Hiring a lawyer
How do I find my own lawyer?
It can be hard to find a lawyer, especially one that is right for you. Here are a few ways to start:
Legal Aid Ontario
Legal Aid Ontario gives legal help to people with very low incomes.
To get help with a criminal law problem, you must apply to Legal Aid Ontario for a legal aid certificate.
If you get a certificate, this means that Legal Aid Ontario will pay a lawyer to work for you for a certain number of hours.
Not all lawyers will take a legal aid certificate. You have to find a lawyer who agrees to work for you and will take the legal aid certificate.
Who is eligible?
To get a legal aid certificate, your legal issue must be one that they cover, and you must be financially eligible. Usually, this means that you have little or no money left after paying for basic things like food and housing.
You'll have to give information about any income, property, or savings that you and your parents or guardiansA guardian is a person who is responsible for making decisions about and caring for a young person.X have. You also have to give information about what crimes you're charged with.
If you're in the care of the Children's Aid Society, you'll only have to give your financial information.
Legal Aid Ontario may also ask your parents or guardiansA guardian is a person who is responsible for making decisions about and caring for a young person.X to give them information about their finances. If your parents or guardians won't do this, you'll need to tell Legal Aid Ontario that they won't.
Even if your parents or guardiansA guardian is a person who is responsible for making decisions about and caring for a young person.X won't give their financial information or if Legal Aid Ontario tells you that you're not eligible for a legal aid certificate, insist on applying anyway.
If they reject your application, there are 2 ways that you can try to get a lawyer:
- You can appealTo appeal means that you disagree with a decision and are asking that someone with more authority review the decision. Others who are affected by the decision can also appeal a decision.X the decision.
- You can go to a youth court and ask the court to order the government to pay for your lawyer. The law gives extra protection to young people who are charged with a crime so they'll be able to get help from a lawyer.
Visit the Legal Aid Ontario website to find out how to apply.
Apply by phone
Call 1-800-668-8258 or 416-979-1446.
For TTY, call 1-866-641-8867 or 416-598-8867.
Legal Aid Ontario accepts collect calls.
Call between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday to Friday. At other times, you'll get information from a recorded message.
Calls generally take around 30 minutes, but can take longer. It's best if your parents or guardiansA guardian is a person who is responsible for making decisions about and caring for a young person.X also speak to the Legal Aid Ontario representative.
After the call, Legal Aid Ontario will send you forms to sign, date, and send back. Make sure that you give your correct address so that you get the forms as quickly as possible.
Apply in person
You may be able to apply in person at some Legal Aid Ontario or duty counsel offices. These offices are in criminal courthouses across the province.
Be prepared to wait to speak to a Legal Aid Ontario representative. It's best if your parents or guardiansA guardian is a person who is responsible for making decisions about and caring for a young person.X go with you.
It's a good idea to bring identification, such as your health card or driver's licence, and any papers from the police or the court that relate to your case.
Law Society Referral Service
The Law Society Referral Service is an online service that gives you the name of a lawyer in your community. The lawyer will talk to you for 30 minutes for free, either over the phone or in person.
You can ask questions like:
- How does the law apply to my situation?
- How much will you charge me?
Then you can decide if you want to hire that lawyer.
Who is eligible?
Anyone in Ontario can use the Law Society Referral Service.
Visit the Law Society Referral Service website for more information.
You can also call their crisis line at 1-855-947-5255 if you can't use the online service. For example, you might do this if you're in custody, in a shelter, or in an area that doesn't have internet access.
Be sure to ask for a youth criminal justice lawyer. If you're under 18, make sure to tell them this.
Justice for Children and Youth
Justice for Children and Youth is a legal clinic that protects the rights of young people and helps young people with legal problems.
They have lots of helpful information for young people who are dealing with criminal law problems and other legal issues.
Who is eligible?
Any young person in Ontario who is under the age of 18 can get information and referrals from Justice for Children and Youth.
Young people up to age 25 who are homeless may also be able to get help.
Some young people may qualify for a lawyer from Justice for Children and Youth if they have a low-income and are under 18.
Visit the Justice for Children and Youth website for more information.
Call 1-866-999-5329 or 416-920-1633.
How do I find a lawyer who’s right for me?
No matter how you find your lawyer, it's important to choose a lawyer who can work well with you.
Not every lawyer will be a good match.
And not every lawyer is good for every kind of case. If you're in trouble with the police, you need a lawyer who knows and understands both:
- Criminal law: A lawyer who does a lot of criminal law also knows the rules that must be followed in criminal cases and is more likely to know the police, the judge, and the Crown attorneyThe Crown attorney, who is sometimes called a prosecutor, is a lawyer who presents the case against you in court.X . This can be helpful.
- The Youth Criminal Justice Act: This law creates special rules and procedures that apply to young people who are at least 12 but younger than 18 when they're accused of committing a crime.
Because the law treats young people differently than it treats adults, the more experience your lawyer has with youth criminal law, the better they can defend you.
If you choose a lawyer that a friend or family member used, remember that everyone's case is different. Be sure to ask your lawyer what's likely to happen to you.
It's important that your lawyer is someone you trust and are comfortable talking to.
Your lawyer should:
- respect you
- listen to what you have to say
- respect what you want to do
What should I ask a lawyer who I’m thinking of hiring?
If you have a legal aid certificate, the first thing that you should ask the lawyer is whether they accept payments from Legal Aid Ontario.
Here are some other questions you might ask:
How much experience do you have representing young people in criminal cases?Your lawyer should have experience with both criminal law and the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Will you tell my parents or others what we talk about?Your lawyer must keep what you say private.
Will you do what I want or what my parents or other adults want?With your lawyer's help and advice, you make decisions about your case, not your parents or other adults.
