Legal Matters

Low-cost legal services

By Dara Poizner

Posted on February 22, 2021
Legal Matters

People may need legal assistance for many reasons including for help with immigration, marriage and divorce, criminal charges, and child support.

For those with lower incomes, hiring a lawyer or paralegal can be difficult. The Canadian government has programs that offer affordable (and sometimes free) legal services to eligible people in need. This article will describe a few of the services in each province and territory and provide links to trusted resources.

What is legal aid?

Legal aid is a government program that helps provide legal services (including representation and advice) to people who cannot afford a lawyer. The services available through legal aid may include telephone and online help, referrals, and duty counsel. Duty counsel is when a lawyer is appointed for someone in court who does not have a lawyer.

Depending on the situation, legal aid may cover some or all legal fees, and recipients may need to repay some fees over time. Each province or territory has a legal aid office with its own services and eligibility criteria, related to the applicant’s finances.

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Community resources

Community legal clinics, law centres, or other service providers typically provide free or affordable legal advice or representation. The Ontario newcomer information website Settlement.Org says these clinics offer services like:

  • Free consultation and information
  • Help preparing for your case
  • Referral to a private practitioner, duty counsel, or community agency
  • Representation by an advocate such as a lawyer, community legal worker, or law student

To receive help from a community legal service, you usually need to live in the area that it serves and have an income below a certain level. It is important to check if your local clinic can assist with the area of law that applies to your situation. If it does not, they may try to find another resource that can help you.

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Links to information and resources by province or territory

Note that in Canada, law is a government-regulated profession. This means that someone who practices law needs a license from a regulatory association. If you are getting help from a legal professional, it is important to make sure that they are qualified and in good standing.

Below you will find links to legal aid programs, other community resources, and the regulatory organization for law in each province and territory. Regulatory organization websites have directories with information about licensed lawyers in that province or territory.

This is not a list of all legal services available. It is meant as a starting point for researching options in your area.

Alberta

Legal aid and community resources: Legal Aid Alberta is a publicly funded nonprofit that provides legal services in family law, child welfare, immigration, and criminal defense. They have a list of community partners and support services (including legal clinics) that can provide help when legal aid does not apply.

Regulatory organization: The Law Society of Alberta.

Lawyer referral service: The Law Society offers a lawyer referral service including a free 30-minute consultation with a lawyer.

British Columbia

Legal aid and community resources: Legal Aid BC provides legal information, advice, and representation in the areas of family and child welfare, criminal, and immigration law. They have a list of community partners located throughout the province.

Mosaic is a multilingual nonprofit offering many programs to help immigrants and refugees with settlement, including the Legal Advocacy Program. It helps eligible low-income newcomers deal with the legal system by providing information, referrals, and representation free of charge. The program prioritizes applicants who have difficulty speaking or understanding English.

Regulatory organization: The Law Society of British Columbia.

Lawyer referral service: The legal organization Access Pro Bono offers a lawyer referral service including a free 30-minute consultation with a lawyer. This service is only for people who do not qualify for legal aid because they have a higher income.

Manitoba

Legal aid and community resources: Legal Aid Manitoba provides legal services to low-income individuals and public interest groups. They have a list of community law centres.

Regulatory organization: The Law Society of Manitoba.

Lawyer referral service: The Community Legal Education Association has a phone-in and lawyer referral program.

New Brunswick

Legal aid and community resources: The New Brunswick Legal Aid Services Commission provides legal services to low-income individuals dealing with family or criminal matters. Because the government of New Brunswick does not have legal aid for immigration and refugee matters, the New Brunswick Refugee Clinic is a nonprofit that provides free legal services to refugee claimants and people applying for humanitarian immigration.

Regulatory organization: The Law Society of New Brunswick.

Lawyer referral service: New Brunswick does not have a lawyer referral service.

Newfoundland and Labrador

Legal aid and community resources: The Newfoundland and Labrador Legal Aid Commission provides legal services to low-income individuals dealing with family or criminal matters.

Regulatory organization: The Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Lawyer referral service: The Public Legal Information Association of Newfoundland and Labrador is a nonprofit that provides general legal information and education. They offer a 30-minute consultation with a lawyer for $40.

Northwest Territories

Legal aid and community resources: Legal Aid Northwest Territories provides legal services, advice, and representation, usually in the areas of family and child welfare and criminal law.

Regulatory organization: The Law Society of the Northwest Territories.

Lawyer referral service: The Law Society has a directory of lawyers who can practice in the NWT (not all of whom live there). You can search by area of practice.

Nova Scotia

Legal aid and community resources: Nova Scotia Legal Aid deals with criminal, family, and social justice issues (including income security and housing). The Courts of Nova Scotia offer free legal clinics for people who are not familiar with the legal system and who have certain types of cases in the Nova Scotia Supreme Court or Court of Appeal.

Regulatory organization: The Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society.

Lawyer referral service: The Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia, a nonprofit, offers a lawyer referral service.

Nunavut

Legal aid and community resources: The Legal Services Board of Nunavut provides services in family, criminal, and civil law. The Law Society of Nunavut provides a list of public legal information resources through their website.

Regulatory organization: The Law Society of Nunavut.

Lawyer referral service: The Law Society has a directory of lawyers who can practice in Nunavut (not all of whom live there). You can search by area of practice.

Ontario

Legal aid and community resources: Legal Aid Ontario provides legal help in family, refugee and immigration, criminal, mental health, and clinic law. They have a database of legal clinics that you can search by address or postal code. For people experiencing domestic abuse, LAO has interpreter services available in many languages.

Community Legal Education Ontario is an organization offering legal information and resources. Many of their resources are available in multiple languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, Farsi, French, Somali, Spanish, Tamil, and Urdu). They also have a directory of legal clinics in Ontario listed by region and with a section for specialty clinics.

Regulatory organization: The Law Society of Ontario.

Lawyer referral service: The Law Society has a lawyer referral service, including a free 30-minute consultation with a lawyer or paralegal.

Prince Edward Island

Legal aid and community resources: PEI Legal Aid provides legal help and representation in the areas of criminal law, youth criminal justice, and family and civil law. Community Legal Information is a registered charity that provides public education about the law to residents of PEI.

Regulatory organization: The Law Society of Prince Edward Island.

Lawyer referral service: Community Legal Information has a lawyer referral service, which offers a 45-minute consultation for $25 plus HST.

Quebec

Legal aid and community resources: Legal aid is offered by the Quebec Ministry of Justice. Centres de justice de proximité (community justice centres) provide free legal information, support, and referral services.

Regulatory organization: Barreau du Québec (the Bar of Quebec).

Lawyer referral service: The Bar of Quebec offers a lawyer referral service, available in French only.

Saskatchewan

Legal aid and community resources: Legal Aid Saskatchewan provides services in the areas of criminal and family law. Pro Bono Law Saskatchewan is a nonprofit that offers free legal advice to low-income individuals, including information about their Free Legal Clinics, where people can get up to one hour of free advice from a lawyer.

Regulatory organization: The Law Society of Saskatchewan.

Lawyer referral service: Saskatchewan does not have a lawyer referral service.

Yukon

Legal aid and community resources: Yukon Legal Services Society is Yukon’s legal aid service provider. It provides lawyers to people who need but cannot afford one at no cost or low cost.

Regulatory organization: The Law Society of Yukon.

Lawyer referral service: The Law Society offers a lawyer referral service for $30 plus GST per consultation.

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