Low Cost and Free Legal Services
The Dial-A-Law library is prepared by lawyers and gives practical information on many areas of law in British Columbia. Script 430 gives information only, not legal advice. If you have a legal problem or need legal advice, you should speak to a lawyer. For the name of a lawyer to consult, call the Lawyer Referral Service at 604.687.3221 in the lower mainland or 1.800.663.1919 elsewhere in British Columbia.
People sometimes grumble about the high cost of lawyers’ services. But many people don’t know that there’s a great deal of legal information and advice available at a very low cost—and even free in some cases. Because this script goes into some detail about what’s available, it is fairly long, so if you’re listening to this (as opposed to reading it), make sure you have a pen and paper handy to write down the phone numbers and websites mentioned.
Some sources for free legal information include:
Clicklaw is a website aimed at enhancing access to justice in BC. It features legal information and education designed for the public from many contributor organizations. Clicklaw WikiBooks are collaboratively developed plain language legal publications that are born-wiki and can also be printed.
Courthouse Libraries BC
It provides legal information services to the legal community and the general public of British Columbia. Their toll free number is 1.800.665.2570.
Dial-A-Law is a library of free legal information prepared by lawyers. The program is funded by the Law Foundation of BC and operated by the Canadian Bar Association, BC Branch. It is available:
- by phone, as recorded scripts, at 604.687.4680 in the lower mainland or 1.800.565.5297 elsewhere in BC, and
- by audio and text, on the CBA BC Branch website.
Justice Education Society
Justice Education Society, formerly the Law Courts Education Society, is dedicated to improving access to the legal system through hands-on, targeted, two-way education between the public and those working in the justice system. Call 604.660.9870 in Vancouver for enquiries.
Legal Services Society (LSS)
LSS provides free legal information in person and over the phone, and through our websites and publications in many languages.
- Publications: LSS publications cover a variety of legal topics, including family law, child protection, immigration issues, Aboriginal legal issues, criminal matters, and poverty law. LSS publications can be read online or ordered for free through Crown Publicationsn by going to the Crown Publications website.
- Other legal information, resources, and self-help guides are available on the LSS Family Law in British Columbia website. This site contains self-help materials to help people resolve family law problems, court forms, current family law information and resources, and links to useful related sites.
- Information for Aboriginal people is available on the Aboriginal Legal Aid in BC website. This section has information and publications about the issues that are important to Aboriginal people. It also has information about the help that legal aid and other groups can give.
- Legal info outreach workers (LIOWs)
LIOWs are LSS staff located in Prince Rupert, Terrace and Vancouver who can help you find legal information and self-help resources on the Internet; give you printed legal information; refer you to other services such as family duty counsel and other community services; visit community groups to talk about LSS services, and collect feedback from community workers and the public about LSS programs; provide legal information and referral services by phone; and assist Community Court clients. To contact a legal information outreach worker, call the regional centre closest to you:
207– 3228 Kalum Street
1.800.787.2511 (call no charge, elsewhere in BC)
400 – 510 Burrard Street
604.408.2172 (Greater Vancouver)
1.866.577.2525 (call no charge, elsewhere in BC)
c/o Government Agent Office
201-3rd Avenue W.
1.800.787.2511 (call no charge, elsewhere in BC)
- Aboriginal community legal workers (ACLW) are located in Duncan and Nanaimo. They provide legal information and limited advice about family and child protection law, and issues such as residential schools, housing, and wills and estates, explain the legal process and other options such as mediation, attend court with you, help you prepare forms and letters, participate in negotiations, talk on your behalf to Ministry of Children and Family Development staff, a legal aid lawyer, duty counsel, or your Band, and make referrals to other services.
- Community partners are service providers located throughout BC who can help you get free legal information, call Legal Aid, find the nearest Legal Aid office, get legal help online, and connect with people who can help.
Native Courtworker and Counselling Association of BC (NCCABC)
It provides culturally appropriate services to aboriginal people and communities consistent with their needs. Their number is 604.985.5355 in Greater Vancouver, and toll free 1.877.811.1190 elsewhere in BC. Select “About Us” then “Our Team” from the website for a list of local numbers.