What would you do if we disagree about how to handle my case?You want a lawyer who gives you advice and help, but understands that you make the final decisions.
If you don't like the answers you get to these questions, you might want to look for another lawyer.
Who can help me before I find my own lawyer?
When you're with the police
If you're being questioned by the police, held in custodyBeing held in custody means that you're not free to go. You might be held in custody by the police. For example, you're in police custody if the police arrest you and are taking you to the police station. Or, the court might order that you be held in custody. This might happen if you're found guilty and sentenced to stay in a youth custody facility, which is often called jail.X , or at the police station, you can ask the police to call the Duty counsel hotline.
When you're at court
Duty counsel lawyers help people who don't have their own lawyer. They can help you if you don't have a lawyer at your first court date.
Make sure to arrive at court at least 30 minutes early and find the duty counsel office. Bring any papers from the police or the court that relate to your case.
You might have to sign up on a list and wait to talk to the duty counsel lawyer.
Have a list of questions ready when you see the duty counsel lawyer. They may not have a lot of time to spend with you as there will be many other people who also want to meet with them.
If it's almost time for you to be in court, make sure to tell the court staff if you're waiting to speak to duty counsel.
Before you go into the courtroom
A duty counsel lawyer can:
- explain the charges against you and what might happen to you
- describe what happens in court
- describe what you should and shouldn't do in court
- give general information and basic advice
- tell you if there are any extrajudicial sanctions Extrajudicial sanctions are special programs that a young person can take part in as a way to take responsibility for a crime without pleading or being found guilty. They're sometimes called "diversion". They aren't offered in every case. They're usually only for minor crimes. If they're offered, you have to decide if you want to take part. If you finish the program, your court case is over and you won't have a youth court record. X available, and help you apply
- find out what evidence the Crown attorneyThe Crown attorney, who is sometimes called a prosecutor, is a lawyer who presents the case against you in court.X has against you
When you're in the courtroom
A duty counsel lawyer can:
- help you in court if you don't have a lawyer
- tell the judge that you need a lawyer to represent you
- ask for a later court date so that you have time to get a lawyer
What a duty counsel lawyer can't do
A duty counsel lawyer can't represent you if you go to trial. And they can't meet with you outside of the courthouse and spend time with you the way your own lawyer can.
Who does a lawyer work for?
You're the client
When you hire a lawyer, the lawyer works for you. This is true even if your parent, another adult, or Legal Aid Ontario pays the lawyer.
This means that your lawyer's job is to get the best legal result for you, not to do what your parents or other adults want.
You make decisions with your lawyer
This means that you, with your lawyer's help and advice, make the decisions about your case, not your parents, your social worker, your youth worker, or anyone else.
You don't have to follow your lawyer's advice. But remember that their advice is based on special knowledge and experience.
Make sure you understand what your lawyer is suggesting and why they're suggesting it.
If you disagree with something, tell your lawyer and try to agree on what to do.
Can anyone find out what I tell my lawyer?
Your lawyer must keep what you say private. They can't share what you say with anyone unless you say it's okay.
Not even the court, the police, or your parents can make your lawyer tell them what you and your lawyer talk about.
This rule exists so that lawyers can have all the facts they need to help their clients. The more your lawyer knows about you and about what happened, the better prepared they will be to defend you.
So you can speak freely without worrying that your lawyer will tell other people what you have said.
The only time your lawyer could share what you say is if you tell them that you or someone else plan to seriously hurt someone.
When should I speak to a lawyer?
It's best to hire a lawyer as soon as you think that the police suspect you of a crime and want to question you.
If you can't hire your own lawyer right away, you should still speak to a lawyer as soon as possible. Do this before you make any sort of statementA statement is anything that you tell the police or someone in authority. You can give a statement by saying it out loud or by putting it in writing. Even if you don't sign anything or the police don't write down or videotape what you said, what you say is still a statement.X to the police. This is true even if you don't think that you've committed a crime.
The police don't have to tell you the truth. They can even:
- act as if they know things that they don't know
- make promises they don't keep
- try to trick you
This is all part of what they might do to investigate a crime.
What you tell the police can:
- be used later to hurt you in court
- seem harmless or helpful but make you look guilty when it's repeated in court
- limit the ways that your lawyer can defend you
A lawyer will explain all of this to you.
Even if you did do what the police accuse you of doing, a lawyer might be able to show that it wasn't a crime. Or, they might be able to get you a less serious charge or a lighter sentenceA sentence is the punishment that the court gives you if you're found guilty.X .
By talking to the police too soon, you'll probably make it harder for your lawyer to help you.
If you do decide to talk to the police, have your lawyer with you. Your lawyer can help you avoid saying something that might hurt you later in court.
What can I do to help my lawyer?
There are ways to help make your lawyer's job easier.
Be open and honest
Give your lawyer all the information and let them decide whether it's useful or relevant. Relevant information usually includes what happened when the police arrested you.
Answer your lawyer's questions. Remember, what you tell your lawyer stays private.
Listen and ask questions
To decide whether or not to accept your lawyer's legal advice, you have to fully understand it.
Your lawyer will also have helpful suggestions about what to do and how to behave in court and with the police. To follow these suggestions, you have to really understand what your lawyer means. If you don't understand, let them know.
Bring important paperwork with you to meetings with your lawyer. Prepare a list of questions before the meeting.
Follow up with your lawyer after meetings to make sure that you're doing what you need to do and that your lawyer is doing what they need to do.
Work with your lawyer to make the best decisions
Don't go against your lawyer's advice without a good reason. Remember that they know lots of things that you might not be aware of.
Ask questions and talk to your lawyer if you disagree with their legal advice.
And if you think the advice is wrong for you or your lawyer is not listening to your concerns, don't just ignore their advice. You might need to look for another lawyer.
(Reviewed August 2015)