Back to Navigation
Home Lawyers About Your Licence Manage Your Licence Certified Specialists Administrative Policies Governing the Certified Specialist Program

Administrative Policies Governing the Certified Specialist Program

Table of contents

Part I - Definitions     

Part II - General         

1. Purpose
2. Equal Opportunity  
3. Areas of Practice
4. Limit on Number of Certifications
5. Individual Attainment
6. Voluntary Participation

Part III  - Certified Specialist Board

7. Appointment
8. Composition
9. Term
10. Function of the Board
11. Meetings of the Board
12. Quorum
13. Certification Annual Report
14. Confidentiality

Part IV - Requirements for Certification

15. Minimum Years of Practice and Recent Experience
16. Substantial Involvement
17. Multiple Certifications
18. Part-Time Practice
19. Professional Development
20. References
21. Professional Standards
22. Application Fee
23. Application for Certification and Accompanying Documents
24. Applications from Members of Board or Professional Development and Competence Committee
25. Parental Leave

Part V - Consideration by the Society        

26. Society Action on an Application
27. Notice
28. Confidentiality

Part VI - Consideration by Board                  

29. Board Decision on an Application
30. Notice 
31. Decision Final
32. Issuance of Certificate
33. Directory of Certified Specialists
34. Continuation of Certification

Part VII - Certified Specialists    

35. Specialist Designation 
36. Certified Specialist Annual Fee
37. Certification Annual Report
38. Proof of Compliance
39. Exemption for Extenuating or Exceptional Circumstances
40. Notice to Society
41. Certificate of Specialty in Abeyance
42. Revocation of Certificate of Specialty
43. Application for Restoration Following Revocation
44. Surrender of Certification


Part I:  Definitions

Applicant” is a lawyer applying for certification as a specialist.

Application” includes the completed: a) Application for Certification Form; b) Standards for Certification for the applicable area of law; and c) any required supplementary documents referenced in the Application for Certification Form or the Standards for Certification.

Board” is the Certified Specialist Board.

Certification Annual Report” is the report filed by certified specialists every year indicating that they have complied with the Certified Specialist Program standards of competence, and that the specialist is applying to the Law Society for re-certification.

Certification Staff” are employees of the Law Society of Ontario who have been assigned the responsibility of supporting the work of the Board and the Certified Specialist Program.

Certification” means certification as a specialist.

Certified specialist" or "specialist” is a lawyer member of the Law Society of Ontario who is certified by the Board as having met the Standards for Certification in a designated area of practice.

Consent to Disclosure” is a written authorization provided either a) with an initial application for certification; or b) with a Certification Annual Report for annual re-certification. The Consent to Disclosure is provided to the Lawyers’ Professional Indemnity Company (“LawPRO”) authorizing disclosure of their claims history to the applicant and the Law Society for the purpose of determining the applicant’s compliance with the Certified Specialist Program’s professional standards.

Law Society" or "Society” is the Law Society of Ontario.

Policies” are these Administrative Policies Governing the Certified Specialist Program of the Law Society of Ontario.

Portal” is the Law Society of Ontario's on-line licensee portal, which is used for annual invoicing and distribution of the Certification Annual Report to certified specialists.

Practice Concentration” is the required percentage of a lawyer’s practice devoted to a specialty area as defined in the Standards. 

Professional Development & Competence Committee,e Committeeeor PD&C Committee” is a standing committee of Convocation, responsible for competence matters.

Recent Experience” means practising law in a specialty area for at least 5 years before the day on which the member applies for certification. Recent Experience comprises at least 2 years in Ontario immediately before the day on which the lawyer applies for certification, and 3 years in one or more other common law jurisdictions.

Standards” are the Standards for Certification established for each specialty area.

Substantial Involvement” is the combination of the Practice Concentration and Recent Experience requirements in the Standards for each specialty area.

Back to top


Part II:  General

1. Purpose

The Certified Specialist Program recognizes lawyers who have met established standards of experience and knowledge requirements, and have maintained exemplary standards of professional practice in one of 17 designated areas of law.  

