Legal aid panels

Family law panel standards

This page outlines Legal Aid Ontario (LAO)s mandatory requirements for admission to and retention on the family law panel.

Minimum experience

  1. Every lawyer shall have the following minimum experience for both admission to and continued standing on the panel:

    1. Substantial involvement in a minimum of ten family law files in the previous year, including matters of custody and access or crown wardship, child and spousal support, property, and divorce or
    2. A minimum of 20 per cent of practice concentration in family law in one or more of the above areas over the previous two years and on an ongoing basis.

    Note: An applicant who has been certified as a specialist in family law by the Law Society of Upper Canada shall be deemed to meet the above standards.

Equivalencies

  1. Notwithstanding the above minimum requirements, a director general shall have the authority to recognize experience that is equivalent to, or exceeds the standard, on the basis of the following:

    1. The applicant has recognized expertise and substantial involvement in family law proceedings of extraordinary length or complexity or
    2. The applicant has had substantial experience as counsel for the Children's Aid Society or for the Office of the Children's Lawyer.

Exemptions

  1. Notwithstanding the above minimum requirements, an applicant may request, from a director general, an exemption from the minimum experience standard. A director general shall have the authority to grant an exemption on the basis of the following:

    1. The applicant has had substantial experience as family court or Family Law Information Centre (FLIC) duty counsel as determined by the director general or
    2. The applicant is employed and supervised by a member of the family law panel or
    3. The applicant has had specialized practical training and education in fields related to family law, as determined by the director general or
    4. The applicant has recognized family law expertise demonstrated by recent experience in teaching family law, and possesses the required practical skills related to the practice of family law, as determined by the director general or
    5. The applicant has had substantial articling experience with a recognized family law practitioner, as determined by the director general or
    6. For lawyers new to the practice of family law, the applicant shall sign an agreement to:
      1. acquire the minimum experience within two years and
      2. attend training courses as may be required by the director general and
      3. be mentored for a period of time as deemed appropriate by the director general, by a lawyer approved by the director general.

        Please note: this mentoring is separate from the second chair program, which is a paid mentorship opportunity that allows for new or mid-career lawyers to benefit from the knowledge and experience of senior lawyers. More information about the second chair program is in our second chair program section.

Mandatory professional development

  1. Every panel member shall complete a minimum of six hours of continuing legal education (CLE) in family law on an annual basis, which shall consist of any of the following:

    1. Attending or teaching legal education programs provided by LAO, the Law Society of Upper Canada, the Ontario Bar Association, the Advocates' Society, any county or district law association, a regional family law association; commercial programs or
    2. Viewing or auditing CLE program materials, videos or recordings produced by any of the above associations.

    Note: An applicant who has been certified as a specialist in family law by the Law Society of Upper Canada shall be deemed to meet the above standard.

Equivalencies

  1. Notwithstanding the above minimum requirements, a director general shall have the authority to recognize professional development that is equivalent to, or exceeds the standard, on the basis of the following:

    1. Teaching or writing published materials on family law or
    2. Providing family law mentoring in a structured mentoring program established by LAO or
    3. Having substantial recent involvement in and recognized expertise in family law as determined by the director general.

Specialized child protection sub-panel

  1. Pursuant to section 23(2) of the Legal Aid Services Act, a director general may establish a local sub-panel of the family law panel requiring specialized training and related experience in the area of child protection (Child and Family Services Act, or CFSA). In areas with a significant volume of child protection matters, directors general are encouraged to establish such a sub-panel.

    Admission to a child protection sub-panel shall have the following additional requirements:

    1. The applicant shall have substantial experience in child protection proceedings in a minimum of 10 CFSA files in the previous year, or a minimum of 20 per cent of practice concentration in child protection proceedings over the previous two years and on an ongoing basis, either representing parents, or as counsel for the Office of the Children's Lawyer or that Children's Aid Society and
    2. Sub-panel members shall attend an annual six-hour educational seminar related to child protection, provided or approved by LAO. This requirement shall meet the standard for professional development set out in section 2.
  2. Notwithstanding the above minimum requirements, an applicant may request, from a director general, an exemption from the minimum experience standard on the basis of the following:

    1. The applicant is employed and supervised by a member of the CFSA sub-panel or
    2. The applicant agrees to be mentored for a period of time, as deemed appropriate by the director general, by a CFSA panel member in one or more CFSA proceedings or
    3. The applicant shall agree to participate as a junior with an experienced member of the CFSA sub-panel in one or more CFSA proceedings, as required by the director general.

Admission to the family law panel

To be admitted to the family law panel, applicants shall sign an agreement to comply with the standards set out by LAO for family law panel lawyers.

Consideration of local conditions

  1. The family law panel standards shall apply across the province. In response to director generals' concerns regarding the need to ensure an adequate supply of lawyers to serve clients' needs, the standards may be applied in a flexible way, if deemed necessary in consideration of the following local conditions:

    1. a shortage of lawyers in the area willing to do family law certificate work or
    2. the director general deems it necessary to rebuild and/or refresh the panel to meet current or future needs.
  2. In the interest of ensuring quality service, a director general shall have the discretion to require an applicant to enhance his/her knowledge of family law through professional development and/or being mentored, as deemed appropriate.

    Please note: such mentoring is separate from the second chair program, which is a paid mentorship opportunity that allows for new or mid-career lawyers to benefit from the knowledge and experience of senior lawyers. To apply for the second chair program, either as a mentor or as a mentee, please visit our second chair program section.