Legal aid panels

Questions & answers

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General

Q. What are panel standards?

Legal Aid Ontarios (LAO) panel standards stipulate the minimum experience and professional development requirements for admission to, and continued standing on, the criminal law and family law certificate panels. These requirements vary depending on the type of panel.

Q. Why does Legal Aid Ontario have panel standards?

Panel standards are part of LAO's statutory mandate to provide high-quality legal aid service to clients.

Q. How do I apply for panel membership?

Fill out the panel application form and send your completed application form to your district office.

Q. How will the standards be enforced?

Every year, lawyers are required to report their compliance with the standards and their completion of the annual professional development in the lawyers annual self-report.

Q. How will clients know their lawyer has met the standards?

Only lawyers meeting the standards will be allowed to acknowledge certificates and placed on the consent and capacity law panel and district office lists. This information will also be clearly stated on the front of the certificate.

Q. Who can I contact if I have more questions?

Please contact your director general for more information.

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LAO's processes for ensuring quality

Q. Can LAO investigate quality-of-service concerns about an empanelled lawyers certificate work?

LAOs Directors General address quality-of-service concerns by working with the lawyer to address the issue(s). Their exact responses will depend on the nature and magnitude of the concern as well as individual circumstances. Directors General may, for example:

  • discuss the matter with the lawyer
  • request remedial actions such as mentoring or continuing legal education
  • attach terms and conditions as appropriate, when a certificate is issued
  • choose to initiate the panel removal process, where appropriate.

Q. Can lawyers who have been notified of panel removal continue with their legal aid cases?

LAO assesses each situation on a case-by-case basis. LAO has the discretion to allow lawyers to continue representing existing clients, or to cancel any active certificates while panel removal proceedings are pending. LAO will primarily base its decision on consideration of the clients best interests.

Q. Can lawyers be reinstated to LAO panels once their names have been removed?

Lawyers may reapply to have their names restored to the panel pursuant to the Legal Aid Services Act, O. Reg. 106/99, s. 34 (1). LAOs president will make a final decision.

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Panel removal

Q. What are the reasons a lawyer can be removed from the panel?

Lawyers may be removed from the LAO panel for a number of reasons, including:

  • failure to meet or continue to meet applicable standards
  • found guilty of professional misconduct or conduct unbecoming
  • found guilty of a criminal offense
  • reasonable cause
  • a period of inactivity and lack of communication with LAO greater than two years.

Lawyers may be temporarily removed from the LAO panel for a number of reasons, including:

  • receipt of a conduct application under subsection 34(1) of the Law Society Act
  • a criminal charge laid against the lawyer

Q. What constitutes reasonable cause?

In general, a lawyers failure to uphold his or her obligations as a panel member constitutes reasonable cause for removal from the LAO panel.

Removal for reasonable cause may relate to service quality issues; to a lawyers business relationship with LAO; to findings of the Law Society of Upper Canada; or to other acts or omissions of the lawyer which detrimentally impact LAOs mandate to provide the public with high-quality, cost-effective, efficient services.

Q. How does the process of removing a lawyer from a panel work?

Lawyers whose names have been proposed for removal will be notified of LAOs intent and the reasons why in a written Notice of Proposal to Remove. They will have an opportunity to be heard. If they do not request a hearing, LAO may remove the lawyers name without further notice.

Q. What happens if a lawyer decides to dispute a notice of removal?

Lawyers have 10 business days from the day of delivery of the Notice of Proposal to Remove to submit a request for a hearing.

Q. Is there an appeals process?

No. If the presidents decides to remove a lawyers name from the LAO panel, that decision is final.

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How LAO works with the LSUC to ensure quality

Q. Does LAO work with the LSUC to ensure that empanelled lawyers are providing high-quality services in their LAO certificate work?

LAO and the LSUC are independent bodies, each with its own standard of competence. LAO has the discretion to apply its own standards for lawyers seeking admission and ongoing status on its panel.

Whenever requested, LAO cooperates with the law society, including helping in investigations.

Similarly, the LSUC sends LAO daily data on changes to panel lawyers status changes. Such data may include:

  • administrative suspension
  • disciplinary suspension
  • license surrenders
  • licence revoked
  • not practising (usually as a result of a maternity leave)
  • deceased.

If a lawyer bills LAO for work done while suspended on administrative or disciplinary grounds or not practicing, LAOs investigations department will seek recovery of any funds paid. Further, LAO will file a complaint with the LSUC, advising it that a panel lawyer did work during this timeframe.