The People’s Law School
This non-profit organization sponsors free lectures on a great variety of legal topics, taught mainly by lawyers. To contact the People’s Law School, phone 604.331.5400, or visit their website.
The Public Library
Provincial and federal statutes can be found there, as well as many books about the law written especially for non-lawyers. Ask your reference librarian for help in finding what you need.
You have a legal problem, or at least you think you do, and you need some free or inexpensive help. Then the following services may be able to help you:
Lawyer Referral Service
It’s a public service offered by the BC Branch of the Canadian Bar Association, the same organization that operates Dial-A-Law. Call 604.687.3221 in the Lower Mainland or 1.800.663.1919 toll-free elsewhere in British Columbia, from 8am to 5pm Monday through Friday. Explain briefly the type of problem, and the service will give you the name of a lawyer. Phone the lawyer and make an appointment. Tell the lawyer that Lawyer Referral Service sent you. If available, the lawyer will give you up to a 30-minute appointment for $25 plus taxes. At the appointment, the lawyer will tell you if you have a legal problem. Then, if you and the lawyer agree, you can hire that lawyer at their normal rate.
Services provided by Legal Services Society (LSS)
- Legal Aid
The Legal Services Society will pay for a lawyer to represent you if: your legal problem is covered by our legal aid rules, you meet the financial guidelines, and you have no other way of getting legal help. Legal problems that may be covered by legal aid include criminal charges, mental health and prison issues, serious family problems, child protection matters, and immigration problems.
To find a legal aid location near you, see the LSS website. Or you can call the LSS province-wide Call Centre at 604.408.2172 (Greater Vancouver) or 1.866.577.2525 (call no charge, elsewhere in BC).
- Brydges Line
If you are being investigated for a crime and in custody, or have been arrested or detained, you can get 24-hour access to emergency legal advice by phoning the “Brydges Line,” available through the Legal Services Society at 1.866.458.5500 (call no charge).
If you are being investigated for a crime but not in custody, you may be ableto get 24-hour access to emergency legal advice in some situations by phoning the “Brydges Line,” available through the Legal Services Society at 1.866.458.5500 (call no charge).
- Advice counsel (lawyers) for people in custody
If you know someone in custody at a police lock-up who is awaiting a bail hearing, they can get legal advice over the telephone during the evenings and on weekends and holidays. Advice counsel services are available by calling 1.888.595.5677 (no charge from anywhere in BC).
- Duty Counsel
Criminal Law matters
Duty counsel are lawyers paid by LSS to provide legal services in Provincial Court to in- and out-of-custody accused people who have been charged with a crime, do not have a lawyer, do not qualify for legal aid, or have not yet contacted legal aid. Duty counsel can provide you with advice about the charges against you, court procedures, and your legal rights (including the right to counsel and the right to apply for legal aid). Duty counsel can also represent you at a bail hearing, and, if there is time, help with a guilty plea. While you do not have to be financially eligible for legal aid to receive duty counsel services, you must meet LSS coverage and eligibility requirements to get a referral for ongoing representation. For duty counsel hours of operation in your area, check your local court registry. Court registry contact information can be found on the Provincial Court of British Columbia website, or in the blue pages of your phone book (under “Government of British Columbia – Court Services”).
Are you Aboriginal? First Nations Court
If you self-identify as Aboriginal (if you think of yourself as Aboriginal), you may be able to have your bail or sentencing hearing in the First Nations Court of BC in Duncan, Kamloops, New Westminster or North Vancouver. There is duty counsel available at the First Nations Court. For more information, call the First Nations Court duty counsel at 1.877.601.6066 (no charge from anywhere in BC).
LSS provides duty counsel for people in detention at the Canada Border Services Agency's enforcement centre in Vancouver. Duty counsel provide detainees with advice regarding procedures and their legal rights, and may appear on their behalf at detention hearings. Clients do not have to meet LSS financial eligibility requirements to receive these services.
- Family Duty Counsel
Family duty counsel are lawyers paid by LSS to assist people with low incomes with family law problems or child protection issues (where the Ministry for Children and Families becomes involved with your family). If you do not have your own lawyer, duty counsel can give you advice, speak on your behalf in court on simple matters, and attend family case conferences in some courts. Duty counsel first assists those who are financially eligible, and may assist others if time permits. Duty counsel will not take on your whole case and will not represent you at a trial.
