Do-it-Yourself Litigants Helped Free at Downtown Centre

Jennifer Thompson

Mar 4, 2011

By Peter Small, Toronto Star

...More people than ever seem to need help [to access and afford legal services]. In 2010, Law Help Ontario served 10,591 people at its three sites, a 36 per cent increase from the 7,760 helped in 2009.

Research shows that one third on Ontarians of low to middle incomes had a civil legal need in the last three years. The recent recession saw a spike in people losing their jobs and homes.

“I’m sure that’s why our numbers are so high,” says Lynn Burns, Pro Bono Law’s executive director.

Housed in modest offices on the ground floor of Ontario Superior Court, civil division, at 393 University Ave., the agency serves about 30 walk-in clients a day at this location and provides a wide range of services online. It has two smaller branches as well.

Law Help Ontario’s University Ave. office is staffed by law students and at least two lawyers a day, all working free. Paralegals greet walk-in clients and act as triage intake agents, assessing their needs and steering them to the right services.

Sometimes litigants only need help filling out forms or creating legal documents, which they can do using the centre’s user-friendly software. On other occasions they may need a half hour with one of the lawyers. Sometimes lawyers accompany them to court.

One of the two lawyers seeing clients on a recent morning was Jennifer Kelley, on loan from the blue chip law firm of Osler Hoskin & Harcourt. Pro Bono has managed to line up almost 100 such firms.

The 29-year-old commercial litigation specialist says she is helping people help themselves.

For more on Osler’s pro bono initiatives, please click here.