Pro Bono Ontario: Free Legal Advice Hotline
Seeking legal help is something nearly all of us will need to do at some point in our lives. However, where to start and who to call can be confusing and overwhelming. Additionally, for many, there are barriers to accessing legal assistance. Pro Bono Ontario (PBO) seeks to serve low income and vulnerable individuals who need help with everyday legal problems. PBO connects volunteer lawyers with individuals and charities who cannot afford legal services, including everyday civil law (non-family) matters through the Free Legal Advice Hotline. The Hotline provides individuals and charities with up to 30 minutes of free legal advice and assistance with a matter that would not be covered by Legal Aid Ontario.
Blakes has volunteered with PBO projects for many years and has provided services through the Hotline since its inception.
PBO is invested in ensuring clients have a seamless experience. “The Hotline is an excellent program, especially regarding efficiency and continuity of service for clients” says Blakes lawyer, Anna Abbott, Partner in the Blakes Employment & Labour Group. Anna has volunteered with PBO since she was a summer student. She explains that the Hotline sets itself apart by having an accessible intake system, so clients are able to receive continuity of service on their case if they need ongoing support after an initial call. With each interaction between client and lawyer, the client’s matter is pushed forward, reducing any duplication of work. Additionally, clients are matched with a lawyer who has the specific expertise necessary to provide tailored, actionable client advice.
“Access to justice is essential for all, and Blakes is keen to advocate for those who may not otherwise be able to access expert legal advice” Anna says. She explains that the civil law system can be difficult to navigate for individuals who are not otherwise functioning within it on a regular basis, and that it is a great feeling to provide advice or guidance to an individual who is seeking a remedy or is faced with a claim. “It is very rewarding to know that you have helped ease some of the anxiety for an individual who is faced with a difficult legal situation, or who has no idea where to seek help. Sometimes it is as simple as navigating a government website to find a form or find the correct phone number to help an individual access services. A small amount of assistance can be invaluable to Hotline clients” Anna says. Our Firm Managing Partner, Bryson Stokes, shares Anna’s sentiments and is a current member of PBO’s Board of Directors.
The Hotline has adapted over the last year to provide services remotely instead of out of the existing call centre. COVID-19 has had a major impact on low-income and marginalized populations in Ontario, particularly regarding housing and employment, and it has been essential that the Hotline remains open for business.
CASA: Childhood Arrivals Support and Advocacy
Imagine that despite having exceptional potential, your future and dreams were put on hold because of a piece of paper. That is the story of thousands of Canadians and Ontarians living undocumented in Canada, Blakes Counsel Kaley Pulfer learned when she got involved with the Firm’s work with the Law in Action Within Schools (LAWS) program.
“I wanted to work for a firm with a robust pro bono program, which is what attracted me to Blakes,” Kaley explains.
Blakes has worked with LAWS since 2005, promoting access to a career in law to high school students facing systemic barriers to success. LAWS offers workshops and mentorship to help students develop leadership and civic engagement.
“I met people who had come to Canada as young children and grew up here. They went to elementary and high school here, made friends, went to camp, played sports here – they are Canadian kids. But being undocumented essentially means you need to enroll into university as a foreign student with much higher tuition fees, while at the same time you don’t have access to loans,” Kaley explains. “It’s such a vulnerable position and many are too scared and intimidated to tell their friends about it, let alone seek legal help.”
Through her volunteer work, Kaley learned about the barriers to success that undocumented people face, especially when trying to access higher education.
Together with the then-Director of the LAWS program, Sarah Pole, Kaley started helping these students apply for permanent residency. In 2020, Sarah launched the Childhood Arrivals Support and Advocacy (CASA) Program to help young undocumented people access information, resources and legal support. Blakes now has three lawyers working with CASA.
“This is just the right thing to do – not only because we are helping smart, motivated, and resilient young people realize their potential, but because our communities are better off with these young people in them.”
Blakes serves as pro bono counsel to CASA.