Legal Aid Ontario has top-notch lawyers

Posted on in Governance Delivery System

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TheStar.com – Opinion/Readers’ Letters
May 6, 2019.   David Field, president and CEO of Legal Aid Ontario

‘Little guy’ harmed by legal aid cuts, Opinion, May 4

I just wanted to correct some factual inaccuracies in Michael Lacy and Daniel Brown’s op-ed. I think it’s important to note the circumstances in which Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) was initially created. In 1998, the government of the day needed to control costs: Legal aid certificate costs far exceeded what the province was able to pay. LAO was created to ensure there was a fixed cost associated with the delivery of legal aid services, and that the organization would make difficult decisions around prioritization of services in an area that has almost limitless need. Furthermore, there was also a popularly held view at that time that the legal aid program (before LAO was created) was being run in the interest of lawyers and not the client, and that there needed to be proper oversight in place. Our mixed model of staff and private bar service delivery is still the most cost-effective method of delivering legal services to over 700,000 people annually. Our goal is to see our clients get legal help and we will continue to do that cost-effectively. In 2017-18, LAO’s certificate expenditures were actually $232.4 million, not $124 million as stated. Also, the provincial budget has LAO’s reduction at $164 million by 2021-22, not $167 million. Lacy states that LAO rates are one-fifth of what the private bar receives from private paying clients. LAO pays private criminal bar lawyers $161 per hour for the most complex cases. The private bar rates, if five times higher than that, would not be an acceptable use of public funds. It should also be noted that 360 private bar lawyers were paid over $150,000 by LAO in 2018-19, and 94 lawyers were paid over $250,000 by LAO in 2018-19. This is not to take away from the important work that private bar lawyers do for legally aided clients; their work is critical. It is, however, important to provide some context for the discussion. Furthermore, our front-line lawyers provide critical services for clients. Their jobs are not easy, and they are dedicated, tireless advocates for their clients. I cannot allow for there to be a perception that they are anything less than the high-calibre, top-notch lawyers they are.

David Field, president and CEO of Legal Aid Ontario

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