Legal Aid Ontario in 2010: A year in review
Posted on: Monday, June 6, 2011
It was a busy year for Ontario’s legal aid organization. From the rapid growth of a full-service call centre, to the launch of one-stop family law service centres, 2010 was full of successes, changes and challenges at Legal Aid Ontario (LAO).
In January, LAO began a significant restructuring process; moving clients services from area offices to more convenient courthouse locations, as well as offering a broader range of services through the toll-free number.
Spring brought more changes, as March saw the announcement of the block fees pilot program for private bar lawyers who do legal aid work. An initiative that pays lawyers for the successful resolution of some of the most common criminal charges, the block fees pilot was fine-tuned throughout the year, as LAO listened to, and implemented feedback from lawyers. As well, the toll-free service continued to receive record call volumes—over 12,000 calls in March alone—throughout the spring.
Two other initiatives kicked off during the summer months. By forming a ground-breaking partnership with the Ministry of Community and Social Services, Legal Aid Ontario can now verify clients’ social assistance status in just a few minutes. This partnership assists about 60,000 legal aid applicants a year by verifying their status quickly—a process that used to several weeks. This partnership, which supports the province’s Justice on Target initiative, won two awards for its innovative approach to helping Ontario’s most vulnerable citizens.
In addition, three toll-free Francophone summary advice lines, offering help with clinic law matters, launched during the summer. Operated through a partnership of three legal clinics/community centres—Sudbury Community Legal Services, Vanier Community Services and the Centre de Francophone Toronto — this service brought poverty law assistance to hundreds of Francophone clients living in under-serviced or un-serviced parts of the province.
In September, Legal Aid Ontario celebrated the grand opening of several Family Law Service Centres in the GTA. A one-stop resource for clients with family law matters, the centres offer a broad range of services from mediation to summary legal advice to full representation for clients who qualify for certificates. Building on LAO’s commitment to family law services, new family mediation services were also launched in Milton in December.
Throughout the year, the toll-free service continued to expand its services — adding criminal summary legal advice, and most recently, a call-back feature for clients who don’t want to wait to speak with a representative. As well, LAO reduced wait times for the toll-free service from five minutes to 73 seconds (to speak with the initial client service representative.)
Legal Aid Ontario finished up the 2009/2010 fiscal year in a stronger position than anticipated — after experiencing a 91 per cent reduction in Law Foundation of Ontario funding, it’s expected that the deficit of $29.4 million will be reduced to $6.9 million by the end of this fiscal year.
Legal Aid Ontario begins the new fiscal year with building on the successes and lessons from 2010. For more information about our recent initiatives, please see our newsroom.
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