LAO Newsroom

Responses to recent media enquiries

LAO Newsroom

LAO's expanded phone and web services

Monday, May 10, 2010

Legal Aid Ontario provided information to the Law Times in response to an enquiry about CSC services. What follows is LAO's responses to the questions from the Law Times for the article “LAO vows to fix ‘unacceptable’ hotline waits” that was published on May 10, 2010.

LAO Client Service Centre by the numbers:

• Calls answered: 10,223
• Average wait time: 2:15

• Calls answered: 12,711
• Average wait time: 3:38

Calls referred for tier two help:

February 2010:
• Calls transferred to tier two: 3050
• Wait time tier two: 10:15

• Calls transferred to tier two: 4,118
• Wait time tier two: 11:32

I've spoken to someone who deals with clients with mental health issues. He says many of them don't have phones and can't be expected to spend a long time on pay phones waiting for service and talking about their cases. Are they being left out?

LAO understands the unique vulnerability of mental health clients and has always placed a priority on their needs. Legal Aid Ontario’s new service delivery model – which provides a wider range of legal aid services over the phone, online and in courthouses – gives vulnerable clients priority assistance at any point of contact.

Individuals with mental health problems who are unable to access telephone services may access our services at any one of the 9 LAO district offices, in one of more than 40 in-court legal aid office locations across Ontario or through Legal Aid Ontario duty counsel.

Duty counsel can provide direct assistance and representation -- within a certain scope – to anyone with mental health issues who appear in criminal court without a lawyer. For assistance outside that scope, duty counsel can expedite a legal aid application, so there’s no need for the person to contact LAO on the phone.

LAO can expedite applications for accused persons with mental health issues, especially individuals who are incapable of making an application themselves. While this protocol for expediting applications has existed for some time, LAO’s increased presence in courthouses has made this process easier, as duty counsel can simply arrange for an expedited application right in the courthouse, ensuring that eligible individuals have counsel as soon as possible.

Persons who are subject to involuntary committal or community treatment orders under the Mental Health Act have access to Rights Advisors (provided by the MHLTC at the facility where they are admitted or receiving treatment) or a Patient Advocate (through the PPAO) who can assist with contacting LAO, getting legal aid help, and getting a lawyer.

Clients who qualify for a legal aid certificate can select a lawyer of their choice, or, in exceptional circumstances where the client wants counsel but does not know of one, LAO can help arrange for a lawyer with experience in assisting mental health clients to represent the accused. This service is specifically mandated under the Legal Aid service Act for such vulnerable clients.

Serving vulnerable clients continues to be a priority for LAO, regardless of how these clients to access our services.

What do you say to those who object to web and phone services because they believe they broaden LAO's client-base at the expense of its traditional users. They say funds will be diverted from direct representation.

The expansion of LAO’s new service model to include more phone and web based services is making it easier and faster for clients to get the help they need, when they need it. Making for information available through the internet doesn’t cost any more to develop if viewed by people other than our clients.

The LAO Client Service Centre and expanded telephone services are not intended to replace existing legal aid services and are not being funded at the expense of other services.

The new telephone based services:

  • make it easier for clients to get information about and apply for Legal Aid,
  • help clients to make informed decisions about their next steps, and
  • provide clients with information so they are better prepared when they speak with a lawyer or go to court.

These new services are enhancements to LAO’s existing services and are funded through the savings the organization has achieved from streamlining our administration. For the past several years, Legal Aid Ontario has been increasing the use of technology to help improve our processes and reduce our administrative costs, including:

  • Simplifying client legal aid application process

    We've made it easier and faster for clients to apply for a legal aid certificate. LAO has introduced a simplified application process for clients. This process reduces the time required to complete an application by 62 per cent and frees up resources that can be reinvested in direct client services. Sixty four per cent of clients receive a same day decision on their legal aid application, which allows them to begin moving forward with their legal matters.

  • Increasing access to legal aid services

    Clients can access a full-range of legal aid services over the phone, including applying for certificates. The toll-free number is 1-800-668-8258 press 0, and there are no coins required, even from a payphone.

    Legal Aid Ontario is offering more services and assistance toll-free over the phone than was available at area offices, including summary family law and criminal advice. Accessible by phone the toll-free service is available in 120 languages, including 18 aboriginal languages and dialects, through simultaneous interpreting services. Callers are connected to a client service centre staffed with more than 60 LAO employees networked from office locations across the province.

    The toll-free service eliminates the challenges posed by language fluency and transportation issues, a major problem in rural areas. This also cuts down on the number of missed appointments, which allows clients to get the services they need and to proceed with their legal matters more quickly.

    Our clients have been asking us for the convenience of getting legal aid information and applying for services from the comfort of home or familiar locations, and there has been an overwhelming response to this service. In March, nearly 13,000 people contacted us toll-free for legal aid assistance.

  • Increased online information and resources for clients

    We have redesigned and re-launched our website (, introducing changes to make the site more user-friendly. The revised site provides access to information about legal aid services, and other online resources and information. Since launching the site in late November, the site has had more than 250,500 visitors, and a million page views.

  • Reducing leasing costs by $900,000 annually

    In July 2008, LAO relocated the provincial office to the Atrium on Bay.

    By adopting an open office concept for all staff, CEO included, we were able to reduce our footprint by 23% or about 20,000 square feet.

  • More payment methods for clients

    Legal Aid Ontario clients with contribution agreements no longer need to visit a legal aid office to make payments. Instead, payments can now be made at any bank location in Ontario. Clients do not need to have a bank account, and there is no fee for making a payment. This alternative also saves a trip to a legal aid office.

  • Improvements for legal aid lawyers

    LAO has introduced online tools that expedite the certificate acknowledgment process (which confirms a clients' status and authorizes lawyers doing work on behalf of legal aid clients to begin working on a case). This process is all done online, so that lawyers no longer have to contact or request confirmation from a legal aid office.

    These are some of the ways LAO is streamlining administration, reducing cost, and reinvesting savings into direct client services like the client service centre.

I have heard stories of long waiting times (up to two hours) and inappropriate referrals from the hotline.

Due to the popularity of the toll-free number and to ensure shorter wait times additional staff have been allocated to meet the growing demand. LAO’s toll-free service now connects callers to more that 60 LAO employees networked from office locations across the province.

LAO has also restructured its call system into two tiers. This new two-tiered system helps to reduce wait times and connect clients with the right service at the right time.

Tier 1 representatives’ triage calls and provide general referrals to duty counsel, community legal clinics or other agencies as needed and escalate calls, when appropriate, to Tier 2.

Tier 2 representatives’ provide more specialized services, including application processing. Eligible clients may also receive up to 20 minutes of summary legal advice, from a lawyer, for family and criminal law matters.

Ensuring clients receive accurate and appropriate information is a priority for LAO. We make every effort to ensure clients receive correct and timely referrals and we are continuously updating our referral information.

One lawyer said it is because advisors can't go into depth with a client over the phone to make sure they really understand their case. How do you respond to that?

The LAO Client Service Centre and expanded telephone services, including summary legal advice are new services that are not intended to replace existing legal aid services, such as one on one representation by a lawyer.

The new telephone based services:

  • make it easier for clients top get information about and apply for Legal Aid,
  • help clients to make informed decisions about their next steps, and
  • provide clients with information so they are better prepared when they speak with to a lawyer or go to court.

For more information

For more information please contact:

Kristian Justesen
Manager, Communications and Media Relations