2012 clinic consultations (April)

Legal Aid Ontario advises clinics on strategic plan to transform delivery of poverty law services

Last updated: Friday, May 4, 2012

Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) has released a discussion paper, Ideas for the Future Development of Clinic Law Delivery Services in Ontario to support the province-wide strategic planning exercise now underway by legal aid clinics in Ontario.

The paper provides ideas on the future development of clinic law delivery services in Ontario. These services represent more than 200,000 active client case files and account for approximately $70 million or 20 per cent of Legal Aid Ontario’s $350 million dollar annual budget.

Ideas for the Future Development of Clinic Law Delivery Services in Ontario
Read the entire discussion paper here

» Fast facts

In 2010/11:

  • 49% of clinic law services were related to Ontario Disability Support Program work
  • 17% of clinic law services were related to housing
  • 5% of clinic law services were related to Ontario Works
  • 4% of clinic law services were related to immigration/citizenship
  • 1% were related to employment
  • 27% were directed to “other” legal needs

Clinic law delivery services in Ontario represent more than 200,000 active case files and account for approximately $70 million or 20 per cent of Legal Aid Ontario’s $350 million dollar annual budget.

Ontario has 77 law delivery clinics, covering every area of the province:

  • 35 clinics in the GTA, including 13 with a provincial mandate to provide specialty services to particular communities and client groups
  • 10 clinics in the north
  • 17 clinics in the central and east region
  • 15 clinics in the southwest

» FAQs

« FAQs

What is in this paper?

This paper provides an overview of trends that have affected clinic law service delivery in the past, paints a portrait of the clinic law service delivery system today, includes reviews and critiques of the system, and outlines principles and ideas to guide the development of ideas on clinic law service delivery in the future.

What is the goal of this paper?

The goal of this paper is to present LAO’s point of view to the clinic visioning process now underway.

What information does this paper provide?

This paper provides a wide range of suggestions on how the 77 clinics that deliver legal services to Ontario’s low-income people can serve this vulnerable population better by modernizing their processes and maximizing their efficiency. It makes an important contribution to the current planning process and to the robust strategic plan Ontario needs to help us transform our poverty law system into one ready to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

In LAO’s view, no idea or proposal is off the table. It expects Ontario’s community law clinics to ask tough questions – and make tough decisions – about the basic assumptions, institutional arrangements and practices that have shaped clinic law services in Ontario for decades.

How and why was this paper developed?

LAO developed this paper to set out its ideas on how clinic law service delivery can address client needs in the future.

What are LAO’s responsibilities under LASA?

According to LASA, LAO is responsible for providing high quality legal aid services in a cost-effective and efficient manner; encouraging and facilitating flexibility and innovation in the provision of legal aid services; and identifying, assessing and recognizing the diverse legal needs of low-income Ontarians.

LASA states that clinics are the foundation for the provision of clinic law services, but that LAO may provide services by other methods it considers appropriate. LAO oversees the administration of clinics, monitors their operation, sets the standards for their operation and provides funding.

What is the Association of Community Legal Clinics of Ontario?

The Association of Community Legal Clinics of Ontario (ACLCO) is an association formed by and comprised of representation from Ontario’s community legal clinics.

What are the guidelines for the clinic strategic review process?

These principles will establish the basic objectives of a sustainable, effective clinic law system for Ontario:

  • Expand access to justice and provide fair and equal access to clinic law services across the province.
  • Provide a continuum of client-focused, high-quality cost-effective services and promote innovation.
  • Meet the highest standards of public administration in Ontario.
  • Meet the highest standards of transparency and accountability for public services in Ontario.

What options does LAO suggest we should consider?

These ideas can inform discussions about what might work in Ontario:

  • Needs assessment: Consider novel approaches to information gathering and sharing.
  • Outreach: Create online communities to support those who share unique needs or identities.
  • Legal Intake: Centralize intake, use protocols to promote efficiency and eliminate unnecessary steps.
  • Referrals: Establish a relationship with one key resource dedicated to connecting individuals to services and make all referrals to that resource.
  • Legal advice: Conduct group appointments and workshops to serve multiple clients who have similar legal issues simultaneously.
  • Back office functions: Consolidate back office functions and run them through one central specialized body, or outsource back office functions to specialists.
  • Legal information: Create a single online resource that integrates legal information, self-help materials and other online services.
  • Test cases: Create a single specialist body that pursues test cases in accordance with a coordinated provincial plan. Offer grants to organizations and individuals who are well placed to litigate test cases.
  • Community development: Use regional teams of specialists to do community development work. Identify community leaders and offer grants or project-based funding to achieve identified outcomes for low-income Ontarians.
  • Create Personal Learning Environments such as shared websites
  • First language services: Create a language specific court or tribunal
  • Institutional structure: Create alliances and consortiums that help connect clients with services

LAO is preparing further suggestions for discussion later in the strategic visioning process.

What will LAO do next?

LAO will consult with other stakeholders as well in assessing how best to transform the delivery of clinic law services.

What is LAO’s involvement with community legal clinics?

LAO oversees the administration of community legal clinics, monitors their operation, sets the standards for their operation and provides funding.

Under LAO’s administration, clinic funding has increased 95% over 13 years. In 1998/99, LAO provided $37.7M in funding for clinic law services and supports. By 2011, clinic law delivery services in Ontario represent more than 200,000 active case files and account for approximately $70 million or 20 per cent of Legal Aid Ontario’s $350 million dollar annual budget. The amount of funding per clinic depends on its size. In 2011/12, LAO funding per clinic ranges from $357,190 to $2,337,135.

What do community legal clinics do and where are they?

Ontario’s community legal clinics deliver clinic law services that address the unique legal needs of low-income people and communities. They are independent, non-profit organizations, each governed by its own local Board of Directors. Each local board tries to match its clinics’ services to meet its area’s priority needs.

Ontario now has 77 separate general service clinics that serve a local geographic area as well as specialty clinics. Every area of the province now falls within a clinic catchment area.

LAO’s specialty clinics serve specific groups (such as seniors, persons with disabilities and people who are urban Aboriginals) or a specific area of law. Their clients reside in all areas of the province. In addition to delivering services to legal aid clients, these clinics are resources to other clinics, to private bar lawyers, MPPs and community agencies.

Lawyers and legal workers in legal clinics 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. Clinics use a range of legal tools, including legal advice and brief services, legal representation, community development and law reform.

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.

Has LAO released other discussion papers? If so, what were they about?

This is the third major discussion paper on clinic law delivery that the LAO has prepared in recent years.

Discussion Paper on the Roles, Responsibilities, Relationships and Accountability Regarding Clinic Law Services, released in July 2008, discussed specific challenges caused by the relationship between LAO and the clinics and ways to address those challenges. Its ongoing goal is to help 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.

The second, A Discussion Paper on Addressing Clinic Administrative Costs released in May 2010, challenged clinics to streamline their administrative structures in order to preserve resources for client services. This paper discussed clinic funding criteria, performance measurement, needs assessment, funding models, the role and funding of the ACLCO, the provision of services to clinics by LAO, and consultation practices.


For questions or further information, please contact:

Kristian Justesen
Director, Communications and Public Affairs
Phone: 416-979-2352, ext.4782
Email: and/or