Q. Im taking a parental leave. This means my LSUC status report will show that Im not practicing. Will that affect my eligibility to do work for LAO clients once I return to work?

A lawyer may work for LAO clients after a parental leave, so long as the LSUC still authorizes that lawyer to practice, the lawyer has maintained his or her Lawyers Professional Indemnity Company (LAWPRO) insurance, and the lawyer continues to meet LAO panel standards.

A lawyer who finds, upon returning to practice, that he or she no longer meets panel standards, should contact their district office to request conditional empanelment.

During every transitional period in lawyers work lives, it is advisable for lawyers to keep their Director General (DG) – that is, the DG for the district where they are empanelled and the district where they practice or intend to practice informed of their status. In this case, the lawyer should tell her DG the dates when she begins and concludes her parental leave.

Q. How does my LSUC status affect my ability to do work for LAO clients?

As mentioned above, a lawyer must be a member in good standing with LSUC, duly insured, and meet panel standards in order to be eligible to represent LAO clients.

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Inactive lawyers panel status

Q. I was on a legal aid panel before 2004, but have not acknowledged any certificates or billed any work to LAO since then. What is my current panel status?

You are likely no longer on LAOs panel. In 2004, LAO asked all its panel lawyers to re-empanel (re-apply for membership, and meet panel requirements). If you did not re-empanel then, you will need to re-apply to the legal aid panel(s) for which you wish to do work.

Q. I am no longer interested in doing LAO work. How do I resign from the panel and have my name removed from referral list?

If you want to resign from the LAO panel, please download and complete this form and submit it to your district area office.

If you want to resign from a panel in a particular area of law, please download and complete this form and submit it to your district area office.

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Criminal and family

Q. What are the minimum experience standards?

Criminal law
Every lawyer is required to have the following:

  • A minimum of 15 completed criminal law files in the previous year, including at least three contested trials, preliminary inquiries or appeals; or,
  • A minimum of 20 per cent of practice concentration in criminal law over the past two years and on an ongoing basis.

Family law
Every lawyer is required to have the following:

  • Substantial involvement in a minimum of 10 family law files in the previous year, including matters of custody and access or wardship, child and spousal support, property and divorce; or,
  • A minimum of 20 per cent of practice concentrated on family law in one or more of the above areas over the previous two years and on an ongoing basis.

Applicants certified as specialists in criminal or family law by the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) will be deemed to have met these standards.

Q. What if I have significant experience in criminal law, but do not meet these specific requirements?

A director general has the authority to recognize expertise and involvement in criminal law; for example, involvement in long and/or complex criminal law proceedings.

An applicant may request an exemption from a director general, who can grant exemptions based on specific criteria.

Q. What if I have significant experience in family law, but do not meet these specific requirements?

A director general has the authority to recognize expertise and involvement in the family law. For example, substantial experience as counsel for the Children's Aid Society (CAS) or the Ontario Children's Lawyer (OCL) would be recognized as equivalents to the standards. An applicant may request an exemption from a director general, who can grant exemptions based on specific criteria.

Q. How do the standards apply to a new lawyer wishing to do criminal or family certificate work for Legal Aid Ontario?

All new lawyers who wish to do criminal or family law certificate work are required to sign an agreement stating they will meet the minimum experience standards within two years and attend training courses as required by the director general.

New lawyers are also be required to participate in mentoring for a specific period of time with an existing criminal or family lawyer. The length of the mentoring period, and the mentoring lawyer, must be approved by the director general.

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.

Q. What happens if a lawyer doesn't meet the minimum standards set by LAO?

The director general will meet with the lawyer and create a plan for acquiring the minimum experience over a set period of time. Training courses and a mentoring period can be outlined in an agreement between the lawyer and the director general.

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.

Q. What are the mandatory professional development criteria?

Each panel member must complete six hours of continuing legal education in criminal or family law annually. For the specific criteria, please refer to the standards document.

Applicants who have been certified as a specialist in criminal or family law by the LSUC will be deemed to meet these criteria.

Q. How are LAO's professional development criteria different from the Law Society's Continuing Professional Development (CPD)?

Lawyers are now required to complete 12 hours of CPD, including three hours of professionalism. Although LSUC does not have specific requirements as to topics for CPD, the following requirements are in place for LAOs panels:

  • Six hours of family CPD for the family law panel
  • Six hours of criminal CPD for the criminal law panel
  • Six hours of refugee CPD for the refugee law panel

Recognized professional development programs in any of the areas required for panel membership will count toward the mandatory substantive CPD hours for LSUC.

