LAO complaints policy

Policy of guidelines and procedures for receiving and processing complaints about LAO staff and services

Last updated: March 2017

1. Purpose

Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) created its complaints policy to:

2. What is a complaint?

Legal Aid is responsible for ensuring that a professional and conscientious approach is taken to managing a client's file; that the file is managed on a timely basis; that good quality legal services are provided; and that staff follow the procedures that are established for representation of the client. A complaint is an expression of dissatisfaction with a service provided by or with the policies of LAO.

The Complaints department accepts complaints by telephone, by fax, by email and also through the Ethics Hotline. Complaints will also be accepted in person if an appointment is made in advance. LAO accepts anonymous complaints as well.

3. The Importance of Complaints to LAO

LAO considers complaints to be opportunities to evaluate how we are doing. They allow us to identify weak points in our policies and procedures so that they can be corrected. Complaints allow staff at LAO to see our organization through the eyes of the people who use or are affected by our services.

4. Who can file or make a complaint?

Any person can make a complaint, including current and former clients, lawyers, someone who has been refused a service or any other person who may be affected by the services LAO provides, including services from a community legal clinic, a Student Legal Aid Services Society or an Aboriginal legal services corporation.

LAO will consider all complaints. However, there are some complaints that LAO does not have the authority to handle alone. Although there is no complete list, examples include Human Rights issues and some employment concerns, which are handled by Human Resources (HR). Complainants (individuals who make a complaint to LAO) will be advised if their concerns do not fall under LAO's Complaints Department jurisdiction.

Complaints from the Provincial Ombudsman should be directed to the Complaints Department.

Legal aid applicants must go through the appeals process, if a right to appeal exists, before they can make a complaint. This means LAO will not accept complaints about the refusal of legal aid assistance, contribution agreements, or other matters where the Legal Aid Services Act says applicants have the right to appeal, unless applicants complete the appeals process.

5. Responsibilities of the Complaints Department

6. Responsibilities of the Complainant

7. Types of complaints

7.1 Eligibility Complaints

These complaints are most frequently initiated by either the opposing party in an ongoing civil litigation or Family Law matters, various members of the public, or lawyers (whether retained by the client in question or the opposing party). Complaints are also received with respect to Criminal and Refugee Law matters.

When these complaints are acknowledged, the complainant is advised that further status cannot be provided due to client confidentiality restrictions.

LAO staff cannot confirm or deny if the subject of the complaint is a Legal Aid recipient.

Resolution process:

If the Complaints Department receives the information pertaining to an individual's eligibility for legal aid, the information is sent to the local District Office. This may occur even if the individual complained about is not in receipt of legal aid assistance, for the purposes of any future application by this person.

If the person in question is in receipt of legal aid, the District Office will review the complaint information and may conduct a reassessment of the client. In some instances the client eligibility matter may be immediately referred to the Investigation Department. The District Office will review the client file and may request the assistance of the Investigations Department in the event that any additional information regarding the client's financial situation is required (ex. corporate searches, credit checks, etc.).

For confidentiality reasons, LAO cannot report the results of the investigation to the person making the complaint

7.2 Lawyer Billing Complaint

These complaints can originate from either the lawyer's client, a contributor on behalf of the client, a subsequent lawyer acting on behalf of the client or a judgment debtor.

In most cases, the client in question is subject to a contribution agreement (or lien) with LAO.

Resolution process:

The Complaints Department's role in these matters is that of a facilitator for the Lawyer Services and Payments (LSP) Department. The Complaints Department will ensure that the client is in receipt of the lawyer's detailed accounts for the certificate(s) in dispute. The client is then instructed to review the accounts and provide their objections in writing, as well as their signed waiver and consent to release to the Complaints Department the objection letter to the lawyer in question.

The Complaints Department will then provide a copy of the client's complaint to the lawyer for his response. Once the lawyer's reply is received, the documents are referred to the LSP Department. A staff lawyer in the LSP Department will conduct the review of the account(s) and provide the client with the outcome in writing. In some instances, where serious billing irregularities is identified, LSP will refer the matter to the Investigations Department.

7.3 Lawyer Service Complaints

These complaints can come from the client, the opposing party, a third party or member of the public or another lawyer.

If the client wishes to change lawyers, such a request can be made to the Client and Lawyer Services department.

Resolution process:

The Complaints Department directs complaint information to the District Office as a Stage I complaint for resolution.

7.4 Lawyer Conduct Complaints

These complaints can originate from the client, the opposing party, a third party or member of the public or another lawyer.

Resolution process:

Complaints about conduct by lawyers which constitute a breach of our Regulations are referred to the Investigations Department for resolution.

