Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia
The Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia (LISNS) is a registered non-profit charity that provides Nova Scotians with information and resources about the law. LISNS offers and supports many helpful legal programs for Nova Scotians, including:
The courts of Nova Scotia allow for a person to act as an agent of another person in non-criminal legal proceedings. As an advocate, you may be able to represent persons living with mental illness in some circumstances.
There will be situations where persons living with mental illness may wish (or need) to represent themselves. Materials on self-representation may be useful. The Nova Scotia Department of Justice provides a number of resources and guides that will help people who choose, or have, to represent themselves in court.
Self-Help Information Guides
These materials aim to help Nova Scotians better understand court processes and how to access the services and programs offered at the courts. Guides are available for:
Includes the following information:
What is mediation? Mediation is a non-adversarial process where the mediator will try to help the parties avoid conflict as they work towards reaching an agreement. Mediators deal with every issue that needs to be resolved in order to deal with the parties’ problems.
This means that the parties, with the help of a mediator, will often make an agreement; however, sometimes an agreement is not possible. The mediator cannot order either party to do anything. The agreement that is reached must be acceptable to both parties.
Parties may ask their lawyers to attempt mediation as a first step. The decision to mediate should generally be voluntary; however, mediation is sometimes required by legislation or a judge may order it to see if the parties can resolve the problem before hearings or trials. The mediator:
The mediation process: There may be four to eight sessions.
The first meeting may include:
Advantages of mediation: It can save time and money - the cost is less than going to court.
The process is private and confidential. Instead of airing personal and often painful subjects in the courtroom, the parties deal with them in the privacy and confidential setting of the mediator’s office.
The process encourages the parties to participate.
The parties speak directly to each other, not to the mediator.
The parties choose the mediator and control who will be present during the mediation.
The parties, not the mediator, make decisions about the terms of their agreement and are better able to create solutions to meet their needs. They do not have to live with a decision made by someone else.
The success rate can be 60% to 90% depending on the:
Barriers to a successful mediation: One of the parties does not speak or express their true needs and concerns, either because they are unwilling or unable.
When to avoid mediation: In extreme cases of power imbalance or mental, physical, or sexual abuse, mediation is generally not appropriate. Communicating directly with the perpetrator may further traumatize the victim and makes the chance of successful mediation unlikely.
When information that is needed to evaluate the other side’s case has not been provided to the person you are advocating for, mediation cannot be successful. Parties need to obtain and share the necessary information.
Finding a mediator: There are reputable, trained, and experienced mediators to choose from.
The parties should carefully research and think about who to select as mediator.
It is a good idea to seek a referral from someone you trust: a friend, a family member, a colleague, or a lawyer.
Appropriate mediators should have no bias or preconceived ideas (i.e. no preference for a particular idea or view that may influence him or her).
All the parties must feel comfortable with and have confidence in the mediator’s style and abilities.
Family Mediation Nova Scotia (FMNS) is an organization that provides information about family mediation to the public and establishes standards of practice for family mediators. Visit their website at www.fmns.ca for a listing of registered members (practicing mediators). You can also look for a mediator in the phone book.
For information on legal aid services please visit the Access to Legal Aid Services section of the LEAP website.
Hiring a Lawyer
The LISNS Lawyer Referral Service is a good way to find a lawyer in your area who might be able to help the person you are advocating for.
Individuals can also ask friends, family, and people they work with to refer a lawyer they know and/or use. The yellow pages have a section for lawyers, and many firms have websites that can be researched beforehand.
A person may meet a number of lawyers before finding one that he/ she wants to hire. The lawyer should be interviewed to determine whether he/ she is appropriate for the case. A person should hire a lawyer who makes him/ her feel comfortable, who understands his/ her particular legal issue, and who understands mental health issues. Some lawyers have specialties in one or two areas of law; others have a general practice in many areas. While a person should talk with as many lawyers as he/ she can, doing too much research can be confusing and overwhelming. A person should try to balance out the search.
