Ontario’s Family Law Limited Scope Services Project

Ontario’s Family Law Limited Scope Services Project (“the Project”) began as an unprecedented, private-bar driven collaborative effort to address access issues in family justice and the dramatic increase of self-represented litigants in family law matters. The Project is now under the mantle and care of the Winkler Institute for Dispute Resolution and the Osgoode Mediation Clinic (OMC), two organizations closely tied in both mandate and operations. The Winkler Institute, established in 2014, is a vibrant research centre committed to innovation and excellence in dispute resolution and access to justice. The OMC provides free mediation and conflict-resolution training to the York University community as well as the Greater Toronto Area.

The Crisis of Access to Family Justice

There has been a significant increase in the number of self-represented family litigants in recent history. Data suggests that in over half of the family cases in Canada’s courts, one or both parties are without a lawyer. Inability to afford full representation by a lawyer is the single biggest factor, but other reasons include the rise of “do it yourself” social attitudes, increasing availability of self-help information from family justice institutions, and a perception among some self-represented litigants that having a lawyer may not result in a significantly better outcome.
Litigants often find family court processes daunting and have difficulty understanding the process, as well as their rights and obligations. This then makes it more challenging to resolve their disputes in an efficient way, leading to costs and delay for the parties and the family justice system.

Family law limited scope services, also known as “unbundled” legal services, provide an innovative option between full representation and no representation at all. And limited scope services aren’t just for litigation – family lawyers can assist with negotiation or mediation in an out-of-court matter by providing legal coaching or unbundled legal services.

Letters of Support

Ontario’s Family Law Limited Scope Services Project’s aim is to improve access to family justice for middle income Ontarians by increasing the use of limited scope retainers (such as research, document drafting or in-court representation on a single appearance), legal coaching (lawyer assists client by offering advice, guidance and support) and summary legal counsel (scheduled lawyers provide day-of-court assistance for a fee to unrepresented litigants not eligible for Legal Aid) in family law matters.

A pilot project in Simcoe County provided a trial run for implementation of the Summary Legal Counsel (SLC) program, with training in June 2018 and a roll-out following in the early fall.

Province-wide recruitment and training of family lawyers to join Ontario’s Family Law Limited Scope Services Project’s roster began in the fall of 2018 and continues on an ongoing basis. Requirements to join include significant historical and ongoing experience in family practice and the completion of mandatory training provided by the Project.

The Project’s website went live in early January of 2019. The Project’s roster of lawyers is contained in an online directory on the website. Lawyers can apply directly to join the roster via an online application once they have completed the mandatory training. The number of lawyers in the directory continues to grow.

In February of 2020, a second summary legal counsel pilot project was launched at the Superior Court of Justice (Family) in Toronto called Advice and Settlement Counsel (ASC) Toronto. The ASC lawyer roster is managed by local members of the family bar and has the support of the local law association, judiciary and Legal Aid Ontario. ASC  lawyers can assist people with both ongoing court cases and out-of-court family law problems.

In October 2021, the Project found its new home under the combined stewardship of  the Winkler Institute for Dispute Resolution and the Osgoode Mediation Clinic. For more information on the Project, please contact info@FamilyLawLSS.ca.

The Project’s research and evaluation component will study the perceptions of judges, lawyers and other justice system professionals, as well as clients, the advantages and value of this type of service, as well as its limitations and how service delivery can be improved.

The Project facilitates access to and use of these services through the creation of this website hosting a province-wide roster of trained lawyers willing and able to provide such services. Prospective clients are able to search this website by location, type of service and service provider.

Go to Directory

Our Project Team

The Winkler Institute for Dispute Resolution and the Osgoode Mediation Clinic

Shelley Kierstead
LL.B., LL.M., Ph.D.
Academic Co-Director, Family Law Professor

Trevor C.W. Farrow
A.B., B.A./M.A., LL.B., LL.M., Ph.D.
Academic Co-Director

Contact Us

For more information contact info@FamilyLawLSS.ca

Our Partners