Legal aid panels: Refugee law panel standards

Questions and answers about panel standards

Questions & answers for panel lawyers

Q. What kinds of supporting documents does LAO need from me to consider my application?

The refugee and immigration standards application form specifies a list of required supporting documents. LAO is asking applicants for the general standards to submit supporting documents for the first two Refugee Protection Division (RPD) cases billed to LAO in the previous calendar year. This includes: copies of two BOCs, the indices of evidence submitted by Counsel for the claimant, written submissions (if applicable), the notice of decision and the written reasons for decision (if any).

Applicants who did not bill two RPD cases in the previous calendar year will be asked to submit supporting documentation from a combination of RPD cases (if any have been submitted), Humanitarian and Compassionate Applications, Danger Opinions, and Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA) applications completed and billed to LAO in the previous calendar year.

For the appellant standards, LAO is asking applicants to submit supporting documents from the first two judicial reviews or appeals billed to LAO in the previous calendar year.

Applicants will also be asked to provide the contact details for two references.

For more details, please review the standards form.

Q. Why is LAO requesting specific supporting documents for the application? Why can’t I just send LAO documents of my choosing?

If applicants send documents of their own choosing, some may select their best prepared cases. While these documents may reflect the applicant’s ability, they may not be representative of the work typically prepared by the applicant.

LAO is proposing that applicants include documentation from the previous calendar year. It is more likely that a decision will have been rendered on these cases than on cases completed later in the year. If written reasons have been provided along with the decision, these reasons may shed additional light on the quality of representation.

Q. LAO has all my Basis of Claim (BOC) documents. Do I need to re-submit these BOCs as supporting documents?

Applicants applying to meet the general standards are asked to submit a BOC along with the other supporting documents. This will help ensure the accuracy and completeness of the application with any accompanying materials that go with the BOC (eg. decision, written submissions). If the applicant prefers LAO access the requisite BOC from LAO’s internal records, applicants must provide the client name and certificate number. Applicants must still submit the decision for that particular case, written submissions (if any were made), and the indices of any evidence submitted by Counsel for the claimant.

Q. How long will it take to process my application?

LAO is committed to reviewing completed applications as soon as possible, aiming for a six-week turn around. Applicants will be kept informed regarding any processing delays.

Q. Who will be reviewing my application? What’s the process?

LAO consulted with the Refugee Lawyers Association and others on the process. The Implementation Guidelines explain who will be reviewing the applications.

Q. Who should I contact if I have questions regarding my application?

Please email questions to

Q. Is the intent of the new standards to cut down the number of lawyers from smaller service centres who do little refugee work?

No. The standards, developed following consultation with the private bar, expressly recognize that lawyers in smaller service centres may not meet the standard’s numerical experience thresholds. These lawyers may nevertheless be highly competent. Those who do not meet the numerical criteria should explain why in their application. The numerical criteria are not determinative of an application. The numerical criteria are only one aspect of the application LAO will assess. See The intent is to ensure Legal Aid Ontario panel lawyers provide high-quality representation whether you do little or a substantial volume of refugee and immigration work.

Q. I was recently called to the bar and would like to practice legal aid funded refugee law. Will I qualify for the panel? I have little experience.

LAO wishes to continue to attract new calls that have both the ability and the commitment to do quality work for vulnerable immigration and refugee clients. LAO is also committed to providing supports for new calls. To this end, new calls will be conditionally empanelled with supports when appropriate.

Recognizing that the experience and knowledge of new calls wishing to work in refugee law may vary considerably among candidates, conditions will be attached on a case-by-case basis and may include:

  • Working under the supervision of a mentor approved by LAO
  • Engaging in second chair opportunities through LAO’s second chair programme
  • Observing three or more RPD proceedings
  • Completing approved refugee law or LAO related training programmes
  • Successfully completing an examination or test mandated by LAO
  • Attending meetings with LAO staff as required by LAO
  • Any other reasonable conditions deemed appropriate by LAO.

LAO will develop with the lawyer conditions that are appropriate to the applicant’s circumstances, including the applicant’s prior experience in refugee law. The conditions will be removed once fulfilled and LAO has confidence in the lawyers ability to deliver high quality service.