If a person has a legal problem and has decided to hire a lawyer, there are a few questions that he or she should ask.
Questions to ask about the lawyer’s expertise: How long have you been practicing law?
What is your experience in this area of the law?
Have you handled any cases like this? What was the outcome?
Questions to ask about the case: What are the possible outcomes of this case and what are the chances of success?
What are the procedures involved in this case and what is a rough time schedule for the case?
What are the likely costs for this case? Do you require a retainer?
What complications could arise in this case and could they result in additional fees? How much?
When a person sees a lawyer for the first time, he/ she should:
What should a lawyer expect from his/ her clients? A lawyer should expect:
Legal Fees & Expenses
Legal fees and expenses are not the same.
The legal fee is the payment a person makes for the lawyer’s time.
Expenses (i.e. disbursements) are the various costs incurred for a case. These can be filing court fees for documents, photocopying, courier charges, doctor’s reports, etc.
Often people are uncomfortable discussing fees when hiring a lawyer. It is very important to discuss fees with the lawyer right from the start so that a client understands how much it is likely going to cost. Although a lawyer cannot always predict what the costs of taking a case will be, he/she should be able to provide an estimate of the cost.
Unless a person asks for the cost of the lawyer’s service, he/she will not know how much they can expect to pay. Some lawyers do “pro bono” work, which means they will provide their services for free. Generally, there are three common ways that lawyers charge for their services. They can charge a fixed fee, an hourly fee, or a contingency fee.
Fixed fee: A lawyer will charge a fixed fee for services. A fixed fee is commonly used for preparing mortgages, transferring a property title, a simple will, and/or a power of attorney.
Hourly rate: The lawyer charges for services on an hourly basis. The hourly rate can range from $125.00 to $350.00. The hourly rate can be higher for specialized services.
A person should ask the lawyer what his/her hourly rate is. A client is charged for every minute of the time the lawyer works for the client. This includes all of the time the lawyer spends on the phone with the client or with anyone else needed for the case. Writing letters, filling in documents, going to court, and waiting in court are all charged on an hourly basis.
Contingency fee: The lawyer acts for a client in return for a percentage of the money the client wins in a lawsuit. If a client gets no money from his/ her case, then the lawyer gets no fees. In most of these cases, however, the client must pay all disbursements regardless of the result of the case.
Contingency fee agreements are common in personal injury claims; this agreement should be in writing. A person should ask the lawyer for a copy of the contingency fee agreement; read it and should never sign it if he or she does not understand it.
The questions that need to be asked about legal fees are:
Is there a written retainer letter or agreement? A person should make sure he/she gets a written agreement specifying the fee arrangement and the work involved. This is the best way of making sure the client and their lawyer are clear on the costs involved.
Does the lawyer charge by the hour, by the case, or on a contingency basis?
Is free (pro-bono) or reduced-cost legal help available?
Will any junior lawyers, paralegals, or legal assistants be working on the case? Does the lawyer charge extra for their time?
What kind of disbursements will there be?
When will the bill be sent? A client can ask the lawyer to send a bill on a regular basis (e.g., monthly or quarterly billing). Then a client will know how much the fees are and can make regular payments if needed.
Managing Legal Costs
Often people hire a lawyer and do not actively take part in their case. They think that just because they have a lawyer, they do not have to do anything. Because the lawyer ends up doing everything, the costs are higher. It is essential that the client be fully informed about his/her ongoing case. The client can be the major decision-maker on all major points in her/his case.
A client should discuss with his/her lawyer the ways that he/she can help on the case. The lawyer is the expert and he/she must be comfortable with the client helping out. Often the more a client can do things on his/her case, the more he/she can cut costs. For example, if the lawyer needs some records, the client may be able to write the letter to request them.
Here are a few tips to help keep costs down:
A client should be organized so the lawyer’s time is not wasted. He/she should prepare for the meetings with the lawyer by thinking about the legal problem, gathering information the lawyer will need, and writing down the facts of the case with all the addresses and phone numbers of the people involved.