In Provincial Court
Duty counsel are available by appointment or on a walk-in basis in Vancouver, Surrey, Port Coquitlam, Nanaimo and New Westminster (although appointments are encouraged). At other locations, duty counsel services are on a drop-in basis. The lawyers must first help people who have matters in court that day, but can assist others once they are not needed in court. For duty counsel hours in your community, go to the LSS website or contact your local legal aid office. You can also contact your local court registry (look in the blue pages of your phone book under "Government of British Columbia—Court Services").
In Supreme Court
If you are a person with a low income experiencing separation or divorce, you may be eligible for free legal advice from Supreme Court family duty counsel. Duty counsel are lawyers who can provide advice about: parenting arrangements, child support, property (limited advice), tentative settlement agreements, and court procedures. They can also attend judicial case conferences at some courts. Duty counsel may be able to help you even if you are not financially eligible. Duty counsel are available by appointment or on a walk-in basis in Vancouver. At other locations, duty counsel services are on a drop-in basis.
For the addresses and phone numbers of BC Supreme Court registries, look in the blue pages of your phone book under "Government of British Columbia – Court Services". For Supreme Court duty counsel hours, go to the LSS website or call your local legal aid office.
- Family Advice Lawyers
If you are a parent with a low income and experiencing separation or divorce, you may be eligible for free legal advice from a family advice lawyer. These lawyers are available at the Vancouver Justice Access Centre, the Nanaimo Justice Access Centre, the Victoria Justice Access Centre, and at Family Justice Centres across the province. Services are available by referral from a family justice counsellor or a child support officer.
For more information about this service, call Enquiry BC at 604.660.2421 (from Vancouver), 250.387.6121 (from Victoria) or 1.800.663.7867 (from anywhere else in the province), and ask to be connected to a family justice counsellor’s office in one of the locations above.
- Family LawLINE
If you are a person with a low income experiencing a family law issue, you may be eligible for free legal advice over the telephone from a family lawyer. To be considered for this service, call the LSS province-wide Call Centre at 604.408.2172 (Greater Vancouver) or 1.866.577.2525 (call no charge, elsewhere in BC). The Provincial Call Centre is open the following hours: Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 9:30 am to 3 pm, and Wednesdays from 9:30 am to 2:30 pm.
Pro Bono Legal Services
“Pro bono” basically means “free,” and in these programs, private and experienced lawyers volunteer to provide free legal advice to those who can’t reasonably afford a lawyer or can’t get Legal Aid.
- Access Pro Bono Society of BC
Access Pro Bono promotes access to justice in BC by providing and fostering quality pro bono legal services for people and non-profit organizations of limited means. Access Pro Bono provides summary legal advice through its network of legal clinics around the province. It also provides representation services in limited situations, through its Roster Programs, Civil Chambers Duty Counsel Project (Vancouver), and the Nanaimo Children's Lawyer Project. The client access phone numbers for all services are 604.878.7400 in Greater Vancouver or 1.877.762.6664 from anywhere else in the province.
- BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre
BCPIAC is a non-profit, public interest law office. Its task is to provide representation to groups that would not otherwise have the resources to effectively assert their interests. Call 604.687.3063 in Vancouver.
- Community Legal Assistance Society (CLAS)
The purpose of the Community Legal Assistance Society (CLAS) is to provide legal advice and assistance and to use and develop the law for the benefit of people who are physically, mentally, socially, economically or otherwise disadvantaged or whose human rights need protection. Call 604.685.3425 in Vancouver or toll free 1.888.685.6222.
- Immigration & Multicultural Services:
- Affiliation of Multicultural Societies and Service Agencies of BC (AMSSA)
AMSSA provides leadership in advocacy and education in British Columbia for anti-racism, human rights, and social justice. AMSSA supports its members in serving immigrants, refugees and culturally diverse communities. Call 604.718.2780 in Vancouver or 1.888.355.5560.
