It’s no secret that legal services have a reputation for having a high price tag. The cost of hiring a lawyer can sometimes make getting legal help unaffordable or impractical for many Canadians.
Fortunately, there are options for persons who live in Ontario with low or no income. Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) is a publicly funded non-profit corporation which administers Ontario’s legal aid program.
Through a toll-free number and multiple in-person offices located in Courthouses and community clinics, Legal Aid Ontario provides legal assistance to over a million low-income residents in Ontario each year. The number is 1-800-668-8258 and lines are open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (EST) for help in over 300 languages.
However, there are many myths and misconceptions about the legal aid program. For example, you may have heard that the quality of services that you receive from a legal aid lawyer may not be as reliable as the services you might receive from a lawyer who does not provide services through the legal aid program. But that is a myth.
In order to understand the reality behind the myth, it’s important to understand how Ontario’s legal aid program actually works. A big part of the legal aid system is something called Legal Aid Certificates.
Legal Aid Ontario issues certificates to people who are eligible for them. These certificates are like vouchers for legal services. To find out if you qualify for a legal aid certificate, you can visit www.legalaid.on.ca. If you do receive a certificate, you can take your legal aid certificate to a lawyer who is authorized to accept these certificates and use it to pay for that lawyer’s services for a certain number of hours. The lawyer will use that time to represent you in court or help you deal with other legal matters. Lawyers who are authorized to accept legal aid certificates often work in private law firms and are not employees of Legal Aid Ontario. These lawyers often represent clients who do not qualify for legal aid certificates, and lawyers must apply the same standards of competence and quality to all of their cases regardless of whether a case is funded by Legal Aid Ontario, or privately funded.
However, Legal Aid Ontario also employs lawyers who typically work in Courthouses across Ontario. These lawyers are called, “Duty Counsel”. Duty counsel can give immediate, legal assistance to low-income people who appear in Court without a lawyer. Unfortunately, duty counsel often cannot provide certain types of legal services, such as conducting a trial.
Another resource available to persons living in Ontario are community legal clinics. Legal Aid Ontario funds 76 community legal clinics throughout the province. Thirteen of these clinics provide speciality legal services. Each is a non-profit legal centre, governed by an independent board of directors representative of the community it serves. These clinics employ lawyers, legal workers, paralegals and administrative staff to provide information, legal advice and representation.
So now you know some of the basics about the legal aid program in Ontario. We’d like to mention that this article is not published by or affiliated with Legal Aid Ontario, but if you’d like to learn more, you can call LAO’s toll free number at 1-800-668-8258.
Do you have a legal aid certificate? Click here to speak with a family lawyer on the phone for free.