Getting legal help
A lawyer who can help you is just a telephone call away
Did you know you can get free information from a lawyer—also known as summary advice—to help you deal with your legal problem?
Call Legal Aid Ontario’s toll-free line (1-800-668-8258). The agent on the phone can refer you to a lawyer for summary advice, or get you other kinds of help, such as legal advice or legal information.
This page explains summary advice and the other types of help we offer, for free, over the phone. It also includes suggestions to help you make the most of your telephone conversation with a legal aid lawyer.
What is summary advice?
Summary advice is general legal information, from a legal aid lawyer. This information can help you plan how to deal with your legal problem. In general, the lawyer will compare your situation to what other people have done who are in the same kind of situation. The lawyers who give summary advice also provide examples and explain what you can do to help fix your situation.
This information can help you understand:
- what to do next
- what is important to think about
- what will happen at court
- what you can do if court is not right for you.
What is legal advice?
Generally, if you are looking for someone to tell you what you should do, you want legal advice. Only lawyers are qualified to give legal advice. Some of this advice can include:
- answers to your questions about your legal situation
- what you should or should not do in your situation
- specific instructions about your legal problem.
Lawyers on the phone at Legal Aid Ontario offer legal advice to help you sort out many problems. They can advise you on:
- protecting your safety
- understanding your legal rights
- getting your kids back
- starting a court application
- avoiding going to court – the alternatives that are available
- completing court forms
- filing a restraining order
- getting money from your ex.
What is legal information?
Legal information is general information about the law or the court process. You can get this information from legal aid lawyers or from people at LAO who have received special training. It can include information on:
- how to solve your legal problems without going to court
- the different ways you can start a court application
- how to find a lawyer
- what legal terms mean
- alternatives to help you.
Making the most of your telephone conversation with a legal aid lawyer
Tell the lawyer, right at the beginning of the call, if you are experiencing domestic violence, have a mental health or addiction issue or are of First Nations, Métis or Inuit heritage. The lawyer will keep this information confidential, and these factors can have a big effect on legal advice.
Call when you won’t be distracted. Try to call only when it is quiet. If you have small children, arrange for them to be safe and cared for while you are on the phone. That way, you can focus on your conversation.
If your cellphone plan limits the amount of time you can talk, make sure you have enough minutes available to talk for a long time. Legal Aid Ontario answers calls in the order they come. Sometimes, many people are trying to get through. This means you will be put on hold and have to wait while other people who have called before are served. It’s also possible that your line is disconnected and you have to call back.
Have a pen and paper ready. You will get telephone numbers, web addresses, summaries of next steps, and other instructions. You should write down this information so you don’t forget it.
Ask questions and remember to read back instructions or other information you receive. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand something or it doesn’t make sense to you. Take notes on the answers to your questions and the explanations you hear. Then read them back, to confirm that you heard things right. That way, you can be sure you have the right instructions, and can follow them all.
Make the call yourself. Legal aid staff cannot talk to anyone other than you about your problem. We will, however, talk to someone you have authorized to speak on your behalf.
Get your documents and facts together, and put them in front of you before you call. This includes:
- all papers you have received from the courts or the police
- all agreements you have signed or have been asked to sign
- details about your next court date—the exact day and time, location and purpose (i.e. first court appearance, case conference, trial, etc.)
- whether you have hired a lawyer and if not, whether you have a referral form from duty counsel
- before calling to apply for a legal aid certificate so you can hire a lawyer for a criminal legal issue, your disclosure and Crown/charge screening form, which you should have received at your first appearance; without this information, LAO cannot decide whether or not you qualify for a certificate.