Pro bono advocates call for more co-ordination to address access to justice

Aislinn E. Reid

July 22, 2013

Yamri Taddese, Law Times

(Extract)

Walking into Law Help Ontario’s office at 393 University Ave. In Toronto is much like a visit to an emergency room. There are forms to fill out and a waiting area to sit in before seeing a so-called triage paralegal who assesses visitors’ needs to determine whether or not to refer them to one of the lawyers busily flipping through files in the back of the room.

On an average day, about 30 people visit the office seeking relief for their legal pains. But as the legal industry braces for change of all kinds, many have expressed doubt that pro bono services will remain a viable remedy for a growing number of people who can’t afford counsel.

As part of discussions on revolutionizing Canada’s legal system, lawyers and judges have talked about the need to look beyond pro bono law to respond to urgent needs related to access to justice.

...

At Pro Bono Law Ontario, staff caution against underestimating the role of volunteerism when it comes to designing new ways of tackling access issues. Pro bono services are “bursting at the seams,” they say, suggesting that option will remain a crucial and indispensible part of solving the access to justice quagmire.

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One of the many counsel on the organization’s volunteer roster is Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP associate Aislinn Reid.

“I volunteer at PBLO because I believe that lawyers have a professional responsibility to contribute to their community and that making legal advice available to those who otherwise would not be able to afford it is a valuable contribution,” she says.

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Reid knows what they mean. “The days I spend as PBLO duty counsel have given me perspective on legal practice and on life generally that is very different than my typical day, and I think that is important,” she says.

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