One day at a time: Legal Aid Alberta managing withdrawal of duty counsel services by contracted criminal defence lawyers

LAA is making significant efforts to support Albertans in provincial courts.

Communications and Public Relations
August 10, 2022

EDMONTON – Right now, more than 35,000 Albertans in 75 communities are receiving legal aid assistance and demand for help never stops. People who depend on legal aid face extraordinarily difficult life circumstances such as mental health issues, past trauma and addiction. The average client makes less than $10,000 a year. Many are stuck in a cycle. 

Legal Aid Alberta (LAA) helps families going through separation and divorce, children who have been removed from their homes, refugee claimants, and adults and youth involved with the criminal justice system. We provide representation at bail hearings, free duty counsel services at provincial courts and the legal assistance people need to escape family violence.  

LAA is a publicly-funded, nonprofit organization that receives much of its financial support from the Government of Alberta. Recently, LAA funding and access to services have become topics of public interest. Media stories about job action by criminal defence lawyers in Alberta have spread across the country. We have received questions from clients, judges, police, partners and supporters. 

What Albertans need to know

Legal aid services in Alberta are provided by a mix of staff lawyers who are employed by Legal Aid Alberta and contracted private sector lawyers – known as roster lawyers – who do legal aid work in addition to their private practice law.  

Staff lawyers are continuing to serve Albertans across the province representing people at bail hearings, running trials, providing free duty counsel advice in provincial courts, and helping Albertans facing violence get emergency protection orders (EPOs) to keep them safe. 

However, several criminal defence lawyers who take LAA files on contract have stopped working as duty counsel in provincial courts to make their case to the province for more funding and better pay. While integral to the delivery of legal services, they are not employees of LAA and do not represent all private sector roster lawyers who do legal aid work. 

What we’re doing

We know this is a concerning time for Albertans attending provincial court and we want them to know that we’re doing everything we can to support them. So far, significant efforts to ensure a duty counsel lawyer is available either in person or virtually at all courthouses have been successful. At this time, we are not aware of any significant impact on Albertans, however, we are taking it one day at a time. 

Roster lawyers are integral to LAA. If a withdrawal of services escalates or continues longer term, we anticipate a greater impact on the justice system and disadvantaged Albertans. We’re aware of potential further action by private sector criminal defence lawyers and are actively planning to support our clients. 

Albertans need a way forward

When Albertans engage in public discourse, whether it’s for improved health care, roads, education or access to the justice system, it’s because they care. We are at a pivotal moment when decisions about the future of legal aid are tough but necessary. While LAA is unable to change the rate of pay for contracted roster lawyers, we are included in these discussions.  

In the meantime, we have work to do – to support low-income Albertans facing legal issues. We are also pressing forward with our commitment to modernize the tariff structure and continually improve LAA’s administrative processes for roster lawyers. 

We’re here for you.

New applicants and clients

Roster lawyers
[email protected] 

Partners & media
[email protected] 

Legal Aid Alberta Fast Facts

  • 35,000 clients
  • 61,000 active files
  • 1,200 roster lawyers
  • 300 staff
  • 75 communities served
  • 50 years helping Albertans


Roster lawyers who do legal aid are not employees of LAA but are contracted by LAA to provide legal advice and representation services. Roster lawyers come from the private bar, which means they have their own practice and/or work for a private law firm. Learn more 

Staff lawyers work as employees at Legal Aid Alberta. They bring special knowledge and skills to serve people facing significant legal and life challenges. Staff lawyers practice criminal, family and immigration law and provide duty counsel services in docket and therapeutic courts across the province.

Duty counsel are staff and roster lawyers who help people understand the court process and who give free legal advice to people representing themselves at their first court appearance. Duty counsel is found at the courthouse and most often speak to clients before their court appearance. They do not become involved in trials. Learn more

Tariff of fees (tariff): The Legal Aid Alberta Tariff of Fees dictates how lawyers accounts should be paid/how much they may bill their clients. Learn more 

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