By Sheryl Smolkin
Read this article and comments at Moneyville.ca
There are thousands of lawyers in Toronto and across the country, but I know that for many people, getting affordable legal advice is a daunting challenge. In fact, every time I write about a recently-decided wrongful dismissal case, I get emails from readers asking for help.
Because I write about legal issues but no longer practice law, I do my best to refer callers to someone who can assist them. Regardless of the nature of your legal problem, a referral and good reference from a friend, family member or business associate is always a great place to start.
But here are a list of resources you can post on your refrigerator door, in case a legal problem suddenly arises.
1. Law Society referral service: You are buying your first home, drawing up a will or starting a business. You need a lawyer but you are not sure how to find one. The Law Society’s Lawyer Referral Service can help. When you call the Law Society, you will be provided with the name of a lawyer who will provide a free consultation of up to 30 minutes to help you determine your rights and options.
You can access the service by calling: 1-800-268-8326 or 416-947-3330 (within the GTA) or accessing anon-line request form.
2. LawHelpOntario.org: Operated by Pro Bono Law Ontario provides a wide range of legal information and resources online.
In Toronto and Ottawa, Law Help Ontario operates self-help centres for low income, self-represented litigants appearing before Superior Court or Small Claims Court. Lawyers at Law Help Ontario centres provide pro bono (free) assistance for limited civil matters (no family or criminal law).
a) Duty counsel: Duty counsel are lawyers who give immediate legal assistance to those with low incomes appearing in court without a lawyer in criminal or family matter. You qualify based on income. For example, if you are single and earn a gross family income under $18,000 a year or married with two children with a family income under $27,000, you may qualify.
b) Community clinics: There are 77 independent legal clinics in Ontario. Community legal clinics provide representation, public legal education, law reform and community development services to low-income individuals and groups within a defined geographical area. Social assistance and housing law are two key areas that clinics focus on.
Clinics also provide services in other areas of law, depending on their local community needs. Contact a local community clinic to see if they can assist you.
c) Specialty Clinics: Seventeen specialty clinics meet the needs of people from specific groups or dealing with specified problems. Examples include: the HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic, Justice for Children and Youth, the Landlords Self-help Centre and the South Asian Legal clinic of Toronto.
d) Legal Aid Certificates: The Legal Aid Certificate program allows eligible low-income Ontarians to have full representation by a lawyer. A certificate is a voucher guaranteeing that the lawyer will get paid for representing you for a certain number of hours. Not all lawyers will accept legal aid certificates because the hourly rate is very low.
Certificates are only for the most serious legal matters. They are also based on income and you may have to repay all or part of the fees to legal aid. For example, you will likely qualify financially if you are a family of four with a gross family income under $18,684 and a contribution agreement may be required if the annual gross family income ranges from $10,800 – $12,500.
4. Student Legal Clinics: There are a number of free legal clinics operated by students in law schools around the province, under the supervision of qualified professors or other staff. Each clinic may have slightly different eligibility requirements. In Toronto, the University of Toronto has several clinics and CLASP is an interdisciplinary Student Legal Aid Service Society where clients where services are provided by students from York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School and the School of Social Work.
Related: Law students defend the needy
Most people don’t qualify for some form of Legal Aid or pro bono services, so going to court can be intimidating and prohibitively expensive. That’s why in my next two blogs I’ll discuss how contingency arrangements and class actions can help you access the justice system.