The Circuit: Pro Bono Ontario holds an awards gala to mark its 15th anniversary

What: Pro Bono Ontario’s 15th Anniversary Gala
Where: Fermenting Cellar, 28 Distillery Lane
When: Wednesday, May 18, 2016

“The contributions that lawyers across this province are making through pro bono work is a direct contradiction to the often repeated public image of lawyers and the legal profession, which tends to operate from the old Shakespeare line, The first thing we do is kill all the lawyers,” said Patrick Monahan, the deputy attorney general, to a collective chuckle as he wrapped up his opening remarks at Pro Bono Ontario’s 15th-anniversary awards gala. “In fact, the members of the legal profession are committed to the administration of justice, and to helping the disadvantaged.”

And PBO’s history is a testament to that. Founded in 2001, PBO connects lawyers who want to do good, but perhaps don’t know how. Since its inception, PBO has helped over 100,000 people get access to justice.

Held in the Distillery District, the event saw over 300 members of the legal profession come to celebrate that access to justice.

More than 30 awards were presented to firms and lawyers in categories such as excellence in corporate pro bono and excellence in services to children and youth.

In his closing remarks, David Scott, PBO’s chair emeritus, personally addressed Lynn Burns, the organization’s executive director. “The citizens of Ontario, Lynn, are in your debt. You have created for those in real need, the largest law firm in the province.”

To learn more about Pro Bono Ontario, visit its website.

Have an event coming up? Invite us to your party!

Sponsors of this event included Duff &Phelps and Nera Economic Consulting.

Legal system fails to meet the needs of Canadians

The majority of minor legal problems in Canada go unresolved, according to a report published this month by the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice (CFCJ). The statistics in the report are clear: 12 million Canadians experience at least one legal problem every three years and yet, 20 percent of those people take no meaningful action to resolve their issues and more than 65 percent “think that nothing can be done, are uncertain about their rights, do not know what to do, think it will take too much time, cost too much money or are simply afraid.”

The most common unresolved problems are basic civil and family matters, such as estate regulations, custody arrangements or housing disputes. The report claims that the Canadian legal system needs to recognize that the courtroom is unnecessary for the minor issues, dubbed “justiciable problems” by the CFCJ, most people face. Many problems can be solved simply by offering access to low-cost resources, such as a hotline where the public can ask legal questions when they get confused or, for more complex disputes, by using mediators.

The legal system, however, has been slow to react to the lack of civil and family services, says Trevor Farrow, chair of the CFCJ, in an interview with Precedent.

“A significant amount of spending is on the criminal side of the justice system when it comes to policing, corrections and legal aid,” he says. “The strange thing about that calculus is that the problems that touch more and more Canadians every day are in the field of civil and family law.”

The report recommends several tools that can keep civil and family problems out of courtrooms.

One suggestion is to mediate civil disputes online. The report points out that similar programs exist in the corporate world: eBay provides a free web-based forum that helps users resolve issues on their own. If no solution is reached, eBay subsidizes the cost of a professional mediator so that users only pay $15. The report argues a similar system could resolve civil legal matters.

British Columbia, for instance, already settles some tenant-landlord disputes by telephone. In an interview with Precedent, Mark Benton, executive director of the Legal Services Society, British Columbia’s legal aid provider, and a member of the action committee, says that after hearing from both the tenant and the landlord over the phone, the arbitrator makes a legally binding decision.

He says that for minor legal issues, these kinds of programs cost less and solve problems “within days or weeks, rather than in months or years.”

Solving a legal issue promptly can prevent it from creating more serious and expensive problems down the road, says the report. Failing to help people struggling with debt or housing, for example, could put them at risk of “social exclusion, which may in turn lead to a dependency on government assistance.”

Ultimately, it is up to provincial governments, who are responsible for the administration of justice, to act on these recommendations. The action committee will meet again in January 2014.

Image provided by the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice

Food truck festival this week

Pro Bono Law Ontario is hosting a food truck festival this Thursday, September 19, to raise money for programs that thousands of Ontarians rely on each year.

Entertainment will include bands with pun-tastic names like The Gavelheads, A Guilty Mind, SoSumi and Notorious Road. The event will feature lobster rolls from Buster’s Sea Cove, smoked meat from Caplansky’s and more! 

The festival will take place at the Evergreen Brick Works and you can buy tickets here. To learn more about the PBLO, check out its website.