The program aims to promote the public interest and enhance lawyer competence by facilitating the development of specialty expertise in a given area of law.

2. Equal Opportunity

The Certified Specialist Program encourages participation from all qualified applicants without discrimination because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status or disability.

3. Areas of Practice

Bankruptcy and Insolvency Law
Civil Litigation
Citizenship and Immigration Law (Immigration/Refugee Protection)
Construction Law
Corporate and Commercial Law
Criminal Law
Environmental Law
Estates and Trusts Law
Family Law
Health Law
Indigenous Legal Issues (Rights and Governance/Litigation and Advocacy/Corporate and Commercial)
Intellectual Property Law (Trademark/Patent/Copyright)
Labour Law
Municipal Law (Local Government/Land Use Planning and Development)
Real Estate Law
Taxation Law
Workplace Safety and Insurance Law

4.  Limit on Number of Certifications

A lawyer may be certified as a specialist in a maximum of 2 areas of law.

5.  Individual Attainment

Certification can be held by individuals and cannot be attributed to the law firm or office of which the specialist is a member.

6.  Voluntary Participation

No lawyer licensed to practice law by the Law Society is required to be certified as a specialist in order to practise in the area of law covered by that specialty.

Back to top


Part III:  Certified Specialist Board

7.   Appointment

The Board is appointed by the Committee to oversee and regulate the Certified Specialist Program.

8.   Composition

The Board comprises between 8 and 12 members, including: the Chair; two benchers who are not lay benchers; one lay bencher; and a minimum of 5 certified specialists who are not benchers.

9.   Term

A lawyer or lay bencher appointed to the Board holds office for a term not exceeding 3 years and is eligible for reappointment.

The Chair holds office for a term not exceeding 3 years and is eligible for reappointment.  

10.  Function of the Board

The function of the Board is to:

  • establish the Standards for each area of specialty;
  • determine the areas of law in which lawyers may be certified as specialists;
  • make rules of practice and procedure with respect to all matters related to specialist certification;
  • develop, for the Committee’s approval, policies relating to the certification of lawyers as specialists;
  • recommend to the Committee the amount of fees payable by applicants for certification and by certified specialists; and
  • certify lawyers as specialists.

11.  Meetings of the Board

The Board will meet at the call of the Chair and no less than two times per year.

12.  Quorum

5 members of the Board constitutes a quorum for the purpose of the transaction of business.

13.  Certification Annual Report

Not later than March 31 of each year, the Board will report to the Committee on the affairs of the Board of the immediately preceding year.

14.  Confidentiality

A member of the Board will not disclose any information that comes to his or her knowledge as a result of the performance of his or her duties under these Policies, exceptions being: 

  • disclosure required in connection with administration of the Law Society Act, the regulations or the by-laws;
  • disclosure required of a member of the Board under the Law Society’s Rules of Professional Conduct;
  • disclosure of information that is a matter of public record; and
  • disclosure with the written consent of all persons whose interests might reasonably be affected by the disclosure.

 

Back to top


Part IV:  Requirements for Certification

15. Minimum Years of Practice and Recent Experience

The applicant must have engaged in the practice of law for at least 7 years before the day on which the lawyer applies for certification. In those 7 years, the lawyer must have practised in the specialty area for at least 2 years in Ontario immediately before the day on which they apply for certification, and at least 3 other years in one or more common law jurisdictions.   

Recent Experience must be in the applicant’s specialty area.

16.  Substantial Involvement

The applicant must demonstrate substantial involvement in the subject specialty area in the 5 years that comprise the applicant’s Recent Experience by:

  1. completing the Legal Experience section of the Application;
  2. completing the Experience section of the applicable Standards; and
  3. including any additional information that may be required in the Standards with his or her Application.    

In the event that the applicant does not entirely meet the experience requirements, the applicant may apply to the Society for recognition of their individual circumstances or related skills. Consideration will be given in circumstances where the applicant has:

  • limited his or her practice in recent years to a particular field of the specialty area;
  • has been involved in matters of extraordinary length and complexity; or
  • engaged in advanced course work or performed related activities such as:
    • teaching a course in the specialty area;
    • authoring books or articles for publication;
    • completing post-graduate or other studies in the specialty area;  
    • participating in the development and/or presentation of professional development programs related to the specialty area;
    • research;
    • participating in the policy development process;
    • drafting legislation and/or instruments;
    • participating as an active member on boards or tribunals or on the executive of any organization related to the specialty area; or
    • any other experience the applicant considers relevant to his or her Application.

