Refugee Law Office

The future of the LAO's Refugee Law Law Office: Centre of excellence

Attributes of an RLO Centre of Excellence

LAOs Policy Department has identified ten objectives or principles to guide the development of an RLO Centre of Excellence.

  1. The RLO should provide high quality legal representation.

    This is the RLOs traditional core mandate. An RLO centre of excellence should remain a leader in the delivery of high quality refugee legal services to LAO clients. There are many components of high quality legal representation. At a minimum, it would suggest an organizational commitment to high standards of ethical representation, independent and skillful advocacy, high standards of cross cultural communication, respect for clients, recognition and accommodation of mental health and other barriers, and more. Experience in other jurisdictions demonstrates that high quality staff offices depend on establishing and monitoring appropriate caseloads for legal staff. A staff offices caseload should not be so large as to interfere with providing quality representation.

  2. The RLO should provide a full range of services.

    The RLO should provide a broad continuum of legal services, including representation, legal advice and assistance, self-help materials, public legal information and/or systemic advocacy.

  3. The RLO should provide cost-effective services. The RLO should use its resources strategically and use a broad range of tools to meet client needs.

    Like all legal aid services, the RLO has an obligation to provide cost-effective services whose effectiveness and efficiency should be continually evaluated. Accordingly, the RLO should allocate its resources and services in accordance with the complexity and significance of their legal needs. The RLO should continue to use and develop lawyers, paralegals, and others to meet client needs in appropriate circumstances.

  4. The RLO should have strong management and governance.

    The RLO should have uniformly strong management practices and governance. For example, the RLO would benefit from sophisticated needs assessments, detailed management information, high-quality research, and community consultations. Like community clinics, the RLO would benefit from regular strategic planning, business planning, performance measurement and priority-setting processes.

  5. The RLO should provide access to a broad range of legal aid and holistic services.

    Clients often have legal needs that transcend traditional legal boundaries. The RLO should be a centre of access to refugee claimants who have holistic legal needs.

  6. The RLO should be a sophisticated voice for law reform and systemic advocacy.

    The RLO is uniquely positioned to be a sophisticated voice for low-income refugee claimants. Law reform and systemic advocacy are important features of providing legal services to low-income clients and their communities. RLO should work with the broader refugee access to justice community and consider available avenues for change, whether through test case litigation, formal/informal consultations with policy makers and tribunals, media advocacy, public policy advocacy, public education, etc.

  7. The RLO should be at the forefront of technology and service innovation.

    The size and capacity of the RLO (and LAO) means that the RLO is uniquely positioned to leverage technology and promote service innovations for refugee clients. For example, the RLO could work with the CSC to improve the coordination, accessibility, quality and cost-effectiveness of client intake, advice and brief services. The RLO should also work with LAO to develop a state-of-the-art websites, on-line services, and online public legal education materials.

  8. The RLO should support the private bar providing refugee legal aid.

    Legal aid services in Ontario are delivered through a public/private partnership between LAO and the private bar. The RLO can work with the private bar to ensure refugee claimants receive high-quality legal aid services irrespective of service provider. The RLO can also work with the private bar on mentoring, training, quality assurance, needs assessment, law reform and many other issues of mutual interest.

  9. The RLO should be a leader in training and support.

    The RLO could provide ongoing support, training and mentoring to LAO staff, private bar panel members, new/student lawyers/paralegals, other service providers, as well as the broader refugee and immigration regime such as FC judges, the IRB, CIC, CBSA and so on. Staff should be encouraged to pursue further training as well.

  10. The RLO should engage private lawyers, clinics, community agencies, and clients in needs assessment, planning, program development and evaluation of services.

    The RLOs ability to provide accessible, high-quality, cost-effective services depends on its ability to work successfully with a broad range of partners in the justice system.