- Immigrant Services Society of BC
Immigrant Services Society of BC (ISS) will continue to be a leader in identifying the needs of immigrants and refugees and in developing, demonstrating and delivering effective, quality programs and services which meet those needs. Call 604.684.7498 or 604.684.2561 in Vancouver.
MOSAIC is a multilingual non-profit organization dedicated to addressing issues that affect immigrants and refugees in the course of their settlement and integration into Canadian society. Call 604.254.9626 in Vancouver.
S.U.C.C.E.S.S. supports the well being of Canadians and immigrants from diverse ethnic origins through the provision of social, educational and health services, business and community development, and advocacy. Call 604.684.1628 in Vancouver for general inquiries.
- Justice Access Centres (Nanaimo, Vancouver and Victoria)
The justice access centres are the place to come when you need help with family and civil law issues that affect your everyday life, such as separation or divorce, income security, employment, housing or debt. The Justice Access Centres have information and services you need to reach solutions to your problems. Services are provided in person, but you can call for information:
- Nanaimo: 250.741.5447 or toll free 1.800.578.8511
- Vancouver: 604.660.2084
- Victoria: 250.356.7012
- Tenant Resource & Advisory Centre (TRAC)
TRAC is a Vancouver-based non-profit organization that offers services on legal information for tenants, publications on tenants’ rights, organizing tenants and workshops. Call 604.255.0546 in Vancouver or toll free 1.800.665.1185.
Law School Student Services
- The Law Student’s Legal Advice Program (LSLAP)
It is a student-run organization that provides legal advice to those who cannot otherwise afford such assistance. Since recent cutbacks to Legal Aid in the province, LSLAP has become increasingly important in dispensing free legal advice. The main number is 604.822.5791. Their manual of free legal information is available online.
- The Law Centre
It is a service of the University of Victoria, Faculty of Law. It provides advice, assistance and representation to clients who cannot afford a lawyer. Free legal representation is for those who are qualified for legal assistance. Call 250.385.1221 or check their website for more information.
If you want to talk to a lawyer of your choice, but you’re afraid of what it might cost, call the lawyer and ask what they would charge for an initial consultation. Some lawyers don’t charge for the first interview and others charge very little.
Legal Researches and Websites
- Canadian Legal Research and Writing Guide
A starting point for legal research. Effective strategies and techniques for Canadian legal research, find and using secondary sources, finding and analyzing cases, updating your research, legal writing, and frequently asked questions.
- Department of Justice, Canada
Information on issues related to federal laws. For example, federal statutes and regulations, constitutional documents, court decisions, child support guidelines, and immigration matters.
- BC Ministry of Attorney General
The website has information on court services, criminal justice, family law, justice reform and other related links.
- Provincial Court of British Columbia
Information on appeals, alternatives trial, frequently asked questions, the complaint process, a court locations map as well as some information about criminal, youth, family, small claims, traffic, bylaw matters and related laws.
- Vancouver Justice Centre’s Self Help and Information Services
This website has the Supreme Court’s Rules of Court and decisions that you can study, as well as information about alternatives to court and where you can obtain legal information and legal advice.
Other Information and Referral Services
- BC211 provides information and referral services. Staff can provide information and refer you to the appropriate community, social or government services. Call 211 or 604.875.6381 or check their website.
- If you live in the Okanagan area of BC, you can call the Social Planning Council for the North Okanagan at 250.545.8572. They’ve published a "Can We Help You?" guide to community services that are available primarily in the Okanagan.
- VictimLink BC is a 24-hour phone service for victims of all crimes anywhere in BC. Call 1.800.563.0808 in BC.
Some other Resources for Legal Information
[updated August 2018]
Dial-A-Law© is a library of legal information available by:
- phone, as recorded scripts, and
- audio and text, on the CBA BC Branch website.
To access Dial-A-Law, call 604.687.4680 in the lower mainland or 1.800.565.5297 elsewhere in BC. Dial-A-Law is available online at www.dialalaw.org.
The Dial-A-Law library is prepared by lawyers and gives practical information on many areas of law in British Columbia. Dial-A-Law is funded by the Law Foundation of British Columbia and sponsored by the Canadian Bar Association, British Columbia Branch.
© Copyright 1983-2018 The Canadian Bar Association, British Columbia Branch