This guide is the perfect resource for people looking to learn more about long-term disability lawyers in Ontario.
Each year, people contact Resolute Legal with the same questions about disability lawyers:
What makes someone a “disability” lawyer? Should I hire a disability lawyer or represent myself? What are the pros and cons of hiring lawyers? paralegals? or advocates? How much does a disability lawyer cost? What are the problems with disability lawyers? Who is the best disability lawyer in Ontario? What are the top disability law firms in Ontario?
These are all great questions and I understand why you’re looking for answers. Hiring a disability lawyer is an important decision that comes with big financial consequences.
To be absolutely transparent: Resolute Legal is a national disability claim law firm. We get the majority of our income from legal fees charged to people we represent in disability claims and appeals. However, the truth of the matter is that hiring us or another disability lawyer or law firm may not be the best decision for you. You may be better served to represent yourself or to hire a paralegal or non-lawyer advocate. If there is one available in your area, a non-profit legal service provider might also be a better option than hiring a disability lawyer.
This Guide explains the pros and cons of hiring a disability lawyer as compared to some of your other options. It explains what’s involved with hiring a lawyer. We also include a partial list of disability lawyers and non-profit legal services in Ontario. At the very end, we have supplied our seven-step process that you can follow to choose a lawyer who will be right for you.
Click on any of the links in the table of contents to jump to that section.
It’s common for lawyers to focus on one or two areas of law. A disability lawyer is a lawyer who focuses their legal work on disability-related claims involving disability benefits or compensation from insurance companies, government agencies, or employers.
There is no official certification for a lawyer to be considered a disability lawyer, so any lawyer can claim to be one or represent people in disability claims and appeals. Personally, I believe that the term “disability lawyer” should be reserved for lawyers who focus exclusively (or near-exclusively) on representing people in disability-related matters. Of course, this is only my opinion; it is certainly possible for any lawyer to competently handle a disability claim even if that’s not the main focus of their work.
It’s hard to verify if a lawyer’s work is focused mainly on disability-related matters, so if you’re looking for someone who mainly practices disability law, you’ll have to do a bit of your own research. I explain this further in the seven-step process to hire a disability lawyer.
This is a very common question that doesn’t have an absolute yes or no answer. Whether it is better for you to have a disability lawyer compared to other options will depend on your individual situation.
All things being equal, I believe it’s safe to say that working with the “right” lawyer will help maximize the chance of success for your disability claim or appeal. This is based on my experience in successfully representing people who were denied disability benefits before they hired a lawyer. In fact, there are some studies from the United States that conclude hiring a lawyer can increase a person’s chances of being approved for disability benefits.
In 2017, the United States Social Security Administration found that disability claimants with lawyers were 2.9 times more likely to be approved than those without a lawyer. Also in 2017, a Martindale-Nolo study found that 60% of people with a lawyer got approved for social security disability benefits -- compared to a 34% approval rate for those without a lawyer. This study found that lawyers made the biggest impact at the appeals stage as compared to the initial application.
These studies reflect my own experience as a disability lawyer helping thousands of people with disability claims and appeals in Canada. In fact, Resolute Legal’s very first CPP disability client was in a situation where she had lost at a hearing, but we were about to turn things around by improving how her case was presented to the decision-maker. You can read more about this in my article:
The Best Story Wins: The Secret to Winning Your Disability Claim
While you will gain an advantage by having the right lawyer, I strongly believe that most people should try to manage their own disability claim in the initial application and appeal stages. Contrary to what you may hear, insurance companies and government agencies do approve people for disability benefits -- so you should first try applying and appealing on your own.
I have seen costs go from as low as fifty dollars for a one-time consultation to as high as $150,000 (or more) for representation in complex disability lawsuits that recover compensation into the millions. The cost is as unique as your situation.
The cost to hire a disability lawyer depends on three main drivers of legal costs: the scope of work you need done, the experience of the lawyer, and the financial risk assumed by the lawyer.
The scope of work refers to the type, amount, and difficulty of work you want the lawyer to do. Do you want one consultation to explore your options? Do you need a lawyer to help with paperwork for a few days? Or do you need full legal representation for several months?
Depending on what you need done, the legal costs can fall into these ranges:
Some lawyers are more expensive than other lawyers. You will generally pay more for lawyers who have a higher level of experience or who have a high demand for their services. Lawyers with less experience or less demand for their services will typically charge less.
