Free service connects teens and lawyers

Got a legal question but not sure who to ask? If you’re a teenager in Ontario, you’re in luck because a new legal helpline will soon be available. Early next week, Teen Legal Helpline, a free, confidential service that connects teenagers to lawyers, is launching.

How it works is if you’ve got a question, go to Teen Legal Helpline’s web site, submit your question, and a lawyer will provide an answer. You can also ask the lawyer follow-up questions and he or she can guide you through the justice system.

The helpline’s main purpose is to assist teens who don’t know where to turn for legal help.

“Teens have legal questions that don’t always call for full representation,” says Matt Boulos, executive director and one of the founders of Teen Legal Helpline.

“Sometimes you just need an answer to your question so you can understand your problem and so that you can make the right decision. And that decision might be to get more help but at the very least if you don’t get that first answer, you’ll never know.”

At first, the helpline will be limited to questions in the areas of criminal, family, and immigration law, with labour and employment and housing law to be added at a later date.

Boulos says they decided to focus on those areas of law based on research they conducted with teens in Ontario, specifically in Toronto’s St. James Town and Regent Park neighbourhoods.

Boulos created the helpline after being involved in a legal situation with a teen in his youth group.

“I grew up in Scarborough, [Ont.,] I mentored kids in the same youth group that I grew up in. One of my boys had been accused of a sexual assault and he had come up to me asking me for my advice. I knew a criminal lawyer, and had the two chat. What struck me was it was an incredibly brief conversation but then [the boy] knew what he needed to do in terms of how to carry himself and understanding the process with the police and the investigation,” Boulos tells Legal Feeds.

“I just couldn’t really abide by the idea that there were going to be teens out there who were going to be in a similar position but not have the good fortune to show up at a youth group that just happened to have lawyers and people connected to the law hanging around,” he adds.

The lawyers who have signed up to volunteer for the helpline are mainly solo practitioners and lawyers from small firms, says Boulos. However, bigger law firms, including Torys LLP and Blake Cassels & Graydon LLP, have provided other legal services pro bono to help Teen Legal Helpline get started.

The helpline has also been funded through a grant from the Law Foundation of Ontario and private donations, and they are in the midst of a major fundraising drive.

Boulos hopes to get the word out to teens through their relationships with community organizations and social workers. They also have youth ambassadors — teens who have started a social media campaign to spread the word to other teens.

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