If I can’t afford a lawyer, what are my options?

By Last Updated: May 17, 2023

If you cannot afford a lawyer, there are numerous Government funded and charitable legal organizations that may be able to assist you depending on your charges, the jeopardy you face, and your income. You will have to look for the ones in your local area to make sure it’s available.

All provinces in Canada have a Government funded Legal Aid office that can assist individuals who do not have the income to hire private counsel. Most of the time, the critical criteria considered by legal aid is:

  1. your income, either in the current, or prior calendar year; and
  2. the risk of jail posed by the charges you are facing.

In Calgary, for example, Legal Aid may be able to assist you if you meet their income requirements, and are potentially facing a period of incarceration if convicted. If you qualify for Legal Aid, your matter will be assigned to a criminal lawyer who will assist you in defending against the charges you face. Many of our lawyers handle matters through Legal Aid, so you may be able to select or request the lawyer you want to handle your case. While you are not guaranteed counsel of your choice, giving a shortlist of lawyers you would like appointed definitely improves your chances of securing the lawyer you want.

Most major cities in Canada with a law school have student based organizations that assist low income clients required legal assistance in those cities and surrounding areas. In Calgary, Student Legal Assistance is such an organization operated in partnership with the University of Calgary Faculty of Law. Student Caseworkers, supervised by criminal defence lawyers (including one of our lawyers, Michael Strategic), may be able to assist if you are charged with a minor offence and meet their income requirements. Calgary Legal Guidance is another Calgary based non-profit organization that may be able to assist you if you do not qualify for Legal Aid. Calgary Legal Guidance is staffed by a combination of lawyers and students, and provide legal representation for low income individuals in a variety of areas of law.

Finally, in virtually every location across Canada, there is a government funded Duty Counsel system available if you attend court without representation. Duty Counsel is funded by Legal Aid and assists unrepresented people with individual court appearances. Duty Counsel can speak to the Crown Prosecutor on your behalf to assist you in attempting to secure bail, or in attempting to divert your matter into an extrajudicial diversion program. They can also assist you to enter a guilty plea, or adjourn your court date to give you more time to hire a lawyer.

Don’t assume you cannot afford a lawyer. Many criminal defence lawyers have low cost options and offer flexible payment plans. Our office, for example, has a full team of lawyers who may be able to assist with your defence. Our lawyers have different levels of experience and fee scales to meet a variety of budgets, and we encourage you to book a free consultation to see what we can do. At the very least, we (or a private criminal defence lawyer in your local area) can point you in the right direction.

About The Author

Michael Oykhman

Managing Partner

Michael Oykhman is a senior lawyer and founder of Strategic Criminal Defence, a full-service criminal law firm with central law offices across Western Canada and Ontario.

My professional experience consists of countless court appearances and thousands of successful defences and satisfied clients. Over the last 10 years, I have worked to build a law office where all the lawyers share our collective experience, resources, and passion to help people. Our team approach to legal representation is client–rather than only law–centred. We look for opportunities to add value to our clients through strategic thinking and creative solutions.

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Michael Oykhman is a very professional lawyer and the first time I spoke to him he asked about my situation and he gave me some very helpful advice and assistance and also told me his odds of winning this case. During the days I was in contact with micheal I could feel the level of professionalism of him and his team, he is able to respond back to you with any questions you have within 24 hours. In the end he was as successful in helping me win my case as he had initially promised me.If you are still struggling to find a lawyer, I highly recommend Michael Oykhman.


Please give yourself a favour and contact Mr. Michael Oykhman if you need any legal advice or if you are in a terrible situation. Even-tough, the odds are not in your favour, still they will go extra miles to help you out in bad situation and get you favourable outcome. Moreover, They will work on your file even after the business hours. I don’t have words to say thanks to Mr. Michael oykhman and Kiran Cheema who had worked on my file and get me out of trouble. I’m very grateful for your assistance and exceptional service. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.


I am grateful that Ms. Moira McAvoy was my lawyer, and I remain thankful to her for everything. She made a successful resolution to my case possible. Ms. Moira McAvoy is a professional, trustworthy lawyer, and a compassionate person. She is an excellent listener and knowledgeable of the law. From the start, she was an excellent guide. I did not know anything about the legal system and court, and she outlined everything clearly in advance, so I could understand things. She never rushed me through anything. She spoke clearly, explained everything, considered what I said, and provided options and advice. She kept me up to date on new information, requirements, and deadlines. She was always positive and this helped so much.


Ryan Patmore and his team are simply the best. I was bullied by CPS in 2020 and it landed me with three separate charges, assault, refusal to blow and DUI, which all went down as I was parked at a friends. After some research and a conversation with Michael, he directed me towards Ryan and at the time I didn’t know that would be a game changer in my favour! He is honest, transparent, helpful and a brilliant mind. He successfully appealed my license suspension with ATSB and then proceeded to get the crown to dismiss all my charges before trial. I never had to step foot inside a courtroom. If you are in need of a criminal defence lawyer, don’t think twice, get in touch with this firm and ask for Ryan Patmore! The guy is an absolute saviour.


Joseph Beller, from the very beginning when I first contacted and then retained Joseph as my representative I felt I was in good hands. When I emailed him with a question. I got a prompt response. We communicated often on the phone as needed. Joseph kept me informed as to the process. He made sure I knew all the potential results so I knew and could plan for the different outcomes. I know this his his job. But appreciate his professionalism and also his ability to not make me feel any extra stress. Well done.