Complainants for these matters are also advised that they can contact the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC), which sets and enforces educational, ethical and professional conduct standards for lawyers and paralegals in Ontario.

7.5 Contribution Agreements/Liens

The complainant in this case is usually the client, a contributor on behalf of a client, a joint owner in property, an opposing party or a judgment debtor.

The issue can be a concern regarding payment, account(s) billed by their lawyer, a dispute over the balance owing, or a dispute regarding the presence of a lien.

Resolution process:

Concerns regarding payment - the Client Account Services (CAS) Department in collaboration with the District Office who will confirm the payments received by the client, as well as the outstanding balance remaining on the contribution agreement.

Dispute over the balance owing on a contribution agreement - the CAS Department will provide the client with a breakdown of the outstanding balance.

Dispute regarding the presence of a lien - the CAS Department will address the concerns presented by the complainant.

7.6 LAO Policy Complaints

Any individual could have concerns regarding the policies of LAO. Such complaints have come from clients, lawyers, members of the public, social groups for example.

These complaints include coverage policies implemented by the LAO, the Tariff and Billing Handbook maintained by the Lawyer Services and Payments Department, the services regulations for Duty Counsel (DC) or LAO office hours for example.

Resolution process:

As these complaints usually arise after the exhaustion of all the avenues of recourse available to the complainant, the complainant is usually referred to the Complaints Department.

Since the Complaints Department does not have the authority to amend the policies of LAO to accommodate the concerns of a complainant, the Complaints Department will review the complainant's concerns and report them to the Management of LAO for their consideration.

7.7 Complaints about LAO staff including staff lawyers

Any individual could have concerns regarding the LAO staff. Such complaints have come from clients, lawyers, members of the public, social groups, etc.

Resolution process:

The Complaint department directs complaint information to the local District Office or Provincial Officer Manager as a Stage I complaint for resolution.

7.8 Complaints about Duty Counsel (either staff or per diem)

Any individual could have concerns regarding the services provided by Duty Counsel. Such complaints have come from clients, lawyers, members of the public, social groups for example.

Resolution process:

The Complaint department directs complaint information to the local District Office as a Stage I complaint for resolution.

7.9 Clinic complaints

Complaints regarding clinics, Student Legal Aid Societies (SLASS) or Aboriginal Legal Services corporations (ALSC) are usually initiated by Clinic clients, their agents or members of the public.

Before a Clinic complaint can be reviewed by the Complaints Department, the complainant must present their concerns to the Clinic or ALSC's Board of Directors or the Dean of the SLASS law school, and obtain the Board's or Dean's decision in the matter of their complaint.

The complainant should be advised of the Clinic complaint process and directed to the Clinic, SLASS or ALSC in question to pursue its complaints process.

Resolution process:

Once the complaint has been reviewed by the Clinic or ALSC's Board of Directors or the SLASS Dean, and the complainant has received the Board's or Dean's written decision regarding their complaint, the complainant may request a review by the Complaints Department if they are not satisfied with the outcome by the Board of Directors or Dean.

Once the Complaints Department has completed their review of the complaint, a written decision is provided to the complainant.

7.10 French Language Service Complaints

These issues originate from clients, agents, lawyers or other members of the public who are concerned with the French language services provided by the various offices of LAO.

Resolution process:

These complaints are referred to the Coordinator, French Language Services as a Stage&nbdp;I complaint for resolution.

7.11 Money Paid in Addition to LAO contribution

This is a matter where the client or contributor on behalf of the client pays monies to the lawyer in addition to the acknowledged legal aid certificate after the effective date of the Certificate.

The complainant is usually the client or third party on behalf of the client.

As this constitutes a breach of Section 95 of the Legal Aid Services Act, (LASA) 1998, these complaints must be referred to the Investigations Department.

Resolution process:

The Investigations Department will require some documentation from the complainant to attest to the payment of the funds, such as a receipt or copy of a deposited cheque. In addition, the complainant will be notified in writing and provided with the Client Consent and Waiver (CCW) which must be signed by the client and returned to the Investigations Department. With the CCW and other relevant information, the Investigations Department will determine whether a breach of LASA has occurred and will take the necessary steps to address the matter.

7.12 Eligibility for legal aid assistance or application status

These are not considered to be complaints.

Inquiries such as these should be directed to the Client and Lawyer Service Centre or to the District Office.

7.13 Inquiries by lawyers regarding the status or payment of accounts

These are not considered to be complaints.

Inquiries such as these should be directed to the Client and Lawyer Service Centre.

7.14 Complaints pertaining to Vice Presidents

Complaints about Vice Presidents are referred directly to President. Decisions by the President are final and are not subject to appeal.