Q. Once removed, is the lawyer barred from the panel for life or can the lawyer reapply to get on the panel?

Lawyers removed for cause from the panel are not barred for life. Pursuant to the Legal Aid Services Act, lawyers removed for cause may apply to have their name restored to the panel. Decisions on applications for restoration are made by the president who may conduct such enquiries as are necessary to determine the restoration application. Depending on the circumstances, lawyers may apply for re-empanelment six months to a year following removal.

Q. Will LAO be publishing names of individuals removed from the panel?

LAO has posted on its website a referral list with the names of lawyers on its panel authorized to provide legal aid funded refugee and immigration services. LAO is assessing whether or not the names of those permanently removed from the panel should be posted on its website. Persons removed from the panel are removed from LAO’s referral list.

Q. Why is LAO evaluating all legal aid funded immigration and refugee lawyers, instead of relying upon a complaints-driven process to address quality concerns?

LAO will review service quality complaints as part of its assessment of whether a lawyer meets the general or appellate standards. However, LAO cannot rely exclusively on complaints because many vulnerable clients are fearful of coming forward to express concerns. In addition, the damage to clients is already evident once a complaint is filed. And additional costs to LAO result from poor quality representation.

LAO’s intent is to ensure high quality at the front end so that as few complaints as possible are received, the best interests of clients are safeguarded and costs associated with poor representation reduced. For these reasons, LAO has chosen to evaluate quality by assessing complaints and examining applicants’ work for quality.

Questions & answers for stakeholders

Effects on clients

Q. What happens to clients when the lawyer who started their case is no longer on the panel? Is the client informed of the removal? Will it detrimentally affect their case?

Clients will be informed that a lawyer is no longer on LAO’s panel. LAO will assist clients with finding a new lawyer. If a client requests that LAO allow his/her lawyer to complete the case, LAO’s Director General will consider this request; LAO will decide whether under the circumstances this is in the client’s best interest. Every effort will be made to ensure minimal impact on a client’s case.

Q. My lawyer has informed me that she or he can no longer represent me as she or he is not on the approved legal aid panel. I am waiting for my hearing. What should I do?

If your lawyer is no longer on the approved panel, is not able to represent you, and you have not yet heard from LAO, please contact LAO immediately by calling our toll-free number at 1-800-668-8258. LAO will help you find a lawyer.

Q. How will I know if a lawyer is on the panel or not? Will the list of approved lawyers be made available?

LAO has posted on its website a referral list with the names of lawyers on its panel authorized to provide legal aid funded refugee and immigration services. LAO is assessing whether or not the names of those permanently removed from the panel should be posted on its website. Persons removed from the panel are removed from LAO’s referral list.

Q. We want to ensure our clients and our community are well-represented by lawyers experienced in practicing immigration and refugee law. What will these strengthened panel standards mean for our clients?

The strengthened panel standards will help ensure LAO clients are provided with high quality service. The standards clarify expectations regarding the quality of the work a lawyer is to provide.

Clients and the community have an important role to play in ensuring high quality service and the interests of vulnerable persons are protected. Clients and others who believe the service provided by a lawyer is not meeting LAO’s quality standards should bring this to the attention of LAO. You can contact LAO to raise quality of service concerns in a number of ways:

Clinic and agency concerns

Q. Why does it take LAO so long to address quality concerns? Our agency has approached LAO in the past with concerns and they haven’t been addressed.

The strengthened panel standards will enable LAO to address quality concerns more effectively. The standards contain details and best practice guidelines which make it clear what LAO expects of panel members. This will enable better quality monitoring and compliance assessments.

LAO is also investing additional resources in panel management and removals where necessary. Removing lawyers from the panel must follow due process and meet evidentiary and documentary requirements as outlined in the Legal Aid Services Act. The lawyer is afforded an opportunity to request a hearing. Removals take time.

Q. We are about to hire refugee lawyers. We want to ensure that we hire lawyers that will meet the new standards. We need to hire now, yet the renewal process for the panel is still to come. What can be done to minimize the likelihood and consequences of the hiring of lawyers subsequently found not to meet LAO’s panel standards?

A rigorous hiring selection process, informed by LAO’s new panel standards as set out in LAO’s Best Practices Guide will reduce the likelihood that your organization will hire a candidate who subsequently fails to meet LAO’s panel standards. LAO, however, is not in a position to provide legal advice to employers regarding employment matters.

If you have concerns about the panel status of potential new hires, you may want to seek legal advice about making LAO panel membership a term of employment. Where LAO is informed that hiring decisions are at issue, LAO will do its best to expedite the assessment of panel standards applicants.