He/she should bring the lawyer any relevant documents such as letters, court papers, or other information.
A client should keep copies of all the original documents and papers given to the lawyer. A person should not depend on the lawyer’s filing system for these records and documents.
Be realistic. A person should not spend $2,500 on lawyer’s fees to recover $500. Clients should assess how much money they want to spend to fight their case. They have to decide if it is worthwhile to resolve a legal problem, keeping in mind all the costs involved.
Keep communication with the lawyer to the point. Do not discuss unrelated matters. A client pays for every minute he/she spends with a lawyer. A client should limit the phone calls and meetings to the business of the case.
Ask if a junior colleague can do some of the routine work on the case. If the staff at the lawyer’s office can assist, a person may contact them instead of contacting the lawyer.
Ask the lawyer to send a bill on a regular basis, once a month or once every two months depending on the case. A person should keep track of the bills and how much the case is costing, so that there are no surprises at the end of the case.
If a Client Disagrees with the Bill
If a client disagrees with the amount of the bill, or does not understand some of the items on the bill, he/she should discuss it with the lawyer. The details of the bill should be examined and the client should have the lawyer explain why a particular charge was made. If the client and lawyer are unable to resolve their differences, the client can ask Small Claims Court to review the bill. In some circumstances Small Claims Court has the authority to reduce the bill. The addresses of the Small Claims Court in Nova Scotia can be found at: www.courts.ns.ca. The client should also talk to the lawyer if he/she needs to make arrangements to pay by instalments.
Office of the Ombudsman
The Nova Scotia Office of the Ombudsman handles complaints against provincial or municipal government departments, agencies, boards, and commissions. Its purpose is to improve the delivery of government services provided to Nova Scotians.
It is a neutral (i.e. not aligned with any particular political party) agency and operates as an independent agency. All complaints filed with the office are confidential and cannot be accessed by freedom of information requests.
The Ombudsman considers and investigates complaints from people who believe they have been treated unfairly when using government services or when they believe a policy or procedure has not been followed correctly or is unfair.
An important objective for the Ombudsman is to explain why and how a complaint can be seen as an opportunity to improve services provided by government. Even when a complaint is not successful, it provides an opportunity to review policies and procedures to ensure the highest standard of service delivery.
The Office of the Ombudsman does not handle complaints involving:
decisions of the cabinet of Nova Scotia;
the courts or judges;
federal government departments or agencies (e.g., Human Resources and Skill Development Canada - HRSDC) or Canada Customs and Revenue Agency - CCRA);
private individuals and corporations;
elected provincial or municipal officials;
an individual whose complaint is represented by a union; and
a legislative option of appeal (e.g., where option for an appeal board or tribunal exists).
Providing complaint summary to the government body.
Review of legislation, regulations, policies and procedures
Sometimes a legal opinion is required
Based on the investigation, the Ombudsman will reach a determination on whether the actions of the government body were:
Based on a mistake of fact (meaning the circumstances were misunderstood);
Based on a mistake of law (meaning the circumstances were properly understood, but the law wasn’t properly applied);
Not explained properly.
If a person has tried unsuccessfully to resolve his/her concern(s), he/she can contact the Ombudsman Office and they will assess the situation. To help complete their assessment, they may ask the person for the following information:
the name, address, and phone number where the person can be contacted during the day;
the name of the department, agency, board, commission, or municipality involved.
a detailed summary of the concern;
the name and phone number of any individual the person has been in contact with regarding the concern; and
copies of relevant information and any actions the person has taken to resolve the situation;
Many concerns are resolved quickly without the need for a formal investigation; however, some issues may require a more in-depth investigation.
Outcome and Follow up
At the end of the process, the Office of the Ombudsman may require the government body to:
review the way it deals with complaints;
change its policies or procedures;
improve its communications policy in terms of how it communicates with the public and other government bodies.