The applicant is not required nor permitted to disclose the names of people he or she has represented in order to substantiate a claim to having certain types of experience, unless those names are already in the public domain.

17.  Multiple Certifications

Lawyers may apply for certification in up to 2 specialty areas.

Lawyers may rely on the same task or practice experience to demonstrate substantial involvement in each specialty area.

Where a lawyer applies for certification in more than one area, or where a lawyer is certified in one area and subsequently seeks certification in a new area, the Society shall review each of the lawyer’s Applications.

18.  Part-Time Practice

An applicant in the part-time practice of law in Ontario may be considered for certification as a specialist providing the applicant’s substantial involvement in the specialty area is equivalent to the requirements set out in these Policies and the individual Standards. 

19.  Professional Development

In addition to the 12 hours of the mandatory professional development requirement for all Ontario lawyers (to be reported in the Portal), applicants must also attest to the completion of 50 hours of self-study in the 2 years immediately preceding the date of the Application and in one additional year within the 5 years of Recent Experience.

Self-study hours may be obtained by methods such as, but not limited to:

  • teaching or being guest lecturer on a course in the specialty area;
  • authoring books or articles for publication;
  • completing post-graduate or other studies in the specialty area;  
  • participating in the development and/or the presentation of professional development programs related to the specialty area;
  • research;
  • participating in the policy development process;
  • drafting legislation and/or instruments; or
  • participating as an active member on boards or tribunals or on the executive of any organization related to the specialty area.

20.  References

The applicant must submit the required number of written references from such persons as determined by the Standards for the specific area of specialty. The references must be completed in the form prescribed by the Board.

The prescribed Statement of Reference Form can be submitted to the Certified Specialist Program using one of the following methods:

  • Emailed directly to the CSP at CertSpec@lso.ca by the referee, provided that no one else is copied on the email; *
  • Written hard copy in a sealed envelope, mailed directly to the Law Society of Ontario, Certified Specialist Program, 130 Queen Street West, Toronto, ON M5H 2N6;
  • Written hard copy in a sealed envelope, with the signature of the referee along the seal, included with the application package sent by the applicant to the Certified Specialist Program.

* The preferred, and most effective, method of the receipt of Applications for Certification and Statements of Reference is by email to the Certified Specialist Program at CertSpec@lso.ca.

The individual selected as a referee must be a lawyer licensed to practise law by the Law Society who has direct knowledge of the applicant’s work in the specialty area in the 5 years of Recent Experience. The referee must be able to attest to the applicant’s competent performance of the tasks selected in the Experience section of the Standards. 

None of the following is eligible to act as a referee:

  • a person whose licence is in abeyance under subsection 31 (1) of the Law Society Act;
  • a partner, an associate, a co-worker, an employer or an employee of the applicant;
  • an individual who is counsel to the applicant, to the applicant’s employer or to the applicant’s firm or company;
  • a third party neutral (example: a judge, arbitrator or other individual who is expected to remain impartial);
  • a relative of the applicant;
  • a member of the Certified Specialist Board;
  • a bencher; or
  • an employee of the Law Society.

The Statement of Reference Form and its contents is a confidential document and will be made available for review only to members of the Board and Certification Staff. 

21.  Professional Standards

During the 5-year period immediately preceding the date of the Application and in any jurisdiction in which the applicant is authorized to practise law, the applicant:

  • is not the subject, and has no record, of any order made by a tribunal of a governing body of the legal profession in any jurisdiction;
  • has had no terms, conditions, limitations or restrictions imposed upon their entitlement to practise law in any jurisdiction;  
  • is not the subject of a review of his or her practice for the purpose of determining if he or she is meeting standards of professional competence;
  • has had no serious claims or no substantial number of claims made against him or her in a professional capacity or in respect of his or her practice.

