Everyone has a friend. Let’s call her Luisa. Luisa recently got fired from a job she had for 5 years. She was a great employee, but the company simply decided she wasn’t needed anymore. Luisa tells you that she was fired “without cause” and that the company offered her 5 weeks notice pay and benefits continuation. She isn’t too happy about it, and is considering speaking with a lawyer to discuss her options. She didn’t know any employment lawyers, having never been in this situation, but asked if you knew someone. You tell her no, but perhaps try Google?
Luisa sighs. It’s been a tough few days. She is getting all sorts of advice from family and friends. Some are saying “at least a week for every year worked right?” Others tell her to “go fight for more” but Luisa remembers that tense conversation with HR vividly. Is it worth revisiting? Everyone is concerned — the job market isn’t great and what will Luisa do after the 5 weeks pay is up?
You next talk to Luisa 2 weeks later. “So, what ended up happening at work? Did you talk to a lawyer?” you ask. “Well, they said I had to return the signed release by Monday or they’re withdrawing their offer of 5 weeks. Who knows how much employment lawyers charge anyway. Better to just move on, so I just signed it,” she responds.
In truth, Luisa did go online to look for an employment lawyer. She spoke to a few receptionists, left a few messages. The more she looked online for lawyers, the bigger headache she felt. Who do I choose? There’s employee-side lawyers, employer-side lawyers, labour lawyers, workplace lawyers and everything in between. It’s not Luisa’s fault. Finding the right lawyer is not easy. Lawyers can be expensive and scheduling an initial appointment is cumbersome.
What if there was an easier way for Luisa to speak to a lawyer right away? No more cold calling, no more wasted time looking for the right lawyer. Maybe Luisa would have gotten some information to help her decision making. Maybe Luisa wouldn’t have simply took the offer she was presented, thinking she didn’t have options. Maybe Luisa wouldn’t be at home wondering how she was going to pay her bills once the 5 weeks notice pay was up. Employment Insurance isn’t enough for Luisa to maintain her current living standards, but she is already fortunate — some people don’t qualify for EI.
Why should we care? Everyday, people who are entitled to compensation from private companies are not getting the sums they are entitled to. Those same people, at some point, will need money to survive. It’s not their fault, but if private companies (or insurers) won’t pay what they ought to pay by law, those individuals will have to eventually tap into public funds to survive, such as Ontario Works. This comes from taxpayers’ pockets. Why should private entities not be held accountable?
Access to justice isn’t simply an issue for those below the poverty line. Lawyers are generally inaccessible to all but the wealthiest segment of our country. In fact, very low income individuals have access to Legal Aid. Those slightly above that threshold may have access to Community Legal Clinics. But their funding is insufficient, so their areas of practice are quite limited. There are many areas of law now where individuals choose to go self-represented. This creates many challenges in the court system. The injustice is further pronounced when the other side is a well-funded corporation, insurer or a well-financed individual.
There are many people left behind from traditional legal aid programs. What about the young entrepreneur hoping to start his small business? Or the couple facing eviction from their home after they were both laid off from work? Or the family whose house burned down in a fire but their insurer refuses to pay the proceeds of their insurance policy?
Key Legal offers initial consultations at a fraction of the hourly rates of Ontario lawyers. The hope is that more individuals will consider getting legal advice when the process is easy and the cost is low and transparent. The idea is that lawyers should not be beyond the reach of the everyday Ontarian. We’ve seen how technology and online appointments have improved access to medical professionals. Law is far behind when it comes to using technology to improve on service delivery, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Now is the time to bring lawyers into the future and within the reach of all of us, including our friend Luisa.
We hope you will find Key Legal useful and convenient. The greatest compliment for us would be if you tell your family and friends. If you can think of ways we can do better, we would be grateful if you could let us know at: firstname.lastname@example.org.