Access to Justice: Highs and Lows of Pro Bono Week

By Thomas Cromwell

The last week of October is Pro Bono Week, a global celebration of the pro bono ethic in our profession. Across Canada and around the world, thousands of legal professionals provide their services without cost for the public good. In Canada, where there is a wide and growing gap between the need for legal services and people’s ability to gain access to them, pro bono is a part of the effort necessary to fill that gap.

We entered Pro Bono Week on a wave of optimism and achievement generated by the Seventh National Pro Bono Conference held in Vancouver on Oct. 4 and 5. The packed agenda included presentations by the chief justice of Canada, the chief justice of British Columbia, the attorney general of British Columbia and the president of the American College of Trial Lawyers.

The message from the top was clear: pro bono work by lawyers is part of our professional responsibility and its importance to the welfare of our community cannot be overstated. The large attendance at the conference and the lively engagement evident in all of the sessions generated optimism and enthusiasm.

While we can and must do more, there is much to celebrate.

But not all of the news about pro bono is good. Pro Bono Ontario (PBO) has indicated that in December it will have to close its court-based programs — two in Toronto and one in Ottawa — for want of funding for the administrative support essential to running these programs. PBO says that each year, volunteer lawyers help more than 18,000 clients in the civil, non-family justice system and, at the same time, reduce delays in the courts’ handling of these matters. An evaluation of the programs concluded that they provided a 10:1 return on investment. In other words, the public purse saved $10 for every dollar in funding. But that is apparently not enough to persuade potential funders to inject the modest resources needed to assure that these programs continue.

David W. Scott, one of the “parents” of these programs, has for many years spent a morning each month at the Law Help Centre at the Ottawa courthouse. He told me that during his October shift, he saw five people:

  • a single mother who is being pursued by a government department for support payments;
  • a friend of an Arabic woman who speaks no English who is defending herself from a landlord’s claim for rent;
  • a young man on parole who was the victim of a fraudulent claim when he was incarcerated;
  • a young mother who was being sued for return of employment insurance; and
  • a woman being sued for alleged non-payment of taxes.

Through the court-based program, David was able to provide modest but critical help. The closure of the Law Help Centre will mean that people like those who David saw — people in their thousands — will be left to their own devices. The need for these services is obvious and compelling.

The willingness of legal professionals to provide these pro bono services has been demonstrated. The business case for doing so seems unanswerable. But even this is not enough to save these programs.

Scott says that he is heartbroken. The rest of us should be ashamed. Who can seriously contend that we cannot find the modest resources needed to maintain these valuable services? If we wanted to, we would.

 

This article originally appeared on The Lawyer’s Daily on November 5, 2018. It is the twelfth article in The Honourable Thomas Cromwell’s exclusive Lawyer’s Daily column dedicated to access to civil and family justice.

The Honourable Thomas Cromwell served 19 years as an appellate judge and chairs the Chief Justice’s Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters. He retired from the Supreme Court of Canada in September of 2016 and is now senior counsel to the national litigation practice at Borden Ladner Gervais.

‘Justice is just as important as health or education’ – UK Survey

A new survey in England and Wales reveals that the public agrees that ‘justice is just as important as health or education’. The far-reaching survey, which was commissioned by the Law Society, the Bar Council and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives has a number of other, important findings, including:

  • a majority (76%) agree that people on low incomes should be able to get free legal advice
  • for all types of legal problems canvassed in the survey, 50% of respondents or more indicated that they would feel ‘uncomfortable’ dealing with the problem without a lawyer
  • 13% agreed that ‘the state should not have to pay for people’s legal expenses if they are accused of an offence that could earn jail time’

Findings from this survey are discussed in the press release, published on the Bar Council website here: https://www.barcouncil.org.uk/media-centre/news-and-press-releases/2018/october/justice-as-important-as-education-and-health,-say-public/. 2,086 people responded to the survey which was carried out from 28-30 September 2018. Results were weighted to be representative of the distribution of the population.

The survey and what it reveals about the public’s views about access to justice in the UK will be a central theme during Justice Week, which runs from 29 October to 2 November 2018.

