Access to Justice in Ontario

The Pro Bono Cause

Pro Bono Ontario (PBO) is a charity that was founded in 2001 to bridge the access to justice gap between lawyers who want to give back and the many Ontarians who can’t afford legal services. PBO has emerged as the legal profession’s only organized volunteer response to unmet legal needs. In 2022, PBO served more than 34,000 low-income Ontarians with nowhere else to turn.

The Osler Pro Bono Connection

Osler lawyers volunteer with PBO to help disadvantaged individuals gain access to justice. PBO launched its Free Legal Advice Hotline in September 2017 and, since then, has responded to close to 125,000 calls for legal advice from people across Ontario. Osler donated more hours to the hotline than any other large firm during its first year. The firm’s contribution was recognized at the hotline’s anniversary celebration on September 11, 2018. In 2021, Osler was proud to join Pro Bono Ontario’s 100 Percent A2J Leadership Circle, gold level, with an annual gift of $25,000. And in 2022, the firm contributed 1,632 hours to PBO.

Watch PBO’s anniversary video featuring Osler’s Mary Paterson and other volunteers to learn more about the hotline.

Osler litigators are also helping to staff PBO’s in-person clinics, which provide free legal advice to litigants in the Ontario Superior Court and Small Claims Court. Osler has supported PBO’s Connect Legal program, which offers workshops and legal assistance to immigrant entrepreneurs. And the firm’s lawyers have also embraced the Amicus Curiae Duty Counsel Program, which is designed to bridge the justice gap and help self-represented litigants navigate the Ontario Court of Appeal.

Proud history of giving back

“Osler has a long tradition of giving back to the communities in which we live and work, and that includes a strong commitment from our partners and associates to volunteer our time on pro bono matters. Our litigators help with various initiatives ranging from assisting self-represented litigants at various levels of court, to hotline service, to a range of education initiatives. We encourage all lawyers to give of their time to help self-represented litigants, and I am proud of our broad and deep dedication to all pro bono work,” says Sonia Bjorkquist, National Chair, Litigation.

Volunteer Reflections

“The work I have been able to do with Pro Bono Ontario – through its free legal advice hotline, amicus curiae program and in-person clinic – has been some of the most rewarding of my legal career. It is inspiring to see the true, tangible difference the incredible staff and dedicated volunteers make on a daily basis to so many Ontarians, many of whom are in extremely stressful situations and understandably intimidated by the complexities and adversarial nature of our legal system. And with the launch of the hotline, the number of people who will be able access its services will only continue to grow. I am extremely proud to be a part of Osler’s long-standing commitment to PBO. It is a wonderful organization.” Kevin O'Brien

Kevin O'Brien

Kevin O'Brien: Litigation Partner

"I have had a great experience volunteering at PBO’s programs in three of Ontario’s courts, including the Amicus Curiae Duty Counsel Program (Court of Appeal), the Law Help Centre (Superior Court) and Small Claims Court. The judges and self-represented litigants are always appreciative, my firm has been very supportive, and the impact of improving access to justice is tangible. Through the Amicus Program, I had carriage of a case that changed the way the Crown approaches disclosure in Part I Provincial Offences Act cases – which had an impact on more than 1 million charges in a single year! It’s been both challenging and valuable to me, to the Courts and, most of all, to the individuals who, sometimes for the very first time, believe that they too benefit from the rule of law."  Mary Paterson

Mary Paterson

Mary Paterson: Litigation Partner