Q. What support does LAO provide to lawyers?

LAO provides support in several ways, including:

  • partnering with other legal organizations to provide accessible professional development for criminal or family lawyers;
  • increasing the use of technology to deliver these programs to make them more accessible and cost-effective province-wide;
  • LAO's online research facility, LAO LAW, provides comprehensive research support and ongoing case law commentary. Precedents and facta are available online.

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Duty counsel

Q. Why does Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) have panel standards for duty counsel?

The duty counsel standards include minimum requirements for probation, shadowing, experience, professional development and performance feedback. Panel standards ensure that lawyers doing legal aid work meet all requirements, as well as receive training and support to do their jobs.

Q. What is the process for duty counsel performance feedback?

Unless there are specific concerns, your performance feedback will likely consist of a letter from your director general or supervisory duty counsel (SDC) indicating your performance is satisfactory. If there are performance concerns, they will be noted and you will be asked to meet with your DG/SDC to discuss these issues.

Q. What if my performance feedback form indicates "Needs Improvement" in any areas?

As noted above, the director general or supervisory duty counsel will ask to meet with you to develop a plan to achieve improvements. They will also review the resources available to you including education and training opportunities, mentoring, review of available written materials, the LAO LAW website and duty counsel hotline. You will also be encouraged to generate other alternatives.

Q. Will I still be scheduled as duty counsel if my feedback form indicates Needs Improvement?

Depending on the performance issue and the level of concern, you may continue to be scheduled as duty counsel during the improvement period. If the perceived performance concerns are strong enough, the DG/SDC may commence the process to have you removed from the duty counsel panel.

Q. What if I don't agree to meet with the DG/SDC about my performance feedback?

You will receive a letter from the DG/SDC advising that you will not be scheduled for further duty counsel assignments, and all existing scheduled assignments will be re-assigned to someone else until you do meet with the DG/SDC as requested.

Q. I have had very little contact or interaction with the DG/SDC. How can he/she rate my performance?

Legal Aid Ontario assumes that any lawyer acting as duty counsel is performing up to the required quality standards unless there is information or evidence to the contrary. Information received from third parties or the experience of predecessors in the DG/SDC position is also considered, not just information obtained by direct observation.

Q. What if I disagree that I "Need Improvement"?

You will have ample opportunity for a full discussion at your meeting with the DG/SDC. If the DG/SDC maintains the position that improvement in one or more of the areas is required, you will be advised whether or not you will continue to be scheduled as duty counsel.

Q. Why are the ratings so narrow? Why isn't excellence recognized?

Supervisory duty counsel are encouraged to pass on compliments and positive feedback in your performance feedback form, which is kept with your file in the SDC or district office. This performance review is not intended to distinguish between duty counsel, or "rank" your performance.

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Duty counsel - Advice lawyer

Q. What are duty counsel advice lawyer panel standards?

The panel standards set out requirements for admission and continued standing on the duty counsel advice lawyer panel. There are panel standards in place for the following types of advice lawyers:

  • Advice lawyer - Mental health
  • Advice lawyer - Correctional institutions
  • Advice lawyer - Refugee and immigration
  • Advice lawyer - Domestic violence

Q. What continuing education and professional development options does LAO provide?

Director generals and supervisory duty counsel (SDC) provide ongoing guidance and assistance. Additional supports include administrative/procedural training relating to the role of duty counsel, and a duty counsel manual. The manual provides information on the role of all types of duty counsel.

There are also case law summaries available through LAO LAW, a duty counsel hotline, and annual performance feedback from disrector generals or supervisory duty counsel.

Q. What happens if a lawyer doesn't meet the minimum experience standards?

When deemed appropriate, the director general or supervisory duty counsel has the discretion to empanel a lawyer who does not meet the experiece standards.

Q. What if a lawyer has never been on a duty counsel advice lawyer panel before?

Any lawyer who is empanelled to do legal aid certificate or duty counsel work may apply to become a member of an advice lawyer panel by submitting an application to the appropriate district office. Lawyers are subject to a three-month probationary period, and are required to shadow supervisory duty counsel or experienced duty counsel.

At the end of this period, the director general or the supervisory duty counsel provide the applicant with performance feedback. Using their discretion, the DG/SDC can decide whether to admit the applicant to the panel or extend the probation period for an additional three months.

Q. How does LAO measure the success of these standards?

LAO monitors lawyer feedback on training programs, tracks remedial support activities and reviews summary reports of performance feedback from LAO director generals and supervisory duty counsel.

Please contact your director general or supervisory duty counsel with any additional questions.

