Clinic funding Q & As

Posted on: Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What is LAO’s involvement with community legal clinics?

LAO funds community legal clinics across the province, including specialty clinics. Community legal clinics are independent, non-profit organizations that are governed by local Boards of Directors, and receive funding from Legal Aid Ontario.

Community legal clinics provide services to address the unique legal needs of low-income people and communities. The local board tries to match its services to meet the priority needs of the area it serves.

Lawyers and legal workers provide information, legal advice, and represent people. In addition, clinics also can engage in test cases, public legal education, community organizing, and other law reform initiatives.

Most community legal clinics serve specific geographic areas.

Specialty clinics deal with either a specific area of law (ie. workers compensation, workers' health and safety, etc.) or represent specific individuals (ie. seniors, disabled, urban Aboriginals).

Some clinics also provide expertise in specialized areas of law relevant to clients who are not only poor, but also marginalized for other reasons. For example, communities with a large population of Aboriginal clients need their clinics to develop expertise in dealing with appeals concerning status under the Indian Act and workers' compensation as they affect Aboriginals.

Specialty clinics also serve clients who reside in all areas of the province, unlike general service clinics that serve a local geographic area. These clinics also serve as resources to other clinics, to private bar lawyers, MPPs and community agencies.

Is LAO committed to continuing this involvement?

LAO is committed to improving client service by continuing to build a strong, effective and efficient legal aid system.

One of the backbones of legal aid service delivery in Ontario is the network of legal clinics throughout the province. The people of Ontario have continually placed a great deal of importance on effective programs to address poverty law issues.

Ontarians, through the provincial government and Legal Aid Ontario, allocate about $65 million annually to clinics. Indeed, as a result of the provincial government’s 2007 budget, there was a new commitment of $51 million over three years to legal aid services and of that, $10.6 million has been directed to clinic law services.

What do the terms “Poverty Law” and “Clinic Law” mean?

These terms refer to the services provided by community legal clinics. Clinic law is the term used under the Legal Aid Services Act, but it essentially means the same thing as “poverty law.” These terms are interchangeable.

What is the clinic discussion paper and why did it come about?

The provincial government has important administrative safeguards to ensure that the transfer of public funds to bodies such as clinics is managed to the highest standards of accountability for client effectiveness and value for the public's tax dollar.

In 2008, LAO embarked on a consultation initiative to strengthen clinic services by examining the relationship between LAO and clinics. The document was entitled, "Discussion Paper on the Roles, Responsibilities, Relationships and Accountability Regarding Clinic Law Services." It can be found at 0807_clinic_relationship_consultation_paper.pdf

Its goal was and continues to be to discuss ideas to modernize and professionalize the LAO/clinic relationship by clarifying roles and responsibilities, creating clear accountabilities, further empowering clinics to manage their day-to-day operations, and ensuring optimal effectiveness of clinic law expenditure.

This paper raised a number of issues and discussed many ideas having to do with clinic funding criteria, performance measurement, needs assessment, funding models, the role and funding of the Association of Community Legal Clinics of Ontario (ACLCO), the provision of services to clinics by LAO, and consultation practices.

There was an extensive, province-wide consultation on the paper.

Who was involved in the consultations?

People from across the province participated in these consultations, including clinic staff and board members, and LAO staff. Community partners were interviewed by telephone.

In addition, the ACLCO organized its own consultations which culminated in a paper being submitted to LAO touching on all of the issues raised in the consultations. Some clinics also provided their own written submissions, in addition to making their voices heard at the in-person consultations.

What is happening as a result of the consultations?

Upon considering the consultation feedback, and in light of LAO`s accountability requirements under the Legal Aid Services Act and other government policies and regulations, LAO is announcing action this year on three priority areas: 1) the application of funding criteria, 2) piloting envelope funding, and 3) funding of the ACLCO by clinics.

What are the clinic funding criteria?

The requirement that funding be issued to clinics based on articulated criteria is an essential step in firming up accountability of clinics to LAO, and of LAO to its funder.

How will this help?

