In 2019, Émilie Therrien, a resident of the Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve borough and a lawyer at Gascon, wished to support a new cooperative that was opening near her home. While working with the people from the cooperative, she noticed that there was no organization in the neighbourhood that promoted access to justice. It was in this context that she got the idea to found an organization with the mission to improve access to justice for citizens, NPOs and start-up businesses in the neighbourhood, all free of charge.
Émilie shared her idea with Yoann Gauthier, who immediately got involved in the project. Together, they made an appeal to other lawyers in the area. The response was not long in coming. More than thirty lawyers and notaries, including Notary Marie-Chantale Dubé, also from the Gascon firm, joined them. A few months later, HocheLégal was officially launched.
Inspired by the workings and popularity of other legal clinics in operation, HocheLégal helps citizens, charities and small businesses in the neighbourhood that do not have access to legal aid, but who cannot afford to pay for a lawyer or notary. This kind of community legal clinic fills a gap in the system to make justice accessible to all. “Legal information is the sinews of war for citizens or NPOs who cannot afford the services of a lawyer, and we are there to help them in this regard,” says Émilie Therrien, co-founder of HocheLégal and recipient of the Young Bar of Montreal’s 2020 Lawyer of the Year award in the Pro Bono/Social Involvement category.
However, the NPO’s official debut coincided with the arrival of the pandemic. HocheLégal was therefore forced to organize its first legal clinics online where it also offers virtual conferences. A wide range of topics are covered, including family law, housing law, criminal and penal law, immigration and administrative law.
During its activities, HocheLégal’s student volunteers and law professionals invite citizens to describe their situation and inform them of the legal principles that apply to their situation.
Since its inception, more than 3000 people have benefited from HocheLégal’s free services, demonstrating the population’s need for such services and the value of a legal clinic for access to justice.