It’s important to understand that lawyers are not all the same. If you are going to pay more for a lawyer or law firm, make sure you do your homework to ensure the lawyer or firm has the experience and reputation necessary to justify the higher-than-normal rates.
Generally speaking, you will pay more for legal services if your lawyer takes on the risk of not being paid for the work done. For example, if your lawyer only gets paid if they win disability benefits or a financial settlement, then you can expect the costs to be higher to account for the risk. This type of pricing is seen in no-win, no fee agreements.
On the other hand, if your lawyer gets paid regardless of the outcome of the case, you can expect the legal fees to be less than they would be in a no-win, no-fee situation.
To learn more about the costs of hiring a lawyer, see my article:
How Much Does a Disability Lawyer Cost in Canada?
I find there are a lot of misconceptions about what it means to hire a lawyer for a disability claim. At one end, there are people who believe that having a lawyer to write a threatening letter to the insurance company will result in the approval of a denied claim. On the other end, there are people who fear that hiring a lawyer means the case will take years to reach a decision.
After having helped thousands of people with disability claims, I strongly believe that hiring the “right” lawyer can result in faster approval of your disability claim or appeal. I say the “right” lawyer because not all lawyers are the same -- some will be faster than others simply because they have more experience and/or better office systems and operations management.
Experienced disability lawyers get faster results because they are better at understanding the full context of the disability claim denial. When they understand the context, it becomes easy to identify what needs to be done to get approval of benefits or a financial settlement. When they don’t understand or appreciate the context, they are more likely to take actions that are less effective at securing approval of benefits.
I can only speak to my own experience, but we regularly help people get approved in a matter of weeks or months -- not years. Again, the speed at which a lawyer can help you win approval of benefits will depend on the context of your situation.
To learn more about how context affects disability claims, check out my article:
4 Reasons to Avoid Disability Claim Internal Appeals
Having helped thousands of people with disability claims and appeals, I am confident that hiring a lawyer is not the right choice for everyone. At Resolute Legal we believe that, with the right resources, education, and support, the vast majority of people can competently handle their own disability claims and appeals up to a certain point.
If you are considering hiring a lawyer for your disability claim or appeal, it’s important to understand the most common problems with hiring lawyers. This will help you confirm that hiring a lawyer is the right choice and how to make it a positive experience
Based on my experience, there are five common problems with hiring a lawyer for a disability claim or appeal:
To read in-depth about these problems and how you can avoid them, check out my article:
Problems with Hiring a Lawyer for Your Disability Appeal
While this guide is focused on disability lawyers, it’s important to understand that there are other options available to you. There are three categories of service providers for disability claims and appeals:
Even though Resolute Legal fits into the first category, my goal is to educate you about all your options -- so that means teaching you about all categories of service providers.
Lawyers in Canada have to go through three years of law school followed by a one-year apprenticeship. They receive a general legal education that includes training in legal advocacy and writing. Lawyers are heavily regulated and must follow the rules of professional conduct and ethics. A lawyer can represent a person in any type of disability claim or appeal. Lawyers are required to have malpractice insurance to protect clients against financial losses caused by the lawyer’s negligence. There can be a wide range in the level of competence between various lawyers; they gain experience by representing people in disability claims and appeals.
Paralegals receive one or two years of general legal education. Ontario is the only province in Canada where paralegals are regulated and licensed as legal professionals. This means that paralegals in Ontario must prove they meet minimum requirements for education and legal knowledge. They must also abide by the rules of professional conduct and ethics, similar to those that lawyers follow.
Paralegals in Ontario can represent disability claimants before tribunals -- including the Social Security Tribunal (CPP disability); Social Benefits Tribunal (ODSP and Ontario Works); the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal (WSIB or workers compensation claims); and the Ontario Labour Relations Board (for employment disputes). Like lawyers, licensed paralegals are required to have malpractice insurance to protect clients from financial losses caused by the paralegal’s negligence.
Licensed paralegals can provide a very high level of competence and professionalism in representing people in disability claims and appeals. As with lawyers, paralegals gain experience by working on disability claims; there may be a wide range of competence between paralegals based on their individual level of experience or access to a colleague with a high level of experience. Outside of Ontario, non-licensed paralegals fall under the category of disability advocates.
Advocates differ from licensed paralegals and lawyers in that they are unlicensed. This means that, unlike lawyers and paralegals, advocates aren’t held to standards for education or competence. They are not required to follow rules of ethics or professional conduct. Advocates are also not required to have malpractice insurance, so there may be no financial compensation for clients who suffer financial losses due to the advocate’s negligence.
