Ontario’s Family Law Limited Scope Services Project

Ontario’s Family Law Limited Scope Services Project (“the Project”) is an unprecedented, private-bar driven collaborative effort. The Advisory Committee is made up of members from the Ontario Bar Association Family Law Section; the Federation of Ontario Law Associations; the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts – Ontario Chapter; The Advocates’ Society; the Family Lawyers Association, the Superior Court of Justice and Ontario Court of Justice; experts in non-traditional legal services delivery; and researchers. The Principal Investigator for the research is Dr. Rachel Birnbaum, Professor of Social Work at King’s University College, Western University, and the Legal Co-Investigator for the research is Prof. Nicholas Bala of the Faculty of Law at Queen’s University. The Chair of the Project’s Steering Committee is Tami Moscoe, Senior Family Counsel at the Superior Court of Justice, and the Senior Program Director is Helena Birt, private family law practitioner. The Project team also consults with representatives from the Law Society, Law Pro, Legal Aid Ontario, and Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO).

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. The Family Law Section of the Simcoe County Bar Association and the Family Court Bench in Barrie are highly supportive of the project.

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 is growing weekly.

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 this pilot project, services offered include attendance in court on motions or at conferences, negotiating and reviewing consents, summary legal and procedural advice and coaching about how to start or respond to a case, and preparing “to do” lists.

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.

Have you worked with a lawyer who provided you with unbundled legal services in a family law matter?

Dr. Rachel Birnbaum at King’s University College, Western University is interested in hearing from clients who have used unbundled services.  Any telephone interviews will be kept strictly confidential and any information reported will be anonymous.

Dr. Birnbaum can be contacted by email at: rbirnbau@uwo.ca or by phone at: 1-800-265-4406, Ext. 4431 or 519-433-3491, Ext. 4431.

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

The Crisis

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

Our Project Team

Steering Committee Chair

Tami D. Moscoe
B.A., LL.B.
Senior Family Counsel, Office of the Chief Justice, Superior Court of Justice

Senior Program Director

Helena C. Birt LL.B.
Lawyer, Helena C. Birt Barrister and Solicitor
Former Provincial Manager, Family Duty Counsel Services, Legal Aid Ontario
Former Deputy Legal Director, Family Responsibility Office, Ministry of the Attorney General

Steering Committee Members

Nicholas Bala
L.S.M., J.D., LL.M.
Professor, Family and Children’s Law, Queens University

Rachel Birnbaum, Principal Researcher
Ph.D., RSW, LL.M.
Professor, Childhood Studies & Social Institutions and Social Work
King’s University College at Western University

Brian Burke
B.A., LL.B.
Partner, Epstein Cole LLP

Lisa Eisen
B.A. (Psych.), LL.B.
Founder of Family Law: A La Carte, Associate Certified Coach – International Coaching Federation

Janet Whitehead
Lawyer and Mediator, Whitehead Law and Mediation
Former Chair of the provincial County & District Law Presidents’ Association
Director of the Ontario Association of Family Mediators

Funding for The Project

The Ontario Family Law Limited Scope Services Project is funded by The Law Foundation of Ontario.

Established by statute in 1974, The Law Foundation of Ontario is the sole foundation in Ontario with the unique mandate of increasing access to justice.

The Foundation achieves its objectives through a variety of grants, fellowships and awards in addition to annual payments to Legal Aid Ontario.

Contact Us

For more information contact the Senior Program Director, Helena Birt, at info@FamilyLawLSS.ca

Our Partners