What are my options if I can't afford a lawyer?

Question: 
I need legal help, but have limited income and can't afford a lawyer. What can I do?
Answer: 

In Ontario, people who have low incomes can get free help with some types of legal problems through:

Community legal clinics

There are community legal clinics across Ontario that give free legal help or advice to people who have low incomes. To get services from most community legal clinics, you must live in the area they serve and your income and assets cannot be above a certain level. To find out if you qualify for services, you can contact your local clinic.

To find the community legal clinic for your area, you can check the Legal Aid Ontario web site and enter your postal code. You can also find a map and full listing of community legal clinics - general service, specialty community legal clinics, and student legal aid services societies in Ontario on the Your Legal Rights Services Map. For more information, see:

Legal Aid Ontario

Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) helps low-income individuals and disadvantaged communities get legal assistance through a broad range of services, including legal help for low-income people who appear in court without a lawyer, telephone and online assistance, resources, referrals, and assistance in retaining a lawyer if applicants meet eligibility requirements. LAO provides help in certain areas of law, such as criminal, family, and immigration and refugee.

For more information, visit the LAO web site. Or, call the LAO client service centre at 1-800-668-8258 or 416-979-1446. The TTY numbers are 1-866-641-8867 and 416-598-8867. You can also find out more about LAO services on the Your Legal Rights Services Map. For more information, see:

Getting legal help in courts and tribunals

If you are at court or at a tribunal and don't have a lawyer, you can look for the duty counsel office or ask to see duty counsel. Duty counsel are lawyers who can give immediate legal assistance to low-income people who appear in court without a lawyer. There are duty counsel lawyers at criminal and family courts. If you are a tenant who has to go to the Landlord and Tenant Board and you don't have any legal help, you may be able to get help when you arrive at the Board from a tenant duty counsel. Duty counsel lawyers will help you for free but you may first have to show that you can't afford to pay for your own lawyer. And, there are limits to what they can help you with.

You can find a wide range of services available that provide legal help in courts and tribunals as part of the Your Legal Rights Services Map. For more information, see:

Pro Bono Ontario Self-Help Centres

If you cannot afford a lawyer to help you with a civil legal issue (that is, a non-criminal issue) and you live in Toronto or Ottawa, you can get general information on court procedures, help filling out forms, and some legal advice from the Pro Bono Ontario Help centres at Small Claims Court and Superior Court. These services are free, but you must be able to show that your income is below the PBLO limit. For more information, visit the Pro Bono Ontariowebsite. You can also find out more on the Your Legal Rights Services Map. For more information, see: Pro Bono Ontario.

Family Law Information Centres

There are Family Law Information Centres (FLIC) at courthouses that deal with family law. All of the centres have free pamphlets on topics such as separation and divorce, court procedures, and family mediation. Many of the centres have staff who can give information and make referrals to community agencies and legal services. During specific hours, some of the centres have lawyers from Legal Aid Ontario who can meet with you.

For more information, you can contact your local courthouse or visit the section about Family Law Information Centres on the Ministry of the Attorney General web site. We also have listings of FLICs across Ontario on the Your Legal Rights Services Map. For more information, search by your region or see:

Family Law Service Centres (FLSC)

Family Law Service Centres (FLSCs) offer eligible clients a range of legal resources and support for family matters, including:

  • help with documents
  • referrals to advice counsel
  • full representation in family law cases by a staff lawyer
  • referral to a private lawyer who does legal aid work, if eligible
  • mediation and settlement conferences
  • referrals to other social service agencies

Certificate applications for serious domestic violence, child protection, or complex family law cases are also accepted.

The centres are staffed by a lawyer manager, staff lawyers, and legal workers who are supervised by lawyers. Each of the FLSCs serve clients going to the family courts located in their area, so it is important that you contact the FLSC in the region where your court case is located.

FLSCs are located in Toronto, North York, Newmarket, Brampton, Chatham, Sarnia, Oshawa, Welland, and Windsor. Find the FLSC near you.

Law Society of Upper Canada

The Law Society of Upper Canada has information on its web site to help you find the legal assistance you need.

Lawyer and Paralegal Directory

Visit the Law Society's online Lawyer and Paralegal Directory. The Lawyer and Paralegal Directory is a complete listing of legal professionals who are licensed by the Law Society to offer legal services in Ontario. The directory is searchable by name, city, or postal code.

Each listing includes the practising status of the lawyer or paralegal. If a lawyer or paralegal has a discipline history, restrictions on his or her practice, or if there is a trusteeship, there will be information on this in the directory listing.

Law Society Referral Service

The Law Society Referral Service is an online service for residents of Ontario for referrals to lawyers or paralegals who will provide a free, up to 30 minute consultation either by phone or in person. More information on the Law Society Referral Service is also available on the Your Legal Rights Services Map. For more information, see: Law Society Referral Service.

JusticeNet

JusticeNet is a not-for-profit service helping people in need of legal expertise, whose income is too high to access legal aid and too low to afford standard legal fees. JusticeNet is currently available to anyone living in Ontario. It has client brochures available in English, French, Arabic, Chinese, German, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Hebrew, Farsi, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Tagalog, and Vietnamese. For more information see: JusticeNet.ca

Related Resource: 
Resource notes: 

For more information on clinics, see Getting legal help: A Directory of Community Legal Clinics in Ontario produced by CLEO.

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