Advocates provide a variety of disability claim and appeal services including filling out disability claim forms and helping people with internal or reconsideration appeals. Some tribunals, like the Social Security Tribunal for CPP disability appeals, allow advocates to represent a person at a tribunal hearing.
Advocates play an important role in helping people with disability claims and appeals. Even though they are unregulated, there are many competent advocates who provide services that are high quality, professional, and ethical.
This is the question most people want answered, but unfortunately it’s not so easy to choose one person or firm. Being the “best” is subjective, so there isn’t one right answer or consensus for the best disability claims lawyer in Ontario.
It’s important to understand that lawyers in Ontario must follow rules of professional conduct and ethics. These rules also place restrictions on how lawyers can present themselves in marketing and advertising.
Lawyers are prohibited from doing any marketing that makes a false or misleading statement. A lawyer must market their services in a way that is demonstrably true, accurate, and verifiable. Additionally, lawyers are prohibited from using any advertising that suggests they have “qualitative superiority” to other lawyers. In other words, lawyers cannot outright claim to be the best lawyer or say that they are better than other lawyers.
One way some lawyers have sought to get around these restrictions is with lawyer awards. These awards are a roundabout way for the lawyer to “prove” that they are the best lawyer. Many of these awards are dubious at best -- and in some cases they’re nothing more than a paid endorsement.
The Ontario Law Society has (rightly) cracked down on these lawyer awards because of how misleading they are to the public. Even awards from seemingly reputable sources can be manipulated by lawyers and law firms. The firm may not be the best in its category -- just the best at getting out the vote to win the award.
We address how to compare lawyers below in our seven step guide to hiring a lawyer, but you should be very wary of making decisions based on lawyer awards or any marketing that suggests the lawyer is the best.
During consultations with people who are considering hiring a lawyer, I am often asked “Who are your competitors in Ontario?” If I am not outright asked, I will volunteer the information to the person during the call.
When I give people a list of competitors to consider, I focus on law firms that I know who have at least one lawyer who dedicates 75% or more* of their practice to disability claims from insurance companies, government agencies, and employers.
Here is a partial list of law firms** (in no particular order) that have at least one lawyer whose practice is focused primarily on disability claims and appeals:
* Please note that 75% is just the figure I have chosen for the purposes of this guide. A lawyer or law firm can do less than this and still be competent to handle a disability claim or appeal.
** This list is to the best of my knowledge. If you know of a law firm that should be added to this list, please contact my office. We will add them once we verify that they meet the “75% disability claims” criteria.
If the insurance company has denied your short- or long-term disability insurance claim, it’s important to understand your rights and obligations. Depending on your situation, there could be many obligations and deadlines that apply to you. It is important that you take action to secure your employment rights while appealing the denial of disability insurance benefits.
A disability law firm can help you in the following ways:
First of all: If Service Canada has denied your application for CPP disability benefits, it is critical that you don’t miss the 90-day deadline to appeal.
Your appeal strategy will be different depending on whether you are doing a Reconsideration appeal (with Service Canada) or a Tribunal appeal (to the Social Security Tribunal).
You must take special care when appealing your case to the Social Security Tribunal as there are a couple of technical requirements you must meet. There are tight deadlines for requesting the appeal and submitting documents before the hearing. Your tribunal hearing is essentially your last kick at the can, so you have to get it right. Consult a disability law firm early on in the process. If you wait until your hearing is fast approaching -- or worse yet, after you have already lost your hearing -- it may be too late for the law firm to help you.
A disability law firm can help you in the following ways:
Many people with disability claims have other related legal issues involving their employer. Common disability-related claims against employers can include: wrongful denial of short- or long-term disability benefits; wrongful termination of employment; harassment; or violation of human rights.
Such claims against the employer have to be coordinated with any disability-related appeals or lawsuits you have against an insurance company or government agency. A disability lawyer can help you identify all of your disability-related claims and coordinate them to maximize your chances of success and recovery of compensation.
Where possible, it’s ideal to have the same lawyer or law firm handle all of your disability-related claims; you want to avoid a situation where you have to hire multiple lawyers or law firms that may not be able to coordinate effectively.
A disability lawyer can help you in the following ways:
In some situations, you may have alternatives to hiring a lawyer at a private law firm. Ontario has a number of non-profit organizations that provide legal services to eligible people. Below, I list and review some of the non-profit organizations that provide services and representation to people with disability-related legal issues.