Despite these conditions, if the applicant is the subject of a conduct, capacity or competence proceeding in any jurisdiction in which the applicant is authorized to practise law, the Board may determine that granting certification to the applicant would not be contrary to the public interest.  

An applicant who is licensed to practise law in other jurisdiction(s) will provide a Certificate of Standing from the governing body of the legal profession in each of those jurisdictions. The Certificate of Standing must have been issued no more than 3 months immediately prior to the date of the Application.

22.  Application Fee

Each Application must be accompanied by proof of payment of the Application fee if the fee was paid online. The fee may be paid by certified cheque, bank draft of money order, which should be included with the Application package

The Application fee is non-refundable and may not be applied to subsequent Applications.

23.  Application for Certification and Accompanying Documents

In order to be considered complete, the Application package must include the following:

  • a completed Application for Certification Form;
  • Standards for Certification document, of which the Experience section has been completed by the applicant;
  • case analyses or other documents that may be required in the applicable Standards;
  • a brief description of the applicant’s practice in relation to the specialty area;
  • references from eligible referees;
  • Certificate of Standing from other jurisdiction(s), if applicable;
  • LawPRO report on the applicant’s claims history in the -5-year period immediately preceding the date of the Application (including the Consent to Disclosure form used to request the report); and
  • proof of payment of the Application fee if the fee was paid online, or a certified cheque, bank draft or money order included with the Application.

An Application that is incomplete will require completion before it is processed by the Society. The applicant will have one year within which to complete the Application and may be required to update all or part of the application in order to have it considered by the Society. If the Application remains incomplete beyond the one-year period, it may be considered withdrawn by the applicant and the Society may take no further action.

24. Applications from Members of the Board or Professional Development and Competence Committee

Applications from members of the Board or the Committee are subject to the same requirements as any other applicant, and the same conflict of interest rules set out in these Policies are applicable.

25. Parental Leave

An applicant who has been on parental leave at any time during the 7 years immediately preceding his or her Application may use the year prior to that period in order to meet the Substantial Involvement requirements outlined in the Standards.

Back to top


Part V:  Consideration by the Society

26. Society Action on an Application

The Society will consider the totality of an applicant’s experience, skills, knowledge and professional development to confirm that they comply with the applicable Standards. 

The applicant may be required to supplement the information in the Application and/or provide additional references to facilitate assessment of his or her eligibility for certification.   

27. Notice

The Society may determine that it intends to recommend to the Board that the applicant not be certified as a specialist. Before making such a recommendation, the Society will give the applicant 30 days to:

  • withdraw their Application; or
  • submit additional information to the Society for assessment.

28. Confidentiality 

All information relating to an Application, including the contents of the Application, Statements of Reference, files, reports, investigations, findings and recommendations is confidential and will not be disclosed to anyone, including the applicant. The applicant may be informed as to the status of his or her Application at any time and may receive a composite summary of assessment upon request.

Back to top


Part VI:  Consideration by the Board

29. Board Decision on an Application

The Board shall consider every Application.

If the Society recommends to the Board that the applicant be certified as a specialist, the Board may certify the applicant as a specialist if:

  • the Board is satisfied that the applicant meets the professional standards requirements for certification;
  • the Board is satisfied that the applicant is not the subject of a conduct, capacity or competence proceeding in any jurisdiction in which the licensee is authorized to practise law; and
  • it would not be contrary to the public interest to certify the applicant as a specialist

If the Society recommends to the Board that the applicant not be certified as a specialist, the Board may certify the applicant as a specialist if:

  • the Board is satisfied that the applicant meets the professional standards requirements for certification;
  • the Board is satisfied that the applicant is not the subject of a conduct, capacity or competence proceeding in any jurisdiction in which the licensee is authorized to practise law; and
  • it would not be contrary to the public interest to certify the applicant as a specialist.

or

not certify the applicant as a specialist if:

  • the Board is not satisfied that the applicant meets the professional standards requirements for certification;
  • the Board is concerned about the conduct, capacity or competence proceeding against the applicant in any jurisdiction in which the applicant is authorized to practise law; or
  • it would be contrary to the public interest to certify the applicant as a specialist.

