About the service
What is Te Ara Ture? Te Ara Ture means bridge to law – we connect people on low incomes to volunteer lawyers. In this way, we bridge the gap between those in need and those who are willing to help.
Who is it for? Te Ara Ture is a service of last resort. It’s for people who want legal help but cannot get it through private lawyers or other free services. Te Ara Ture works with people who have a legal problem, are not eligible for legal aid (or cannot find a legal aid lawyer), are genuinely unable pay for the help they need, and where legal help is likely to lead to a positive outcome.
Who is it NOT for? Te Ara Ture cannot help with second opinions or with matters that have no realistic chance of a positive outcome. If you have already received detailed legal advice, we probably cannot help.
How do I apply? Currently we only accept applications through community law centres. The community law centre in your area will apply to Te Ara Ture on your behalf if you meet the eligibility criteria. Later this year we will start accepting applications from the public and other organisations.
What is the eligibility criteria? You must pass a financial eligibility test and a legal merits eligibility test. Generally, you must be in the bottom ½ of income earners and have few assets. People who own their own homes can still qualify but it is less likely. The legal merits test involves assessing whether your matter has a reasonable chance of a successful outcome.
What happens if my application is accepted? Te Ara Ture will tell you within 5 days if your application is accepted. Te Ara Ture will then post your matter on a secure online portal. Registered lawyers will use the portal to tell Te Ara Ture whether they want to help. If someone offers to help Te Ara Ture will let you know and introduce you to the lawyer.
Will I definitely get a lawyer through this service? No. Te Ara Ture does not guarantee a lawyer will help you. All our registered lawyers have day jobs. They will only offer help if they have capacity and the issue matches their expertise.
What happens if my application is declined or no lawyers offer to help? Te Ara Ture will tell you within 5 days if your application is declined. If your application is accepted, but no lawyers offers help within 30 days Te Ara Ture may remove your matter from the portal – we will tell you if this happens. In either case, we will give you information about other options you could consider.
What sort of information goes on the portal? We need to put some information about your matter on the portal. We need to do this so the volunteer lawyers can determine if they have the expertise and time to help you. We also post identity information (such as your name) – but only once a lawyer has expressed an interest in helping you (and only that lawyer gets identity information). Once the case has been accepted by a lawyer, we upload all the information we have about you so they can start working on your case.
Will Te Ara Ture give me legal advice? No. Te Ara Ture is just a referral agency. All we do is offer your case to a network of volunteer lawyers. If someone accepts the offer, we then make an introduction to you. You do not have a lawyer/client relationship with Te Ara Ture at any time during the referral process.
If I apply to Te Ara Ture, will my local law centre still help me? Your lawyer/client relationship with community law will finish when you apply to Te Ara Ture. This is because lawyers can’t work for other lawyer’s clients. In some cases you can go back to your law centre once the volunteer lawyer has finished working on your case.
What do I get for free? Lawyers usually charge for the time it takes to complete tasks AND office expenses they incurred in doing the tasks (such as phone calls and printing). When accepting a referral, the volunteer lawyer agrees to do a fixed number of tasks for free. The free tasks are defined by Te Ara Ture on the portal. The volunteer lawyer also agrees to waive some or all their office expenses. In most cases, clients will not have to pay for any office expenses.
What might I have to pay for? You may have to pay office expenses if your case is unusually complex or costly. You will also have to pay any costs required by a third party. These include, but may not be limited to, court filing fees, expert witnesses, interpreters and travel expenses that the pro bono provider could incur on your behalf. Finally, if you ask your lawyer to do tasks that are not part of the agreed free tasks, they may charge you for these at their normal rates. You should be told about any of the charges described in this paragraph before they are incurred.
What are court costs and will I have to pay them? When a person loses a court case the Court will usually order them to pay the legal fees of the successful person. This is done to discourage unnecessary litigation. If your case goes to Court, and you lose, you will be solely liable for paying those costs.
What if I win my court case? If you win your Court case, your lawyer would usually have some of their fees paid for by the person who lost. This does not happen automatically with a Te Ara Ture referral because the legal work was done for free. However, it can happen if you enter into a costs agreement with your lawyer. This agreement basically says, “you only have to pay legal fees if you win, and only if you win enough to take your fair share first”. We think this is reasonable because Court cases take a lot of effort from your lawyer, and its reasonable for them to be compensated if there is a surplus. It also removes a strategic advantage the other side might otherwise have – knowing they could litigate without the risk of Court costs.
My issue is particularly sensitive. Do I still have to disclose it to you? Some level of disclosure is necessary. However, if your issue is particularly sensitive, we may be able to include additional safeguards to protect you. Please contact us if you think this applies to you.