Difference between Legal Aid & Legal Clinics

Many people get confused and don’t know who to call when they have a legal problem except to know they want “legal aid.”  There are two main types of services funded by Legal Aid in most communities.  They offer fairly distinct types of help.


Legal Aid generally helps people who need a lawyer in a criminal or family law matter.  They do this by: 

  • issuing legal aid certificates to use private bar lawyers for help and representation

  • offering legal information and advice clinics in areas of law that the legal clinic usually does not assist in

  • providing duty counsel in most courts

More specific information about local Legal Aid funded services is contained in our Referrals section.


Legal clinics like ours on the other hand, focus on poverty law problems as described elsewhere on this site.  Our traditional legal services range from simple referrals, to providing information, to giving specific advice, to providing self-help, to advocacy in emergency situations, or to representation before courts and tribunals.  We also have a special mandate to do community development work.  We are also expected to do law reform work and take that obligation very seriously.

The Legal Clinic System

Our clinic is just one of 80 clinics in Ontario.


The Association of Community Legal Clinics of Ontario (ACLCO) has prepared an information booklet (PDF, 11 pgs) explaining what is a community legal clinic.


You can also view a paper by the ACLCO (PDF format, 11 pages) entitled "Critical Characteristics of Community Legal Aid Clinics in Ontario" explaining the special characteristics of legal clinics in Ontario.


A more detailed discussion of legal clinics in Ontario is found in the report, "Poverty Law: A Case Study prepared for Legal Aid Review" (PDF, 65 pgs), which was prepared by York University Professor Janet Mosher for the Review of Legal Aid June 20, 1997.


Read Professor Mary Jane Mossman's remarks, given at our 35th Anniversary event in Belleville on November 10, 2015 and her 1983 article, "Community Legal Clinics in Ontario."


Papers by Michele Leering, CALC Executive Director/Lawyer:

Working with Legal Aid Ontario Partners to Improve Coordination Between Our Services

Our clinic services are confused with the Legal Aid Area Office and their services (which are primarily about issuing legal aid certificates and providing advice and duty counsel at family and criminal courts) are confused with ours.  In an effort to keep our services as streamlined as possible, we meet several times a year with our colleagues at the Belleville, Napanee and Kingston Legal Aid Area Offices, Queen's Student Legal Aid and the Rural Services clinics to problem solve and improve services. We've developed Legal Aid Comparison charts for Hastings, Prince Edward, Lennox and Addington and Frontenac counties for staff use that sets out specifically which services are offered by which office. We also have a joint brochure for clients about Lennox and Addington services.


In addition to our local work, staff also work with our legal clinic colleagues in other regions on a number of national and provincial initiatives. These initiatives are intended to increase the capacity of the legal clinic system and poverty law advocates to work collaboratively, effectively, efficiently and creatively on the challenges that we face in increasing "access to justice" for people living on a low income or in poverty, and disadvantaged groups.  Examples of some of our projects are:

We also sit on several Advisory Committees for Legal Aid Ontario.