Getting Legal Assistance: Civil Matters

1. General

You are not required to obtain the services of a lawyer to conduct your litigation. Many litigants prepare the required written materials and argue their appeals and motions in person. It is not impossible to do so although it does require that the party review the Rules of Civil Procedure and the Practice Directions to ensure that they comply with the requirements set out in both. If you make the effort, you can represent yourself and indeed represent yourself successfully.

In proceedings in the Court of Appeal, you must act in person or be represented by a lawyer. Although anyone may assist you in preparing your written material for filing, paralegals, family members or friends are not entitled to speak on your behalf in court.

If you are unsure as to whether or how you might be able to proceed, you should seek legal advice. The court and its staff cannot provide legal advice or act as a replacement for a lawyer. Court staff cannot make any recommendation as to whether you should retain a lawyer in any particular case. That is something that you have to decide for yourself. However the court is prepared to provide the following information should you wish to consider obtaining legal representation or assistance but do not have a lawyer or do not know how to find a lawyer.

2. Law Society Referral Service

The Law Society Referral Service is designed to provide callers with up to 30 minutes of consultation either by phone or in person at no charge. A Legal Information Officer will receive the call and assess the needs of the client and then provide the name of a lawyer or paralegal who best fits the client’s stated needs. The service is not designed to provide legal advice or second opinions, and any fees should be discussed with the lawyer or paralegal. The service can be reached by calling either 416-947-3330 within the GTA, or toll free 1-800-268-8326 outside the GTA. (TTY Phone: 416-644-4886). More information can be obtained from the following link:

3. Justice Net

Justice Net is a program in which lawyers reduce their hourly fees on a portion of their practice to address the unmet legal needs of low and middle income members in their communities. Fees are adjusted dependent on family income and the number of dependents. More information can be obtained from the following link:

4. Legal Aid Ontario

If you are unable to afford a lawyer, you may wish to attend at a free legal clinic in your area or apply for legal aid. If legal aid is granted, you may be able to retain the lawyer of your choice to represent you on the appeal or motion. You must meet certain financial and other criteria in order to qualify for legal aid. More information can be obtained from the following link:

5. Pro Bono Law Ontario

If you are representing yourself, either because you do not qualify for Legal Aid or because you choose to do so, you may nevertheless wish some assistance with your appeal or motion before your appeal is heard. Pro Bono Ontario (PBO) helps self-represented persons in the Court of Appeal in three ways.

Please note that due to the timelines involved in bringing appeals and motions pending appeal, especially motions to a single judge, you may well wish to consult PBO about these services before commencing an appeal or motion so that you can determine whether you can get “pro bono” assistance before you take your first step. While an appeal or motion may be adjourned to permit either side to obtain or try to obtain legal assistance, you should not assume that an adjournment will be permitted in your case. You should also be aware that the other party may ask for costs arising out of a request for an adjournment. Therefore if you are going to attempt to seek the assistance of a lawyer privately, through Legal Aid, or with the assistance of PBO, it is important to do so without delay.

5.1 Summary advice on the basic elements of an appeal – CIVIL APPEALS ONLY (not family law appeals)

For civil appeals, PBO operates a summary advice service that helps self-represented litigants understand the nature of an appeal, the proper court for an appeal, the timelines, and the documents for commencing an appeal. This service is not available for all stages of an appeal. It is designed to give individuals some basic guidance at the beginning of the process and to help them preserve their rights.

This service is available in-person at court-based help centres in Toronto (393 University Avenue, Suite 110) and Ottawa (161 Elgin Street, Suite 5027). The centres are open Monday to Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. but are closed from 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. If you cannot attend in person, you may apply online at or by toll-free call to 1-855-255-7256.

5.2 Merit assessment and possible pro bono representation – CIVIL AND FAMILY APPEALS

Administered in partnership with The Advocates’ Society, this PBO service is an effort to assess the merit of civil and family appeals and match self-represented litigants with volunteer lawyers in appropriate cases. If a case is “matched” following a merit assessment, the services provided range from summary advice to discrete tasks (such as helping draft a factum or making submissions in court) to full representation in some cases. However, the service does not guarantee any particular type of assistance.

To apply for this service, self-represented litigants can visit a PBO court-based help centre in Toronto (393 University Avenue, Suite 110) or Ottawa (161 Elgin Street, Suite 5027); or apply online at or by toll-free call to 1-855-255-7256.

5.3 Amicus duty counsel project for motions – CIVIL AND FAMILY APPEALS

Also administered in partnership with The Advocates’ Society, this PBO service provides “amicus duty counsel” to assist the court by helping self-represented individuals who are bringing or responding to motions in the Court of Appeal. “Amicus” means that duty counsel is a friend of the court. Duty counsel is there to help you but is not your lawyer. This means that duty counsel will try to come up with any arguments that can help your case, but is not obliged to make arguments or take positions for you that are not supported by the facts or law.

Duty counsel will be available at the court to help with civil motions on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and to help with family motions on Wednesdays. You are encouraged to schedule your motion for hearing on a day when duty counsel is present to provide you with guidance. If appropriate, duty counsel may also be able to make submissions to the Court and/or help you resolve the dispute.

If you schedule the hearing for a day when duty counsel is available, you should also give court staff your full contact information so that duty counsel has the opportunity to contact you in advance (but please note that duty counsel is not obliged to do so). You should also file material as soon as possible (so that duty counsel has a chance to review it) and arrive early on the day of the hearing (so that you can consult with duty counsel).

6. Disclaimer

The foregoing is provided for your information only. The Law Society of Upper Canada, Legal Aid Ontario and Pro Bono Law Ontario are not affiliated with the courts in any way. Court staff may not recommend that a litigant retain a particular counsel or seek the assistance of a program such as those provided by these organizations.

Last Updated: April 2021

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