ARCH Disability Law Centre is a legal clinic that focuses exclusively on disability rights. According to its website, ARCH is dedicated to “defending and advancing the equality rights, entitlements, fundamental freedoms and inclusion of persons with disabilities with low income in Ontario.” ARCH’s services focus on representing people in cases involving accessibility, attendant services, education, transportation, discrimination, and decision-making rights. ARCH is funded through Legal Aid Ontario and other donations.
The Office of the Worker Advisor is an independent agency that provides free legal advice and representation to people dealing with workers’ compensation claims. The OWA represents workers at the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), the Workplace Safety and Insurance Tribunal (WSIAT) and the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB). The OWA is a non-profit agency funded by the Ontario government.
Legal Aid Ontario provides subsidized or free legal services to financially eligible low-income Ontarians through 72 independent legal clinics. Legal Aid Ontario represents people who need to appeal a denial of benefits under the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) or the Ontario Works Program (OWP). Some clinics may also handle legal issues involving the Canada Pension Plan or wrongful termination of employment.
The Injured Workers Community Legal Clinic is an independent legal clinic funded by Legal Aid Ontario. It focuses on casework, public education, law reform, research and organizing support for injured workers.
Pro Bono Ontario (PBO) strives to remove barriers to justice that people with disabilities may face. They have a toll-free, Ontario-wide advice line that is accessible for all people with disabilities. They also offer employment/long-term disability advice clinics and appeals assistance programs if you choose to represent yourself in your appeal.
Based in the Ottawa area, Reach offers education and resources as well as independent legal referral services to persons with disabilities. They prioritize access to justice, disability rights, and accommodations for people with all disabilities. With a team of over 200 lawyers and paralegals, Reach can assist with any of the following legal matters: wills and power of attorney, insurance and pension claims, labor and employment relations, personal injury, criminal and civil litigation, immigration, human rights, business and family law. They offer up to 3 hours of free legal services with the option to negotiate for any additional time.
Do you want to know whether you need legal advice or full representation? Do you want help with your long-term disability appeal but don’t know how or where to start? Do you worry about being overcharged or getting denied (again) because you hired the wrong lawyer?
If you said “yes” or even “maybe” to any of these questions, you should read this guide. You already have enough stress to deal with right now. Your lawyer should help relieve your stress -- not add to it.
This guide can serve as your roadmap to finding the right legal advice for your long-term disability appeal. Through our seven-step process, we will help you:
You can give yourself a better chance of getting the legal assistance you need if you know your rights and your options. This guide will help.
Do you need full legal representation where a lawyer handles all aspects of the appeal, or do you just need legal advice on a key issue so you can handle the appeal on your own?
It may make sense for you to hire a lawyer for legal advice if:
However, you might benefit from full representation if:
Once you’ve determined your need for legal services, move on to the next step.
Depending on your situation, you may or may not have the right to hire a lawyer.
Once you have clarified your legal rights, move to the next step.
Do you know all your disability-related legal claims? Yes, you may have more than one -- maybe even several. Here are the most common:
If you have multiple claims related to the same medical condition or disability, you must present a coordinated legal strategy for them all. Having one lawyer or law firm handling all claims will reduce the risk of delays, confusion, and excess costs.
Some legal counsel may only offer to represent you in your disability appeal. If they won’t handle all of your claims, they should at least give you guidance on the rest. Look for lawyers with the experience and willingness to handle all of your disability-related claims together, or find someone who has close relationships with other lawyers and could coordinate with them to represent you for the rest of your claims.
Once you have identified all of your claims, move to the next step.
Hiring a lawyer is a large financial commitment. Many lawyers offer a “no-win, no-fee” arrangement -- also known as a contingency fee agreement -- but you still want to make sure the agreement is fair. There are strict rules for how lawyers can charge clients, especially when it comes to contingency fee agreements. You should know at least these two:
This requirement can vary by province. Ontario, for instance, has this in their Rules of Professional Conduct:
3.6-1 A lawyer shall not charge or accept any amount for a fee or disbursement unless it is fair and reasonable and has been disclosed in a timely fashion.
Contingency fee agreements have the potential to produce fees that are neither fair nor reasonable. These agreements often set legal fees at 33.3 percent of any monies recovered. If your claim results in a very large settlement with very little work performed by the lawyer, then that 33.3 percent could produce an unfair fee.
If your arrangement has such a percentage, remember that it’s not set in stone. Your lawyer can only take that percentage if doing so results in a fair and reasonable fee under the circumstances.
