Clinic Work

Community legal clinics work in partnership with their communities to protect and enhance the rights of low income people and to build a fair and equitable society. Clinics are independent, non-profit agencies, governed by community elected Boards of Directors. Boards are charged with the responsibility of determining the most pressing legal needs in their communities, and providing services to meet those needs.

Community legal clinics provide services in the areas of law that most affect low-income people and disadvantaged communities. Most of their work deals with issues that represent people’s most basic needs, for example, a source of income or a roof over their heads. Clients of legal clinics are disproportionately those living with physical and mental disabilities, single mothers, recent immigrants, people of colour, the elderly, victims of abuse and torture and other historically disadvantaged groups. Clinics provide a welcoming and respectful environment for their clients by recognizing the challenges their clients face very day and working to improve clients’ access to clinic services and the legal system.

Low-income activists first came together in the late 1960s and early 1970s to establish community legal clinics in response to the growing recognition that the unique legal needs of low-income and disadvantaged communities required a more systemic and collective response than traditional case by case representation.

This is because the legal needs of the poorest and most disadvantaged members of society are very different from those of middle and upper income people whose problems tend to be infrequent and self-contained. By contrast, poor people are constantly involved with bureaucracies and complex laws. Their legal problems are also often inter-connected: if the government cheque doesn’t arrive or the employer doesn’t pay, the rent doesn’t get paid.

Clinics are recognized in the Legal Aid Services Act as an important component of Ontario’s legal aid system, working in conjunction with other legal aid service providers such as staff offices, criminal and family duty counsel and private bar lawyers who take legal aid certificates.

Each year, legal clinics assist hundreds of thousands of low-income people to assert their rights. Governments recognize the expertise of clinic staff and frequently consult them about laws and policies which most affect poor people. As a result, in partnership with their communities, clinics have won important changes in many of the laws that most affect low-income people. Due to these efforts, and often through of a combination of approaches such as casework and collective community action, people avoid eviction and get income and benefits they are entitled to. With their basic needs met, low-income people are better able to participate in their communities in ways that benefit all of us. In this way, clinics help to create stronger and healthier communities.

Clinics provide these services through a variety of methods including helping individuals and helping communities make more systemic changes including advocating for changes in the law.

Clinics serve their communities in a variety of ways including:

  • Representation for clients in courts and tribunals
  • Advice to clients about their legal issues
  • Public legal education seminars
  • Law reform activities
  • Community organizing and development
  • Self-help kits and materials
  • Duty counsel at Tribunals
  • Referrals to other sources of assistance