BC to Hold its First Access to Justice Week

British Columbia will be holding its inaugural Access to Justice Week from September 29 to October 5, 2018. The week’s events have been organized and are being led by the province’s three law schools – Allard Law School at the University of British Columbia, Thompson Rivers University Faculty of Law, and the University of Victoria Faculty of Law.  BC’s A2J Week will include:

  • Tech events
    This will include a weekend hackathon, as well as a panel on artificial initelligence (AI) innovation and the justice sector.
  • Law school events
    Events to be held at BC’s three law schools include a presentation on “What would A2J look like for victims of sexual violence?” and a panel on “Lawyering with Heart: Violence informed and solution-focused lawyering for Indigenous youth and families”. The 7th Annual National Pro Bono Conference in Vancouver on October 4 – 5, which will coincide with BC’s A2J Week, will bring together lawyers, paralegals, law students, judges and other stakeholders to discuss ideas and best practices for increasing access to justice.
  • Victoria events
    Students at the University of Victoria Faculty of Law will be holding an Access to Justice Fair to share information on opportunities to increase A2J. Later in the week, there will also be a presentation by Dr. Julie Macfarlane on the challenges that self-represented litigants face.
  • Kamloops events
    Thompson Rivers University (TRU) law school students and staff from the TRU Community Legal Clinic will be offering information and intake referrals at the Farmers’ Market on September 29. The Community Legal Clinic will also be offering information (and free coffee)  later in the week and Dr. Macfarlane will speak to law students and to members of the legal community on October 3. There will also be a talk on legal tech and access to justice as well as activities to teach attendees about the challenges of self-representation.

For more information on BC’s inaugural Access to Justice Week, visit: www.provincialcourt.bc.ca/enews/enews-18-09-2018.

Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family Publishes Report on Canadian Legal Incubator Initiative

A recently published report by the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family (CRILF) examines the Aspire Legal Access Initiative (ALAI), a program based in Alberta that provides law school graduates with articles in family law and improves access to family law services for Calgarians. ALAI is modelled on legal incubator programs that have increased in popularity in the United States as a means to offer legal services to people who would not otherwise be able to access help. Similarly, through the ALAI program, Calgarians who earn too much to be eligible for legal aid but too little to afford private counsel receive legal assistance from law students and a senior lawyer. ALAI is the first legal incubator project in Canada and has been adapted to meet Canada’s article requirements.

The Evaluation of the Aspire Legal Access Initiative report outlines the satisfaction and opinions of clients, articled students and stakeholders from the legal community who accessed the program and also offers recommendations aimed at ensuring the program continues to operate as intended. An Evaluation of the Aspire Legal Access Initiative is available online here: http://www.crilf.ca/Documents/Aspire_Evaluation_-_July_2018.pdf.

Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family Publishes Report on Summary Legal Advice Services

A recent “Summary Legal Advice Services in Alberta” report from the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family (CRILF) examines two years of data from almost 8,000 client surveys regarding summary legal advice received from community legal clinics in Alberta. The clinics that participated in the study are:

  • Calgary Legal Guidance
  • Edmonton Community Legal Centre
  • Central Alberta Community Legal Clinic (Red Deer)
  • Lethbridge Legal Guidance

Key findings from the report include:

  • 93% of clients were very comfortable or comfortable receiving legal advice in English
    • Of note: It was impossible to determine the number of potential clients who did not attend the clinics because they are uncomfortable receiving legal advice in English
  • Family law matters accounted for 46% of clients’ legal problems, followed by landlord-tenant disputes (14%) and immigration and sponsorship issues (9%); family law matters were most likely to a problem for clients aged 35 to 44
  • 90% of clients reported that they had a better understanding of their legal rights and responsibilities, their legal options and the pros and cons of those options, and what to do next as a result of attending the clinic
  • 40% of clients had 15 to 29 minutes with the clinic lawyer; 38% had 30 to 44 minutes
  • 90% of clients felt they had enough time with the clinic lawyer to talk; clients with appointments longer than 30 minutes were more likely to agree that they had a better understanding of their legal issue and what to do next than clients with shorter appointments
  • Almost two-thirds of clients received a written summary of the lawyer’s advice; those receiving a summary were more likely to agree that they understood their legal rights and responsibilities, their legal options and the pros and cons of those options, and what to do next
  • The number of clients receiving a written summary increased by 14% between the first and second years of the project
  • The majority of clients responding to a follow-up survey administered two months after clients’ appointments had made use of the advice they received
  • 63% of clients were women, 54% were between the ages of 25 and 44, 61% had completed or taken some post-secondary education and 40% were employed full- or part-time