So, how do we know what’s “fair and reasonable”? The Rules of Professional Conduct clarify:
In determining the appropriate percentage or other basis of the contingency fee, the lawyer and the client should consider a number of factors, including the likelihood of success, the nature and complexity of the claim, the expense and risk of pursuing it, the amount of the expected recovery and who is to receive an award of costs.
The Rules of Professional Conduct list other factors as well, including:
Ultimately, a lawyer can only charge a fair and reasonable fee for the service provided. If the percent formula would result in an unfair fee, then you don’t have to settle for that.
Should you file a lawsuit and have it ruled in your favour, the insurance company may have to pay a portion of your legal costs in addition to your compensation. “Legal costs” simply means a payment toward your legal fee as dictated by the court. If the ruling goes against you, the court may require you to pay some of the insurance company’s legal costs. Legal costs can be paid on settlement, or a judge can order either side to pay after a trial. This payment could reduce your legal fee by up to 50 percent.
The Rules of Professional Conduct require lawyers to pass any such payments to you -- unless the court orders otherwise -- or risk professional misconduct charges. This payment won’t become an issue if your case goes to court because a judge will specifically order it. On the other hand, if you reach an out-of-court settlement, you’ll have to make sure you receive the proper payment. We’ve seen lawyers reprimanded and even class-action lawsuits against law firms regarding this issue, so pay close attention!
When you settle out of court, the insurance company will typically make a lump-sum settlement, agreeing to pay X amount with no indication of what portion represents legal costs. Some lawyers may claim that such settlements don’t include legal costs to pass on to the client. We strongly disagree with this view; at the very least, it violates the spirit of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Anyone with a calculator can figure out what portion of a lump sum should go to costs. Legal costs should cover between 25 and 50 percent of the legal fees charged -- that’s it. A lawyer who can calculate your legal fee can determine what portion of a lump sum should pay legal costs.
Once you’ve learned what you need to know about your legal fees, move to the next step.
Before you start speaking with lawyers, you need to know your goals and service expectations. Do you want monthly payments or a one-time settlement? How do you want to interact with your lawyer – online, by phone or video call, or in person? You must make your goals and service expectations clear to reduce the risk of conflict and dissatisfaction.
What do you want to achieve? Generally speaking, filing a lawsuit has four possible outcomes:
Some lawyers and law firms only want that lump-sum settlement. If you choose that as your only goal as well, then you can work with these candidates. However, what if you want monthly payments? Or what if you start out wanting a lump sum and then change your mind? You need to seriously consider these possibilities, regardless of how unlikely they feel to you now.
Please think carefully about hiring anyone who tries to limit you to specific outcomes. You should keep all of your options open. Lump-sum settlements may be easy, but they’re not always in your best interests. A good lawyer will tell you when it’s a bad idea.
Lawyers and law firms get a lot of criticism for poor customer service, and some of it is true. In the past, most law firms expected clients to take time out of their busy days, fighting traffic to reach those posh downtown offices, just to sign documents or review goals.
Fortunately, times have changed. Law firms nowadays perform services somewhere on the spectrum between the traditional model and a remote model, so it’s entirely up to you how you want to interact with your lawyers. If you don’t use email or prefer face-to-face meetings, a traditional model is for you. Alternatively, you can explore an online model like what we use here at Resolute Legal. Our lawyers work online or travel when necessary; you sign documents online and take meetings by phone; you log into an online portal to get updates on your case and view documents, milestones, and messages. Many law firms fall somewhere in between the two extremes of these service models.
In any case, a simple phone call to your potential choice should tell you what you need to know and whether you should move onto your next candidate. Then ask candidates how they can accommodate you.
Once you have set your goals and service expectations, move to the next step.
Do your research. Prepare a list of possible lawyers or law firms. Go online. Ask friends for referrals. When considering candidates, you want to focus on those who have experience with disability claims, employment laws, and human rights laws. Most disability claims involve all of those issues.
If you're considering hiring a lawyer or online law firm, check out our article Hiring a lawyer online vs. Hiring a local lawyer for more information.
Once you have narrowed down your list of candidates based on these factors, move on to the next step.
Schedule appointments with your candidates to speak with them about your appeal. You must speak with more than one and review them carefully so you can feel confident you have made the right choice. If you prefer email or online chat for communications, try those channels first to see how well it goes -- this might be representative of what your experience will be if you hire them.
Questions to ask