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Julie Mathews, CLEO’s executive director

Legal education organization expanding digital tools as usage more than doubles during pandemic

Thursday, December 09, 2021 @ 2:33 PM | By Amanda Jerome

The use of Community Legal Education Ontario’s (CLEO) Guided Pathways has “more than doubled during the pandemic,” the organization announced, as “people have increasingly sought out online access to services.”

The Guided Pathways are “direct-to-public, digital tools that help people understand the court process and fill out forms,” a CLEO news release explained.

Julie Mathews, CLEO’s executive director, told The Lawyer’s Daily that the “legal process has been made much more difficult during the pandemic.”

She noted that the process wasn’t easy to navigate before and now, with many offices or frontline services closed or working remotely, the way is “even less clear” in terms of “how to proceed and how to get help, so people” are “scrambling.”

Julie Mathews, CLEO executive director

Julie Mathews, CLEO executive director

“The pandemic made people’s daily lives much more difficult: stressful family situations, issues of employment and unemployment, and living conditions when they didn’t have income to pay for their housing. So, lots of things came together to cause problems for people and I think the access to justice impact was pretty profound and extensive in terms of people being stressed and people having problems getting help,” she added.

Mathews noted that the use of the Guided Pathways was growing naturally, but “the pandemic really caused it to escalate.”

On Nov. 30, CLEO announced an expansion of the Guided Pathways tools to “help more Ontarians seek legal protection from abuse and family violence, and to navigate Small Claims Court and family court.” The organization was able to do this with extra funding from the Ontario government.

When the government launched the Courts Digital Transformation initiative on Nov. 5, it included an announcement that it would nearly double funding for CLEO’s expansion of the Guided Pathways.

“The new pathways for victims of violence will help them prepare documents ... ask the court for a peace bond, prepare documents for emergency motions, and undertake safety planning,” CLEO’s news release explained about the expansion.

“The new pathways for Small Claims Court will take users through the steps to prepare claims, defences, enforcement documents, and fee waiver requests,” the release added.

Mathews said Guided Pathways “make a complicated process for filing out a legal form or document” easier to use “because we follow principles of plain language and user-friendly navigation, so they’re designed as decision trees from a [lay] person’s point of view.”

“The whole idea that people can actually access them for free, work through them, and get all kinds of tips as they go through them … have all the information populate the various forms needed for a particular transaction, get checklist instructions on how to file: it’s a complete user experience from their point of view,” said Mathews, noting that “having that kind of tool during the pandemic, when people are facing huge problems, has been a really, very useful resource.”

CLEO “developed the pathways in partnership with the Ministry of the Attorney General, with additional funding from the Department of Justice,” the organization’s release added.

The release also noted that CLEO offers 61 Guided Pathways (in English and French) on family law, wills, powers of attorney and rental housing/tenants’ rights. An average of 4,000 Ontarians use the pathways tools per month, “creating over 5,000 documents (July-September 2021).”

“Family law mediators, information centres, duty counsel, family court support workers, and community legal workers helping older adults and newcomers report that the pathways help them help their clients,” the release added.

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