Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is pro bono?
The term pro bono comes from the Latin phrase pro bono publico, which means "for the public good." For lawyers it means representing someone who cannot afford legal services, free of charge. Qualifying pro bono services include professional services: a) rendered to marginalized persons in matters for which there is no government obligation to provide counsel; or b) rendered to charitable organizations with respect to matters or projects designed to address the marginalized or improve the quality of life for fellow Ontarians; or c) related to simplifying the legal process for, or increasing the availability and quality of, legal services to persons of limited means.
2. What does Pro Bono Law Ontario do?
PBLO brokers partnerships and provides strategic guidance, training, and tailored technical assistance to groups, law firms, law associations, etc. that are dedicated to addressing the legal needs of low-income and disadvantaged individuals as well as the communities and charitable organizations that serve them.
PBLO promotes and facilitates the provision of pro bono legal services throughout the province. PBLO brokers relationships between service providers (e.g., community legal aid clinics, community-based organizations) and law firms or lawyers' associations. Its goal is to help legal clinics and community organizations develop the internal capacity to tap into and leverage the resources of the private bar and other members of the profession to promote access to justice.
3. How do pro bono projects help?
PBLO believes that it is important to develop complementary projects aimed at enhancing Legal Aid Ontario. Pro bono lawyers provide significant leveraging of limited staff and resources and can greatly augment the range and capacity of Ontario's legal aid clinics. For example, PBLO works with Justice for Children and Youth, a community legal aid clinic, to provide opportunities for experienced litigators to co-counsel on test case litigation and to provide advocacy, mediation, and representation in special education and school discipline hearings.
4. Will the rise of pro bono provide the government with an excuse to scale back funding for legal aid?
Pro bono is not a substitute for a properly funded legal aid system. It is essential to distinguish a lawyer's professional obligation to do pro bono work from the government's responsibility to provide adequate levels of funding for legal aid--especially in core areas such as criminal law, family law, and refugee law. PBLO projects are designed to compliment, but never duplicate, any services that legal aid provides.
5. What if I want to provide assistance on a specific project, but am not familiar with the area of law in question?
PBLO best practices ensure that all lawyers providing pro bono services have access to adequate training and professional support. This guarantees that clients receive high-caliber legal services and that lawyers are confident and satisfied with their work. For example, the lawyers who volunteer to work on the Child Advocacy Project must take a free three-hour CLE seminar on education law and can rely on CAP for mentorship and support. Moreover, a program coordinator follows up with the lawyers and clients regularly to ensure they are well served and well supported.
6. Will my malpractice insurance apply to any pro bono cases I handle through PBLO projects?
Yes. As of January 2003, LawPRO enhanced malpractice coverage for all lawyers doing pro bono work. Both practising lawyers (full or part time) and exempt (retired, gov't) lawyers are covered for PBLO pro bono work for the full $1 million per claim.
For PBLO registered projects in particular:
• No deductible/claim surcharge in event of a claim
• Exempt lawyers covered by $250,000 run-off coverage
• For part time lawyers, pro bono work not counted toward part-time hourly limits for reduced premium
For full details visit www.lawpro.ca/probono.
7. The bulk of my practice is legal aid work. Are you going to ask me to do more?
No. The simple fact is that the delivery of justice in Ontario has and will continue to take many forms - fee for service, pro bono (organized or independently provided), legal aid certificates, or through community legal aid clinics. Pro bono will not be delivered at the expense of legal aid or any other part of the justice system, but it will ensure that all members of the profession are working in partnership to ensure access to justice for all.
8. I already devote 5% of my practice time to pro bono work, are you going to ask me to do more?
Absolutely not. One of the primary objectives of PBLO is to recognize the efforts of individual lawyers already providing pro bono services, and to demonstrate to the public that Ontario lawyers are doing a significant amount of pro bono work. PBLO's projects are designed to provide structured pro bono opportunities for lawyers who want to give back to the community but don't know how.
9. I am a government or in-house lawyer. Can I offer pro bono services?
Yes you can. As of January 2003, LawPRO enhanced malpractice coverage for all lawyers doing pro bono work through PBLO registered projects. See FAQ #6 for more details.
10. What's next - mandatory pro bono?
PBLO believes many lawyers already do a significant amount of pro bono work. Pro bono practice is a voluntary activity. It should not be made mandatory, for to do so would devalue the spirit and proud tradition of volunteerism that already motivates many members of the legal profession.