What do I do if I can't afford a lawyer?

The Ontario government funds legal aid clinics to support people with low-income get free or affordable legal representation and advice.

What is Legal Aid Ontario?

Legal Aid Ontario is an independent not-for-profit organization funded by the government. People who can't afford lawyers can get help for certain types of legal programs through legal aid and, depending on the situation, financial costs may be reduced or waived. 

You can get legal aid even if you're not a Canadian citizen for:

  • Criminal legal issues
  • Family legal issues
  • Refugee and immigration legal issues
  • Domestic violence
  • Mental health legal issues

To get support for a legal issue in Ontario, you need to apply for legal aid. Legal Aid Ontario will decide whether or not to take you on as a client depending on your legal issue and if you're financially eligible

If you qualify, Legal Aid Ontario will provide you with legal aid services including:

  • Duty Counsel for criminal, family, and child protection cases
  • Summary legal advice through toll-free telephone service
  • A Legal Aid Certificate that you can use to hire a lawyer from Legal Aid Ontario's community legal clinic or to hire a private practice lawyer for a certain number of hours (not all lawyers accept certificates so ask first)

What legal issues do community legal clinics focus on?

Ontario's 59 general legal clinics focus on:

  • Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program
  • Landlord and tenant disputes
  • Social housing matters
  • Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security, Guaranteed Income Supplement
  • Employment issues including wrongful dismissal

What legal aid support is available to students?

Ontario's seven law schools have Student Legal Aid Services Societies (SLASS). Under the supervision of lawyers, volunteer law students can give you legal advice and even represent you in court for legal issues like:

  • Minor crimes
  • Landlord and tenant disputes
  • Immigration
  • Tribunals, including the Ontario Human Rights Commission

The seven SLASS are:

  • Queen's Legal Aid
  • University of Western Ontario's Community Legal Services
  • York University's Community & Legal Aid Services Program
  • University of Ottawa Community Legal Clinic
  • Lakehead University Community Legal Services
  • Downtown Legal Services University of Toronto
  • Community Legal Aid - University of Windsor

What if my legal issue is not covered by a general clinic or a student legal aid society?

Legal Aid Ontario also funds specialty clinics that can help people who are marginalized for reasons other than their income. 

Specialty clinics may support clients by:

  • Representing certain groups of marginalized people (e.g., seniors, Aboriginal people, people with disabilities, etc.)
  • Focusing on a specific area of law

Although specialty clinics usually do not charge clients, you may have to pay court filing or medical record fees. 

Specialty clinics in Ontario are:

  • Aboriginal Legal Services
  • Advocacy Centre for Elderly
  • Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario
  • ARCH Disability Law Centre
  • Black Legal Action Centre
  • Canadian Environmental Law Association
  • Centre for Spanish-Speaking Peoples
  • Centre Francophone De Toronto
  • Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic
  • Community Legal Education Ontario
  • HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario (HALCO)
  • Income Security Advocacy Centre
  • Industrial Accident Victims Group of Ontario
  • Injured Workers Community Legal Clinic
  • Justice for Children and Youth
  • Landlords Self-Help Centre
  • Queen's Prison Law Clinic
  • South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario
  • Workers' Health and Safety Legal Clinic
  • Vanier Community Service Center

What if I am under 18 and charged with a criminal offence?

You should ask the judge to appoint a lawyer for you if you:

  • did not qualify for Legal Aid, and;
  • are a youth (under 18) charged with a criminal offence.

This is your legal right under s.25(4) of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.