Éducaloi Makes It Clear!
By Pierre-Luc Beauchesne, lawyer
(Article published on August 20, 2019)

On September 5, 2019, during the Ceremony of the Rentrée judiciaire, the Medal of the Bar of Montreal will be awarded to Éducaloi, in recognition of its outstanding contribution to the cause of justice. For Mr. Bâtonnier Alexandre Forest of the Bar of Montreal, presenting his organization’s top award to Éducaloi meshes perfectly with the theme of the ceremony. According to Mtre. Forest: “challenging the established order and placing the litigant at the heart of every initiative is precisely what Éducaloi has been doing every day for the past 20 years.”

Who among you has not heard of Éducaloi? It is Québec’s undisputed leader in providing legal information and education services for laypersons and intermediaries in the legal, educational and community sectors. This charitable organization, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary next March, receives more than six million visits to its website every year, and boasts more than 40,000 followers on its social platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube).

Launched as an initiative of the Barreau du Québec in the wake of Prof. Roderick A. MacDonald’s 1991 report on access to justice, Éducaloi’s mission has always been to provide members of the public with clear and user-friendly information related to the law and their rights and obligations. Éducaloi has come a long way since it was established in 2000, and with a staff of close to 30 professionals in various fields, it continues to help Québec society to take concrete steps aimed at improving access to the law and to justice. It is important to underscore the extraordinary work done by Mtre. Nathalie Roy, Co-Founder of Éducaloi, who also served as Executive Director until February 2017 and is largely responsible for the organization’s success and reputation. In 2014, in recognition of her dedication to the cause of justice, Mtre. Roy received the Award of Merit from the Barreau du Québec, along with the title of Avocate émérite (Ad. E.).

Éducaloi is much more than a website with articles pertaining to legal issues. In fact, the organization’s mission goes beyond merely furnishing legal information to include legal educational services. According to Mtre. Ariane Charbonneau, Executive Director of Éducaloi: “Legal education is much more than simply learning about existing legislation. It involves making citizens aware of the legal aspects of daily life and helping them to acquire the skills they need to exercise their rights. Legally well-educated individuals are better equipped to make informed decisions and resolve conflicts, thereby avoiding legal problems. This is in keeping with the spirit of the new Code of Civil Procedure.” In other words, Éducaloi’s goal is to ensure that people have access to the law, and more specifically, the rules of law (or the “rules of the game” for life in our society), so that they can find their way (the information component) while developing the skills to do so effectively (the educational component)! In other words, legal information and education go hand in hand.

Although it is citizens who are the main focus of its efforts, Éducaloi also offers help for legal experts within their organizations, along with private, public and parapublic institutions, in terms of honing their ability to explain the law clearly and improving their communication tools. For example, imagine using plain language in standardized letters to give litigants a better idea of what is expected of them. Having become an expert in this field, Éducaloi shares its knowledge and experience in the area of legal communication with key stakeholders. As Mtre. Charbonneau points out, “Éducaloi seeks to convey its strength and expertise to other actors in the legal field, and to work with them so that they can become even more effective in their role as communicators. Of course, the ultimate goal is to reach as many citizens as possible, and to promote better access to the law and to justice.”

Éducaloi was among the first proponents of the movement for plain legal language in Québec. According to its website: “‘Plain legal language means communicating the law in language that is easy to understand.’ This means reworking legal concepts and the structure of legal thinking so that laypersons can understand their rights and responsibilities.” It was from this perspective that Éducaloi hosted the 7th edition of the international biannual Clarity Conference on Plain Legal Language in October 2018. The conference, held in Québec for the first time, welcomed more than 500 participants from 20 countries, highlighting the importance and relevance of this movement.

Nothing could be more natural for Éducaloi than promoting plain legal language, especially since better access to the law corresponds with clear and effective communication. As Mtre. Charbonneau says, “the real challenge is to be as clear as possible while maintaining legal rigour and accuracy. Above all, there can be no clear communication without empathy and a real effort and interest in understanding what others are thinking. As lawyers, if we are truly committed to helping our clients, we must ensure that they understand us, and that they in turn are understood!”

Despite Éducaloi’s excellent standing and reputation, it must constantly seek funding while also relying on the aid and assistance of the legal community to carry out its mission and projects. In October 2018, Éducaloi launched its “500 Days for Justice” fundraising campaign, with a target of $250,000. The campaign is chaired by the Hon. Marie Deschamps, the Hon. François Rolland and Mtre. Kim Thomassin.

We can all take pride in the work done by Éducaloi, which in its own ways, in addition to contributing to better access to the law and to justice, helps to improve the image of lawyers and our profession.