The implementation of clear criteria will help clinics to demonstrate their successes and identify areas requiring improvement, and make expectations clearer to assist clinics to make their case for the funding they need in order to best serve clients.

When will the changes to funding criteria happen?

This change will take effect for the 2010-11 fiscal year. This will give LAO Regional Vice Presidents the opportunity to work with the clinics in their regions to ensure there is a high degree of comfort and understanding of the criteria and how they need to be used in the funding application process.

Why does LAO believe this is necessary?

LAO sees the application of funding criteria as an essential step in modernizing clinic law services and continuing to build strong clinics that are responsive to client need and soundly managed.

What are the benefits of envelope funding?

Envelope funding will eliminate restrictions on moving funding between salary and operating expense items, and will provide clinics with increased flexibility to address many of their day-to-day administrative issues on their own without reference to LAO. It will also provide financial incentives that will better enable clinics to innovate and manage their affairs independently.

Why is it being proposed?

During the consultation process and in many other discussions, a number of clinics expressed the desire to have more flexibility in how they spend their allocation from LAO to address client needs in their communities. Some also expressed the view that they had demonstrated they were capable enough managers of human and financial resources to move beyond the current LAO/clinic funding and management model. Many believe the existing model involves LAO in too many day-to-day administrative issues best left to those on the front lines of clinic law services. LAO is pleased to respond to this suggestion.

How will these be implemented?

Pilot projects will be developed on a voluntary basis with clinics which demonstrate they are particularly well-positioned to take on this increased management responsibility.

When will envelope funding start?

In order to promote innovation and empower clinics, LAO will offer envelope funding to a select number of clinics in the 2009-10 fiscal year on a pilot basis.

What is the ACLCO?

The Association of Community Legal Clinics of Ontario is an association formed by clinics.

Why will LAO cease funding the ACLCO?

Many participants in the consultation process stated that the ACLCO serves clinics and is accountable to them, and not to LAO. The current method of funding the ACLCO, however, does not mirror this accountability. At present, the ACLCO is funded to an overwhelming degree directly by LAO, with only a small portion coming from clinics themselves.

Is this the normal way of doing things?

In most other fields, associations are funded by their members. Certainly, all other associations and lobby groups relating to LAO in the other areas of law in which LAO is involved are not dependent on LAO for their financing in any way whatsoever. This ensures that they can and can be seen to act independently in the course of their on-going discussions with LAO, whose job it is to oversee the legal aid system. This arms-length relationship between associations and the oversight agency to which they relate is a sign of a mature and independent sector. The clinic system needs to ensure it is on an equal footing with other access to justice-related associations in this regard.

When will this happen?

Beginning in fiscal year 2010-11, LAO will direct all the funding that it now gives to the ACLCO to individual clinics. At that point, clinics will have the complete and independent power to use this additional funding to support the ACLCO. This will ensure that the ACLCO will have no further dependency on LAO and will be completely owned and managed by its membership. It will further ensure that the ACLCO can continue to evolve as a strong public voice of clinic law, clinics, and the communities they serve. The 12 month interim period before this takes place will enable the ACLCO and its membership to address any resulting transition issues.

Will there be more initiatives coming?

These three initiatives are key steps following the release of the LAO/Clinic relationship paper and the consultations which took place last year. Other aspects of the paper will be the subject of on-going discussions with clinics and other key partners committed to ensuring the most effective service to clinic law clients in Ontario.


Clinic Funding Criteria 2009

Back to main article

Where can we get more information?

Randall Ellsworth
Vice President
North, Central and Eastern Regions

Legal Aid Ontario
Tel: 416-204-5406
Toll Free: 1-800-668-8258

Rob Buchanan
Vice President - GTA Region
Legal Aid Ontario
Tel: 416-204-7108
Toll Free: 1-800-668-8258

Janet Budgell
Vice President
Southwest Region

Legal Aid Ontario
Tel: 416-979-2352 ext. 7131
Toll free: 1-800-668-8258 ext. 7131

Heather Robertson
Vice President
Central Programming and Innovation

Legal Aid Ontario
Tel: 416-979-2352 ext.5450
Toll free: 1-800-668-8258 ext. 5450