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Extremely Serious Criminal Matters (ESM)

Q. What are the ESM panel standards?

The standards set out requirements for admission to, and continued standing on, the Extremely Serious Criminal Matters (ESM) panel. The standards outline the minimum related experience for ESM panel membership.

Q. How are Extremely Serious Criminal Matters defined?

Extremely Serious Criminal Matters are defined as youth or adult trials, appeals or extraditions of:

  • all murder charges;
  • all dangerous offender applications;
  • all charges with a mandatory minimum penitentiary sentence of four years or more; and
  • charges contained in Criminal Code sections 83.2 to 83.22 related to terrorism.

Q. What are the minimum experience requirements?

To be admitted to the ESM panel, a lawyer shall have a minimum of five years of 100 per cent criminal practice concentration or the equivalent, and have acquired specific experience set out in the standards within the last five years. The director general shall have the discretion to empanel a lawyer who may not fully meet the standards if the director general deems the panel member to have the necessary skills and experience.

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Q. What are the Consent and Capacity panel standards?

Panel standards set out requirements for admission to, and continued standing on, the consent and capacity certificate panel. The standards include minimum experience, educational requirements, and a requirement that panel members abide by the practice expectations set out in Legal Aid Ontario's (LAO) Expectations for Consent and Capacity Panel Members.

Q. What are the mandatory professional development criteria?

Applicants to the Consent and Capacity Board (CCB) panel are required to attend or view Continuing Legal Education (CLE) in the basics of advocacy before the Consent and Capacity Board, before being admitted to the panel, and will participate in CLE thereafter as required by Legal Aid Ontario. Contact your director general regarding the CLE requirement.

Education beyond the prerequisite for panel membership will be required only when there are significant changes in the legislation or case law. For the specific criteria, please refer to the panel standards document.

Q. What are the minimum experience standards?

To maintain membership on the Consent and Capacity panel, a panel member shall have accepted a minimum of three retainers for CCB cases in the previous two years and shall maintain a caseload of at least three such retainers every two years. The director general has discretion to exempt a panel member from this requirement if local conditions make it impracticable or if the director general is satisfied that the panel member has the necessary knowledge and skill.

Q. How do the standards apply to a new lawyer wishing to do consent and capacity certificate work for LAO?

New lawyers who wish to do consent and capacity law certificate work must attend or view the mandatory consent and capacity training prior to being admitted to the panel. They must also observe at least one CCB hearing prior to appearing before the CCB for a LAO client. The director general has the discretion to exempt a panel member from the hearing observation requirement if local conditions make this impracticable. In addition to submitting their consent and capacity panel application and agreement, new lawyers are also required to sign an agreement stating they will meet the minimum experience standards within two years.

Q. What education and training support is LAO providing to lawyers?

  • Contact your director general for information regarding CLE options for the Consent and Capacity panel.
  • LAO's online research facility, LAO LAW also provides comprehensive research support.

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Gladue

Q. What are the Gladue panel standards?

Gladue panel standards, approved by Legal Aid Ontario's (LAO) Board of Directors, set out requirements for admission to and continued standing on the Gladue panel. The standards require knowledge of the application of Gladue principles, awareness of resources for Aboriginal clients, and compliance with best practices for the representation of an Aboriginal client in a criminal proceeding.

Q. How are Gladue matters defined?

Gladue matters are defined as any criminal matters where the client self-identifies as Aboriginal.

Q. Why has Legal Aid Ontario introduced Gladue standards?

There is a statutory requirement under the Legal Aid Services Act, for LAO to ensure quality legal services by developing standards.

During the consultation that led to the development of LAO Aboriginal Justice Strategy (AJS), LAO learned that some lawyers providing legal service to Aboriginal clients lacked awareness of Aboriginal specific legal issues. To address this issue, LAO developed the Gladue panel standards. This standard complements other parts of the AJS action plan, which is intended to improve the quality of service received by LAOs Aboriginal clients.

Q. Who did LAO consult with during the development of the standards?

LAO developed the Gladue panel standards in consultation with Aboriginal legal practitioners, members of LAO criminal panel and representatives of the Criminal Lawyers' Association.

Q. How will clients know their lawyer has met the standards?

Only lawyers who have met the standards will be placed on the Gladue panel and district office lists. A lawyer must be on the Gladue panel to be able to acknowledge Gladue certificates. This will be clearly stated on the certificate.

Q. The standard requires that I view the continuing legal education video, Gladue at Practice CLE. Where can I find this video?

The video is available on LAOs website.

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