30. Notice

If the Board does not certify the applicant as a specialist, the Board will notify the applicant in writing of its decision. 

31. Decision final

The decision of the Board on an Application is final.

32. Issuance of Certificate

Certification begins on the date the Application was approved by the Board.

A certificate of specialty will be issued to the successful applicant by the Law Society, stating the name of the specialist and the area of law in which the applicant has been certified as a specialist.

33. Directory of Certified Specialists

The names of certified specialists will be included in the Directory of Certified Specialists posted by the Law Society on its website.

34. Continuation of Certification

A lawyer certified as a specialist will continue to be certified as a specialist as long as the lawyer continues to meet the requirements of the program, namely that the lawyer:

  • has maintained Substantial Involvement in the specialty area;
  • complies with the Professional Development requirements and has updated the Portal with the professional development hours completed;
  • complies with the professional standards requirements in any jurisdiction in which the lawyer is authorized to practise law;
  • is not the subject and has no record of any order made against the lawyer by a tribunal of the governing body of any legal jurisdiction;
  • has had no terms, conditions, limitations or restrictions imposed on the lawyer’s authorization to practise law;
  • is not the subject of a review of the lawyer’s practice for the purpose of determining if the lawyer is meeting standards of professional competence;
  • has had no serious claims or no substantial number of claims made against the lawyer in the lawyer’s professional capacity, or in respect of the lawyer’s practice; and
  • complies with the annual reporting requirement attesting to the above and remits the Certified Specialist Annual Fee.

Back to top


Part VII:  Certified Specialists

35.  Specialist Designation

A certified specialist may use the following designations: “Certified Specialist (area of law in which certified as specialist)” or “Spécialiste agréé(e) (domaine de droit)” and/or “C.S.” immediately after the lawyer’s name in accordance with By-Law 15Rule 4.3 and the respective commentary of the Law Society’s Rules of Professional Conduct. Variations of the specialist designation are not permitted.

A lawyer who is not a certified specialist will not use any designation that might cause a person to reasonably conclude that the lawyer is certified as a specialist by the Law Society. 

36.  Certified Specialist Annual Fee

Every year, a certified specialist must pay to the Society a Certified Specialist Annual Fee in the amount determined by Convocation, including any applicable taxes. An email will be sent in December of every year advising specialists that the Certified Specialist Annual Fee invoice for the Certified Specialist Program is posted in their Portal account. Payment of the Certified Specialist Annual Fee is due on January 31 of each year

Specialists who fail to submit payment of the Certified Specialist Annual Fee within 30 days of January 31 will be deemed not in compliance with By-Law 15.

The Certified Specialist Annual Fee of a lawyer newly certified as a specialist after January 1 in a given year  will be prorated for the year in which the lawyer became a specialist. This pro-rated fee is payable within 30 days of the date of the effective date of the certification.

Newly certified specialists who fail to submit the pro-rated Certified Specialist Annual Fee within 30 days of the effective date of their certification will be deemed not in compliance with By-Law 15.

37.  Certification Annual Report

A certified specialist must submit a Certification Annual Report to Certification Staff by January 31 of each year to apply for re-certification. The Certification Annual Report will attest to the certified specialist’s compliance with these Policies during the immediately preceding year.

An email will be sent in December of every year advising specialists that a blank Certification Annual Report is posted in the Portal and must be completed and submitted by January 31.

The Certification Annual Report  will include:

  • a declaration attesting to the specialist’s compliance with the requirements of recertification, including the completion of the Society’s annual mandatory CPD requirement and the Certified Specialist Program’s requirement for 50 hours of self-study;
  • a declaration and summary of any outstanding claims or matters involving the specialist’s practice;

Specialists who fail to submit a Certification Annual Report to the Society by January 31 of a given year will be deemed not in compliance with By-Law 15.

38. Proof of Compliance

A certified specialist will provide proof of his or her compliance with these Policies upon request of Certification Staff no later than the date specified by Certification Staff. 

