Busted: Five Myths about Legal Aid Alberta

Communications and Public Relations
April 16, 2021

For one reason or another, the legal profession lends itself to books, plays, and big- and small-screen dramas. Everyone has their favourites. (We’re partial to Suits, the CBC’s Diggstown, and on the big screen, The Verdict.) But these productions are and fictions that can give people the wrong idea about the legal profession and what goes on in our courts. 

Today, we’re busting myths and bringing you the facts about Legal Aid Alberta. 

Myth 1: Legal Aid Alberta only helps with adult criminal law matters. 

In reality, we do so much more. We also assist families going through separation and divorce, children who have been removed from their homes by Child and Family Services, refugee claimants, and youth involved with the justice system. We provide support individuals facing family violence in obtaining emergency protection orders, representation at bail hearings, and free duty counsel services. Duty counsel lawyers are present in courtrooms to provide brief legal advice to all Albertans regardless of their financial situation. Check out LAA services to learn more about what we do. 

Myth 2: In some parts of the province, you can’t access Legal Aid. 

We are called Legal Aid ALBERTA for a reason. In addition to a team of staff lawyers, we have approximately 1,200 roster lawyers. Roster lawyers are independent private-practice lawyers who take on LAA cases and represent clients no matter where they are. We serve Albertans in every corner of the province. In fact, we have programs that are specifically aimed to improve access to justice for rural Albertans, such as choice of counsel and travel flexibility to ensure rural Albertans can access top-flight counsel from around the province for certain matters. 

Related video: LAA frontline staff help Albertans during the pandemic

Myth 3: Legal Aid services are free. 

Every Canadian has the right to legal representation. Supporting your rights, LAA provides free duty counsel service—duty counsel lawyers offer brief, practical advice in courts across the province. If you qualify and are appointed a Legal Aid Alberta lawyer for more complex issues, that service is not free, but will cost much less than hiring a lawyer on your own. If you are approved for services, we can help you make payment arrangements based on your financial situation. We don’t charge GST or interest. 

Myth 4: Having a publicly funded lawyer is not the same as having a lawyer from a private firm.

This could not be further from the truth. All of our lawyers meet or exceed requirements to practice law in Alberta. Many of our lawyers dedicate themselves exclusively to a specific area of law.

  • We have lawyers with years of experience as former prosecutors, years with private law firms, as legal counsel to our Court of Appeal and with advanced law degrees. Our team of approximately 1,200 roster lawyers practice in private firms across the province.
  • Our lawyers have taken matters to the Supreme Court of Canada on numerous occasions.
  • Our lawyers are invited to serve on important new initiatives, providing advice in establishing the Calgary Indigenous Court and establishing an LAA presence in the Siksika Nation.
  • An LAA staff member serves on the Calgary Police Service Anti-Racism Action Committee.
  • Our lawyers are frequently sought out to address groups like the Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association, Edmonton Immigrant Services Association, and Peace Wapiti Enterprise Centre in Grande Prairie and the Federal Crown Prosecution service.

Myth 5: Everyone who applies for Legal Aid gets approved. 

We are accountable to Albertans and we fulfil our mandate by following our governance agreement. In order to have a lawyer appointed to represent you, your legal issue must be eligible for assistance through LAA. If you’re an adult, your income must meet our financial guidelines. All youth (aged 12 – 17) are eligible for LAA services when charged with a crime, regardless of their financial situation. Find out more about Legal Aid eligibility. 

Related video: Legal Aid Alberta protects the rights of Albertans

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