Legal Aid - What if I Can't Afford a Lawyer?

Legal Aid in Calgary

Often the cost of hiring a lawyer on a private basis outweighs the long-term financial consequences of a criminal charge conviction. A criminal conviction will often result in lost job opportunities, higher rental & insurance payments, and fines paid to the court- amongst other costs. Please weigh the cost of hiring a lawyer from Hoare Claxton with the ultimate price of being convicted of a crime. Ultimately, Calgary lawyers Peter Hoare and Ryan Claxton are dedicated- and have the resources- to minimize the effect that charges will have on your life; both personal and financial.

What if I absolutely cannot afford to hire an attorney?

If you are unrepresented for your first court date, proceed directly to the courthouse where the matter is being heard and ask to talk to the duty counsel. Duty counsel’s first task is to assist accused persons who are remanded to custody and those who are unrepresented at their first court appearance. There is no cost to you.

Legal Aid Alberta Contact Information:

Free Legal Aid Hotline: Call community legal aid free at:1.866.845.3425

Calgary & Edmonton Free Legal Aid Online:

If you are unable to retain private counsel, Legal Aid Alberta is a government program with community legal aid in Calgary and Edmonton. Full eligibility criteria for legal aid can be found at the following Legal Aid Guide. Some of the eligibility guidelines can be found below; if your income falls within the amounts listed below, you may access free community legal representation and have a lawyer appointed for you:

Financial Eligibility Guidelines (FEG)
Family Size 1 2 3 4 5 6+
Monthly Income $1,638 $2,027 $2,885 $3,120 $3,354 $3,587
Annual Income $19,653 $24,333 $34,627 $37,434 $40,242 $43,050

You also have the right to appeal your decision if you are Denied Legal Aid.

Are there other Options available besides Free Community Legal Aid in Alberta?

Student Legal Assistance

If you are facing a minor (summary conviction) legal offence and meet government income criteria, Student Legal Caseworkers may be able to assist. Student Legal Assistance is a group supervised by the University of Calgary Faculty of Law (Hyperlink & Backlink). Law Students working with Student Legal Services in Edmonton or Student Legal Assistance in Calgary can act as agents in court or give you short-term legal advice. They are typically supervised by local Criminal Lawyers in good standing. Their scope of service is to provide legal help to accused persons with low income- who are not charged with offences where the Crown is seeking jail time. Student Legal Assistance in Calgary can be contacted at 403-220-6637.

Calgary Legal Guidance

If you do not meet the requirements for Legal Aid Online, Calgary Legal Guidance (Hyperlink)- a non-profit organization- whose members are both lawyers and students may be able to help. Calgary Legal Guidance’s mission is to fill the gap between low-income individuals and those who do not qualify for legal aid. In order to receive legal aid, an individual must not be facing jail time. Calgary Legal Guidance will often intercede when an individual is facing minor summary charges such as public mischief, theft and/or common assault (non-domestic). Their Legal Helpline in Calgary is 403-234-9266; they also have a website that can be found at Their website may aid you in understanding the court processes involved in your particular case. We encourage you to visit it.

Duty Counsel

You may also be assisted by Duty Counsel if you attend court without arranged representation. Duty Counsel is funded by Legal Aid Alberta and assists unrepresented individuals with individual court appearances. Duty Counsel can speak to the Crown Prosecutor on your behalf to assist you in attempting to secure bail, adjusting your court date or in attempting to divert your charges into an extrajudicial program (Such as AMP). They can also assist you to enter a guilty plea, or postpone your court to a late date to give you more time to hire a lawyer.

What is a “Duty Counsel”?

Duty Counsel are lawyers who provide advice to you prior to your court appearance. They will speak to the court if you are unrepresented. Duty counsel can offer only limited services, and during your first court appearance may suggest the you retain a lawyer privately or seek assistance from Legal Aid Alberta. There is no financial eligibility barrier for assistance through Duty Counsel. It is a community service free to all Albertans.

Duty Counsel assists people who are unrepresented at their court appearance and can offer limited basic community legal services. Depending on the situation, duty counsel may speak to the court on your behalf. There is no financial eligibility requirement for assistance through Duty Counsel. It is free to all Albertans. Should you require full representation by a lawyer for the remainder of your case, duty counsel may suggest you to apply for legal aid or to hire a lawyer privately.

Legal Aid in Calgary and Alberta assigns duty counsel to the following dockets in Alberta:

  • criminal (adult and youth) courts;
  • drug treatment court (Calgary and Edmonton);
  • disciplinary hearings at correctional facilities;
  • applications for confirmations and breaches of emergency protection orders*;
  • Mental Health Review panel hearings*;
  • Provincial court — family and child welfare dockets (Calgary, Edmonton, Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie, St. Paul, Wetaskiwin, Red Deer and Medicine Hat); and
  • Court of Queen’s Bench — family (Calgary, Edmonton, Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie, St. Paul, Wetaskiwin, Red Deer and Medicine Hat).

Calgary Duty Counsel Contact Information

If you are dealing with one of the above issues- and cannot afford to hire a lawyer- call the Legal Services Centre at 1.866.845.3425 prior to attending court.

Hiring a Private Lawyer

As mentioned in the header, often the long term cost of relying on Legal Aid can outweigh the up-front costs of hiring your own lawyer. Whether or not you qualify for Legal Aid, consider the benefits that retaining affordable & competent advice from Hoare Claxton can have on your life.

Because the time between being charged and a court date can be a year or more, Hoare Claxton may be able to craft a custom payment plan where monthly installments are an option. Ultimately, they will always strive to stay within your budget while bringing the best skills they have to offer. The resources & connections that lawyers Peter Hoare and Ryan Claxton have to offer will often make the difference between Acquittal/ Alternative Measures or Criminal Conviction.


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