The complete “Summary Legal Advice Services in Alberta: Survey Results from the First Two Years of Data Collection” report is available on the CRILF website here: http://www.crilf.ca/Documents/ALF_Clinic_Survey_Year_2_-_May_2018.pdf. This report was produced at the request of the Alberta Law Foundation.

 

The details in this post were taken from information circulated by the CRILF.

A2J Initiative by Clicklaw and the Provincial Court of BC Offers Help for Self-Represented Litigants

The Provincial Court of British Columbia, in partnership with Clicklaw, have created (regularly updated) mobile-friendly guides to online legal information resources for self-represented litigants, and others who require assistance when starting out on the path to problem resolution for Provincial Court matters.

Intermediaries and court-adjunct staff can find more information on how to access information and resources to assist self-represented persons from this poster: http://blog.clicklaw.bc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/handout-light-clicklaw-bcpc.pdf. Clicklaw and the Provincial Court of BC encourage you to share the poster. To learn more about the partnership between the Provincial Court of BC and Clicklaw, read the eNews announcement on the Provincial Court of BC website here: http://www.provincialcourt.bc.ca/enews/enews-29-09-2015.

Judicial College (UK) Publishes Updated Equal Treatment Bench Book

The Judicial College of England and Wales has updated the Equal Treatment Bench Book. The Judicial College, which is responsible for training the courts’ judiciary, recently published a revised, 422-page Equal Treatment Bench Book that includes new sections on anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, modern slavery and multicultural communication, expanded sections on litigants-in-person (self-represented litigants) as well as glossaries, useful suggestions and more. All information provided in the revised Equal Treatment Bench Book adheres to the existing legal framework. The newly updated Equal Treatment Bench Book is available online here: www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/equal-treatment-bench-book-february2018-v5-02mar18.pdf.

BC Provincial Court Creates Support Persons Guidelines Poster and Flyer

The Provincial Court of British Columbia has created several resources aimed at informing self-represented litigants about the possibility to be accompanied by a support person for family and small claims trials.

Information about these newly available flyers and posters as well as downloadable copies can be accessed on the Provincial Court of BC website here. The Provincial Court encourages you to share the Support Person Guidelines poster and other resources.

Upcoming A2J-Related Events

SELF-REPRESENTED LITIGANTS (SRL) AWARENESS DAY: (October 4th 2017) at Windsor Law, Osgoode Hall Law School, the University of Ottawa Law School, Queens Law School, and Western Law

  • SRL Awareness Day aims to increase awareness among law students of the self-represented litigant experience. Windsor Law, Osgoode Hall Law School, the University of Ottawa Law School, Queens Law School, and Western Law will host invited SRL guests in classes and during a midday panel.

For more information about SRL Awareness Day, visit the National Self-Represented Litigants Project (NSRLP) website here. Join the conversation taking place on social media for Self-Represented Litigants Awareness Day with #SRLawareness and #SRLawarenessday.


LEGAL INNOVATION ZONE: YOUTH ACCESS TO JUSTICE INITIATIVE at Ryerson University

  • Session 2A (youth only): October 4 at Ryerson University
    This event will focus on access to justice within the community and how to address access to justice issues.
  • Session 2B: October 25 at Ryerson University
    This event is open to all ages. Discussions will center on community access to justice issues and how those in the community can get help for their issues.
  • Session 3: October 30 at Ryerson University
    This session will explore where justice system users go for legal help and how existing resources can be made to work better.
  • Session 4 (Design Thinking): November 4 at Ryerson University
    Using themes explored in earlier sessions, this session will lead participants through the Design Thinking process to create prototypes for youth justice initiatives.

For more information on the Legal Innovation Zone Youth Access to Justice Initiative, visit their website here.