8. Release of information

LAO does not provide information about legal aid applicants or their applications if a complaint is made. There is also information that LAO cannot provide because of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA). In all other cases, the following information will be disclosed to a complainant upon request:

9. The Complaint Process

There are three stages to the complaint process at LAO.

Stage I

LAO will first try to resolve the complaint at the local level. This means that District Offices, Provincial Departments, Community Legal Clinics, Student Legal Aid Services Societies (SLASS) and Aboriginal Legal Services corporations (ALSC) are responsible for trying to resolve the complaint, and for keeping records of all complaints and their outcomes. At this stage, complainants who contact the Complaints Department will be referred back to the District Office, Provincial Department, Clinic, SLASS or ALSC for resolution.

Concerns regarding the eligibility of legal aid clients are Stage I complaints and are the responsibility of the District Office.

The complainant will be sent an acknowledgement letter no more than five days after LAO receives the complaint. If the matter has not been resolved within thirty days, the complainant will receive a letter with an update. A status update letter is sent every thirty days until the matter is resolved.

The complaints resolution process in the District Office or Provincial Department should be completed within two weeks. In difficult cases, the process may be extended to thirty days. If additional time is needed, for example because a third party has been contacted and a reply has not been received, LAO will send the complainant a status letter after thirty days.

Community Legal Clinics and Aboriginal Legal Services Corporations

All Clinics and ALSC must have a Stage I Complaints Policy, which means they must try to resolve complaints from clients and the public.

Generally, Complaint Policies set out the following:

Clinic complainants must first file their complaints with the Clinic or ALSC and follow that entity's Complaint Policy before starting LAO's complaint process.

Once the complaint has been investigated, the Clinic or ALSC Board will send the complainant a letter with the outcome of the investigation and any resolution. This letter should also advise the complainant of the right to request a review of the decision by the Complaints Department.

Student Legal Aid Services Societies (SLASS)

Every SLASS must have a Stage I Complaints Policy. Like the Clinics' Policy, this means the SLASS must try to resolve complaints first. SLASS complainants should first file their complaints with the SLASS, and follow the SLASS' complaints policy before starting LAO's complaint process.

Once the complaint has been investigated, the complainant will receive a letter from the Dean of the law school where the SLASS is located, with the outcome of the investigation and any resolution. This letter should also advise the complainant of the right to request a review of the decision by the Complaints Department.

Stage II

A complainant has the right to contact the Complaints Department in LAO's Provincial Office for a review of the resolution when:

The Complaints Department will send the complainant a letter no more than five days after LAO receives the complaint. If the matter has not been resolved within thirty days, the complainant will receive a letter with an update.

The Complaints Manager reviews how the Director General, Provincial Office manager, Clinic, SLASS or ALSC handled the complaint, and collects additional information from the complainant and the local office, if necessary.

The Complaints Manager confirms if the issues in the original complaint have been addressed and that the complainant has been provided with a written response. In the case of Clinic, SLASS or ALSC complaints, the Complaints Department also confirms that the Clinic's Complaint Policy has been followed.

If more details are required, the Complaints Manager will send out a request for information with a deadline of 15 days. If necessary, a second request for information is sent, with a deadline of 7 days. If no response is received at the end of the second deadline, the Vice President in charge of the Region will be notified.

Possible outcomes to a Stage II Complaint:

  1. LAO could determine that the District Office, Provincial Department, Clinic, SLASS or ALSC has properly addressed the issue(s) leading to the complaint, and decide that nothing more needs to be done.

  2. LAO could decide that the complaint does not fall within LAO's jurisdiction and refer the complainant to another office or authority.

  3. LAO could determine that the District Office, Provincial Department, Clinic, SLASS or ALSC had not properly addressed the issue(s) leading to the complaint, and require that certain action be taken to resolve the situation.

Once the review by the Complaints Manager is completed, LAO will provide the complainant with a written decision. The complainant is also advised of the right to have the decision of the Complaints Manager reviewed by LAO's General Counsel Office (GCO).

Note:
The Complaints Department will refer a matter directly to the responsible Vice President when:

Stage III

If the complainant is unhappy with the resolution of the Complaints Department, General Counsel Office can review the complaint. General Counsel Office reviews the first and second stage resolutions and collects additional information, if necessary.

General Counsel will send the complainant an acknowledgement letter no more than five days after the complaint is received by General Counsel's Office. If the matter has not been resolved within thirty days, the complainant will receive a letter with an update. A status update letter is sent every thirty days until the matter is resolved.

A written resolution is provided to the complainant when General Counsel completes the review. The decision of General Counsel is final. There is no appeal or further review.

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