference.
Legal information helps people understand the law and the legal system. Legal information is available to the public, both on websites and in print. Clients may need your help finding and understanding legal information. If they need further assistance, you can show them where to go for more legal information or for legal advice.
As a settlement worker, you can only assist your client with legal information.
Legal advice is telling a client how the law applies to their situation or what they should do about their legal problem. Generally only lawyers provide legal advice. There are some exceptions where trained people supervised by lawyers can give legal advice. For example, law students in the Law Students Legal Advice Program (LSLAP) are supervised by lawyers and can give legal advice. Community legal advocates who are supervised by lawyers may be able to give some legal advice such as telling somebody how to apply for a protection order or help you dispute an eviction notice.
Lawyers are regulated by the Law Society of British Columbia, which sets and enforces standards of professional conduct for lawyers.
Here are some examples of the differences between legal information and legal advice.
Important differences between legal information and legal advice for settlement workers
Settlement workers may be the first point of contact for a client with a legal issue. Helping clients at this early stage is very important. Workers who understand the difference between legal information and legal advice will have the confidence to help their client:
- identify the legal issue,
- find and understand some of the legal information that can help, and
- know where they can go to next if they need more information or if they need legal advice.
This is also an opportunity to help clients understand your role and the difference between legal information and advice. Clients who are new to Canada may not understand the legal system here. They may be upset because of the situation, and could think the legal information you have provided is legal advice. They may see you as the ‘expert’ and leave the office thinking they have talked to a lawyer or have been given legal advice.
It is important that you tell your client that you are NOT a lawyer and that your CAN NOT provide legal advice. You might say:
- “As a settlement worker, I cannot give you legal advice, but I can help you find general information about the law or find a service where you can get more legal information and advice.”
- “It sounds like you may need legal advice, since that question is specific to your situation. While I can’t tell you what to do, I can show you how to find information on this topic and I can tell you some places where you may get legal advice.”
If a client asks, ‘What can I do?’ Your answer is limited to providing legal information and legal referrals.
- My landlord says I have to move out next week. Do I have to?
- You might say: “I can’t tell you if you have to move or not, but I can show you some information that may help you understand the rules for tenants and landlords. If you still don’t know what to do, I can help you find somebody else to talk to who can help.”
|Always point to the legal information you are giving your client, whether it is online or in print. For example, if a client asks if their landlord can make them move out, show them the website or brochure and point to the section on tenants’ rights and evictions. Don’t rely on your memory – you might give outdated information.|
|This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Drew Jackson, March 2014.|
|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.|