SASKATCHEWAN ACCESS TO JUSTICE WEEK (October 16 to 21) at the University of Saskatchewan, College of Law

  • This is the 2nd annual Saskatchewan Access to Justice week. This event seeks to engage individuals and stakeholders in access to justice discussions and to bring to the forefront various initiatives that are contributing to improvements in A2J for Saskatchewan residents.

For more information on Saskatchewan Access to Justice Week, visit their website here. Follow the week’s events and conversations on social media using #SKA2J.


ONTARIO ACCESS TO JUSTICE WEEK (October 23 to 27)

This is Ontario’s second annual Access to Justice Week. This year’s Access to Justice Week will include the following events:

  • Access to Justice Innovation (October 23) at the Law Society of Upper Canada
    This event will highlight innovative, community driven work taking place in the justice sector. The keynote presentation will be delivered by Justice Thomas A. Cromwell.
  • Improving Health, Improving Service (October 23) at the Law Society of Upper Canada
    This event will focus on mental health and other health risks that lawyers face.
  • The Millennial Influence (October 24) at the University of Ottawa
    This event will include discussions on the ways that millenials are influencing thinking on A2J and legal technology.
  • Paralegals and Access to Justice (October 25) at the Law Society of Upper Canada
    This session will centre on the contributions that paralegals are making to improving A2J.
  • Include. Inform. Inspire. (October 26) at the Law Society of Upper Canada
    This will be a public legal education and information forum.

For more information on Ontario’s Access to Justice Week, visit The Action Group on Access to Justice website here. Follow the week’s events and conversations on social media using #A2J2017.


2017 IT.CAN 21st  ANNUAL CONFERENCE (October 23 to 24) at 150 King Street West, Toronto

  • This 2-day conference will offer legal professionals and others an opportunity to network and learn about developments in technology law in Canada and abroad.

For more information about the IT.CAN Conference, visit the program page here.


ABA 2017 NATIONAL AGING AND LAW CONFERENCE (October 26 to 27) Silver Spring, Maryland

  • This 2-day conference will include an array of workshops on legal and policy issues, legal service delivery and recent developments related to elder rights, aging and law.

For additional information on the American Bar Association’s (ABA) 2017 National Aging and Law conference visit their website here.


2017 FAMILY DISPUTE RESOLUTION INSTITUTE OF ONTARIO (FDRIO) AND FAMILY MEDIATION CANADA (FMC) CONFERENCE (November 20 to 21) in Toronto, Ontario

The 2-day 2017 FDRIO-FMC Conference will include panels and workshops on a range of topics including:

  • How to Fix the Family Court Crisis
  • Getting Past Impasse
  • Distance Mediation and Technology
  • Effective Advocacy in Mediation
  • Elder Mediation
  • Parenting Coordination Challenges
  • Grandparent Access Mediation
  • Domestic Violence and Power Imbalance
  • Income Determination for Support Purposes
  • Ethical Issues in Mediation/Arbitration

For more information or to register for the FDRIO-FMC conference, visit the Family Dispute Resolution Institute of Ontario website here.  Follow the conversation on social media with #FDRevolution.


SELF-REPRESENTED LITIGATION NETWORK (SRLN) 2018 CONFERENCE (February 22 to 23, 2018), San Francisco, California

  • The 2nd annual Self-Represented Litigation Network Conference will bring together a diverse group of players and users in the justice system to explore and create new tools for providing access to justice. Proposals for this conference will be accepted up to September 29.

For more information about Designing & Engaging the 100% Access to Civil Justice Ecosystem, the 2-day SRLN conference, visit their website here.

Final Report of the Bach Commission now Available

The Bach Commission on Access to Justice was created in 2015 to develop “realistic but radical proposals…for re-establishing the right to justice as a fundamental public entitlement” in England and Wales. Recent changes in funding and eligibility requirements for legal aid have placed even more strain to a justice system that is said to be in crisis. In response to what the Commission argues are “widespread” and “varied” problems in the legal system, their final report proposes a legally enforceable Right to Justice Act that will ultimately serve to “create a new legal framework that will…transform access to justice”.

The Right to Justice, the final report of the Bach Commission is available online here.

The Crisis in the Justice System in England and Wales, the Commission’s interim report published in November, 2016 is available online here.