Once you have been approved for Legal Aid assistance and you have received your Legal Aid certificate, it is now your responsibility to find a criminal defence lawyer who is willing and able to represent you. Finding a lawyer you can trust and feel comfortable hiring to handle your case can prove to be a difficult task.
Your Lawyer Must be a Legal Aid Panel Member
You cannot take your Legal Aid certificate to any lawyer you choose, rather you must find a lawyer who has been approved by Legal Aid to take on your case. Legal Aid consists of several Legal Aid Panels, including; a Criminal Panel, an Extremely Serious Criminal Matter Panel, a Family Panel, a Refugee Panel and other panels. If you have been charged with a criminal offence and you have received a Legal Aid certificate, it is your responsibility to find a lawyer who is a member of the Criminal Panel. If your matter falls under an Extremely Serious Criminal Matter, then you must find a lawyer who is a member of that panel.
Approaches to Finding a Legal Aid Lawyer
On the Legal Aid website you will find a page that provides you with recommendations regarding how you can find a lawyer. Legal Aid recommends you find a lawyer by doing any of the following; (1) get a family member or friend to refer you to a lawyer they know, (2) call the Law Society Referral Service and request they give you the name of a lawyer, (3) use other outside resources such as the Law Society of Upper Canada’s Lawyer Directory or the website www.justicenet.com.
Although Legal Aid provides you with a starting point of where to begin looking for a lawyer who accepts Legal Aid certificates, each one of these recommendations has its shortcomings or drawbacks. As you will see, finding a lawyer who accepts Legal Aid cases is not necessarily a difficult task, however finding a list of Legal Aid lawyers to choose from is a much more difficult task.
Asking a family member or friend to recommend a lawyer for you potentially raises two issues. First, you may not wish to ask a family member or a friend. Being charged with a criminal offence can be embarrassing and shameful for some people, and there are many individuals who probably do not want their family and friends to know they have been charged with a criminal offence. If many of your friends are also your co-workers, chances are you probably do not want people you work with to know that you have been charged with a criminal offence. Second, even if you were to ask a family member or a friend for the name of a lawyer, this does not mean that the lawyer you are being referred to is a Legal Aid lawyer.
If you call the Law Society Referral Service, you will be given the name of a lawyer you can contact who will provide you with a free 30-minute consultation. The Law Society Referral Service is a program run by the Law Society of Upper Canada where lawyers pay an annual fee to be on a referral list based upon their areas of practice. Lawyers who register with this program are able to indicate whether they accept Legal Aid certificates. The service is great for anyone who needs to contact a lawyer quickly and is an important service for both lawyers and prospective clients; however there are drawbacks if you are someone who is looking for a list of Legal Aid lawyers. First, you will only be given the name of one lawyer, that being the next lawyer on the list who has indicated that he or she accepts Legal Aid certificates. He second drawback is that not all lawyers register with the Law Society Referral Service, therefore the program is not likely to draw from a pool of all Legal Aid lawyers nor is it likely to have a master list of all Legal Aid lawyers.
A few of the other resources that Legal Aid recommends are the Law Society of Upper Canada’s Lawyer Directory or the website www.justicenet.com. The difficulty with the Law Society’s directory is that you can only search a lawyer by name, city, or postal code. Simply put, this offers you no assistance in finding a list of lawyers who accept Legal Aid certificates.
JusticeNet, similar to the Law Society Referral Service, is a great source for finding lawyers in your area who practice the area of law that you require legal representation with. Although you can find a list of lawyers in your area, JusticeNet does not appear to keep track of which lawyers accept Legal Aid certificates. When you search for criminal lawyers in your area, you will not be able to know if a lawyer accepts Legal Aid certificates unless that lawyer specifically indicates he or she is a Legal Aid lawyer.
If you have received a Legal Aid certificate for a criminal matter, there is a high likelihood the Crown Attorney is seeking a jail sentence. When you liberty is threatened by the possibility of jail, it is not unreasonable for you to want a list of Legal Aid lawyers to choose from. Although a family member, a friend or the Law Society Referral Service can provide you with the name of a Legal Aid Lawyer, if that lawyer is not someone you feel confident hiring, your ability to find other Legal Aid lawyers becomes more challenging. Part of purchasing any service is the ability to choose who you wish to perform that particular service, and hiring a Legal Aid lawyer should be no different.
At this point in time your best option may be to attend the Legal Aid or Duty Counsel Office at your local Ontario Court of Justice and ask if they can provided with some names of lawyers who accept Legal Aid certificates. The Legal Aid website does not contain a list of lawyers who accept Legal Aid certificates, and there does not appear to be any master list which is accessible to anyone looking to hire a Legal Aid lawyer.
If you have been charged with a criminal offence and you have been approved for Legal Aid, contact me immediately and arranged a free consultation.
Visit the Legal Aid website.