We all know there is a real “access to justice” issue in Canada; but not all of us know what steps we can take to change this. There is now one simple and rewarding way for you to help: volunteer with Pro Bono Ontario’s Free Legal Advice Hotline.
This service was launched in September 2017 and is a call-in hotline that provides real legal advice, as well as assistance with drafting letters and court forms, at no charge for people without access to legal representation. Because it is a hotline, the volunteer lawyers can help a significant number of individuals who cannot access traditional legal services due to geography, disability, childcare obligations or inflexible work schedules.
I volunteered a day of my time in early March. The call centre is easily accessible for volunteers and is located a short distance from the Eglinton subway station. Volunteers arrive at 9:00 am for a quick tutorial on how to use the phones and the intuitive Salesforce platform. Do not worry, if you forget how to use the program, they have very helpful and knowledgeable staff on hand all day to assist. Volunteers then answer phone calls from 9:30 am to 4:00 pm with a lunch break. The calls are limited to 30 minutes, so you are able to assist several individuals all across Ontario in one day.
I found it to be a very rewarding experience and quite fun. I answered a variety of questions and provided advice on possible causes of action, serving and filing deadlines, and warning of potential limitation period issues, just to name a few. While you might be wondering how you can really assist someone in just 30 mins you would be surprised to learn how much can be accomplished in this short period of time. Being immersed in the law and legal procedures on a daily basis, lawyers often forget how inaccessible the law can be for those without legal training. Volunteers can easily assist someone in moving their case forward by directing them to the correct form to fill out or by simply explaining what a “tort” is.
Volunteers can choose the areas of civil law they wish to service (no family law or criminal law): civil procedure, employment, consumer, housing, corporate law for small businesses, charities and non-profits and creating powers of attorney. Pro Bono Ontario also has a great knowledge management database with articles and other resources to help you if you are not fully up to speed on a certain area of law.
Also, in addition to helping a great cause, you get to meet other lawyers who are volunteering their time. It is an effective networking opportunity.
I would highly recommend volunteering and encourage all lawyers to consider signing up to volunteer a day of your time. All you have to do is fill out the simple online application form here. Then the next time the topic of access to justice comes up, you will know that you have taken at least one step in solving this widespread problem.