In the event a specialist fails to provide proof to the Society by the specified date, the specialist will be deemed not to be in compliance with these Policies.  

39.  Exemptions for Extenuating or Exceptional Circumstances

A certified specialist may apply to the Board for relief from strict compliance with the Certified Specialist Program's Professional Development requirement of 50 hours of self-study on the basis of extenuating or exceptional circumstances.

Where the Board determines that extenuating or exceptional circumstances exist, the Board may exempt the certified specialist from compliance with some or all of the Professional Development requirement of 50 hours of self-study for a maximum of 3 consecutive years.

40. Notice to Society

A certified specialist will notify the Society immediately if he or she is not in compliance with these Policies.

41.  Certificate of Specialty in Abeyance

Abeyance Automatic

A specialist’s certification is automatically in abeyance while: 

  • the specialist’s licence is in abeyance under subsection 31(1) of the Law Society Act:
  • the specialist has terms, conditions, limitations or restrictions imposed on the specialist’s authorization to practise law in any jurisdiction in which the specialist is authorized to practise law;
  • the specialist is the subject of a review of their practice in any jurisdiction, for the purpose of determining if the specialist is meeting standards of professional competence; or
  • the specialist has serious claims or a substantial number of claims made against him or her in his or her professional capacity.

Abeyance at Board’s Discretion

The Board may place a specialist’s certification in abeyance if the specialist is the subject of a conduct, capacity or competence proceeding in any jurisdiction in which the specialist is authorized to practise law, and to not do so would be contrary to the public interest.  

Abeyance Mandatory

A specialist may apply to the Board to have their specialist certification placed in abeyance for up to 12 months. Applications for abeyance of the specialist designation must be submitted to the Certified Specialist Program in writing.   

42. Revocation of Certificate of Specialty

A certified specialist’s certification is automatically revoked when the specialist:

  • ceases to practise law in Ontario;
  • ceases to meet the Substantial Involvement requirement of the specialty area;
  • is the subject of any order made against the specialist by a tribunal of the governing body of the legal profession in any jurisdiction;
  • fails to pay a Certified Specialist Annual Fee or submit the Certification Annual Report;
  • fails to meet the Professional Development requirements of the subject specialty area; or
  • the specialist’s certification has been in abeyance for more than 12 months without indication of interest in reinstatement to the Certified Specialist Program

A lawyer whose certification was revoked may apply for certification at any time by submitting a new Application.

43. Application for Restoration of Certificate of Specialty Following Abeyance

Following Automatic Abeyance

If the conditions for automatic abeyance are no longer present and the specialist’s certification has not been revoked under these Policies, the specialist’s certification will be restored upon written notice to the certification staff of the change in conditions.

Following Discretionary Abeyance

If the conditions for discretionary abeyance are no longer present and the specialist’s certification has not been revoked under these Policies, the specialist may apply in writing to the Board to have the specialist’s designation restored. The specialist’s certification will be restored if to do so would not be contrary to the public interest.

Following Mandatory Abeyance

If the Board has placed a specialist’s certification in abeyance at the request of the specialist and the specialist’s certification has not been revoked under these Policies, the specialist may apply in writing to the Certified Specialist Program to restore the specialist’s certification. The designation may be restored if:

  • none of the conditions for automatic or discretionary abeyance are present; and 
  • the Board is satisfied that it would not be contrary to the public interest to restore the specialist’s certification.

44.  Surrender of Certification

A certified specialist who wishes to surrender his or her certification will submit a request to the Law Society in writing by email to CertSpec@lso.ca, by fax to (416) 947-3370, or by regular mail to Law Society of Ontario, Certified Specialist Program, 130 Queen St. W., Toronto, Ontario M5H 2N6.

A lawyer ceases to be certified as a specialist immediately after the Society approves the lawyer’s request to surrender his or her certification. The lawyer’s name will be removed from the Directory of Certified Specialists and the lawyer must cease to use the designation in accordance with these Policies; By-Law 15 and the Rules of Professional Conduct. A lawyer who surrenders his or her certificate may apply for certification at any time by submitting a new Application.

Back to top


Terms or Concepts Explained