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Are you involved in legal proceedings but can’t afford the steep price tag for a lawyer? Or were you charged more in legal fees than you expected? 

If so, there are free legal services available that can help.     

Lawyers aren’t cheap, and many Canadians aren’t able to afford their services. If you fall under this category, a service like Pro Bono Ontario can give you all the legal guidance you need to take you through the legal system without having to worry about the cost. 

What Is Pro Bono Law In Ontario?

Pro bono law refers to legal services provided for free or at a significant discount. Law school students typically offer pro bono services as part of their legal training. Many established lawyers also offer these services on occasion as part of their practices. 

Pro Bono Ontario is a non-profit organization made up of a team of legal experts who offer legal assistance to individuals in need of help but do not have the financial resources to pay for a lawyer. More specifically, the organization helps those who are vulnerable to loan scams, students facing obstacles at school, caregivers at risk of losing their jobs to care for their loved ones, and self-employed business owners who are having trouble collecting on debts owed to them. 

What Kind Of Legal Advice Does Pro Bono Ontario Offer?

Pro Bono Ontario offers legal assistance in several areas, including the following.

Free Legal Advice Hotline 

Pro Bono Ontario operates a free hotline that provides Ontarians with up to 30 minutes per day of free legal assistance with civil law issues in Ontario, including the following:

  • Consumer protection. Consumers have rights when it comes to how businesses treat them. Pro Bono Ontario’s free hotline can provide advice to Ontarians who believe they are being treated unfairly or who are looking to educate themselves on consumer rights laws in Ontario. 
  • Housing. Tenants and small landlords can use the free hotline to help sort out various housing issues.
  • Powers of Attorney. Pro Bono Ontario’s hotline can provide advice on how to draft up a Power of Attorney document, which gives a person the right to make decisions for others. 
  • Small business issues. Owners of small businesses will often encounter various legal issues that are best sorted out with the help of legal professionals.
  • Workplace issues. Non-unionized Ontario workers with job-related issues can get advice on their rights in the workplace from a legal representative on Pro Bono Ontario’s hotline.
  • Appeals. The free hotline is a good resource for basic legal advice on the civil appeals process. 
  • Going to court. If you’re representing yourself in court, it’s best to go in fully prepared and have all your questions answered about civil litigation cases by a legal professional. 

The toll-free hotline number is 1-855-255-7256, and is open Monday to Friday from 9 AM to 5 PM. Keep in mind that this hotline does not provide legal advice in family law, immigration law, or criminal law.

Education Law Program

Unfortunately, many students deal with issues at school that can interfere with their education and even cause physical and emotional harm. Pro Bono Ontario’s Education Law Program provides free legal assistance for low- and moderate-income families whose children are going through hard times on the playground or in the classroom. 

Common issues that children in school face include the following:

  • Bullying
  • Discipline matters (ie. suspensions, expulsions, and exclusion) 
  • School safety
  • Access to education
  • Accommodation for special needs

The team of volunteer lawyers at Pro Bono Ontario can help in the following ways:

  • Educating families and students on their legal rights
  • Communicating with school staff on behalf of students 
  • Representing students with special education or discipline appeals

Are you a parent in Ontario? Do you qualify for the Ontario Child Benefit?

Workplace Sexual Harassment

Victims of sexual harassment in the workplace who are or were employed in Ontario can receive free legal advice from Pro Bono Ontario’s Workplace Sexual Harassment Hotline. Services include the following:

  • Understanding your rights
  • Advice on what you can do yourself
  • Assistance with basic legal documents used in the Ontario judicial system
  • Referrals to lawyers as required, including pro bono

You can speak with a representative from the hotline free of charge by calling 1-855-776-1855. The hotline is open Mondays to Fridays from 1 PM to 6 PM.  

Support For Ukrainians

Ukrainians who are new to Canada after fleeing their home country following the Russian invasion can receive free legal advice from Pro Bono Ontario. The hotline is available for individuals from Ukraine or their family members who are:

  • Inside or outside of Canada
  • Looking to gain entry into Canada and stay in Canada
  • Looking for answers to questions about the immigration process in Canada
  • In need of help understanding the Canadian legal system during their resettlement 

The toll-free hotline is 1-877-873-7875 and is open Mondays to Fridays from 12 PM to 5 PM. Advice is available in Ukrainian, English, and French.   

What Does Pro Bono Ontario NOT Offer?

While Pro Bono Ontario covers a lot of ground with their free legal services, there are some limitations to their services that clients should be aware of, including the following:

  • Pro Bono Ontario may end consultation at any time
  • Only one 30-minute consultation is provided to a client per day
  • Document preparation may not be included in the consultation
  • Discussions with an opposing attorney may not be included in the consultation
  • Outcomes of legal proceedings and issues cannot be predicted
  • Second opinions are not provided
  • Representation in court cannot be assured
  • Requests to notarize documents or commission affidavits are not accepted
  • Service of documents cannot be served or accepted
  • No responsibility for any documents prepared can be accepted
  • Services received from another lawyer cannot be duplicated

How To Contact Pro Bono Ontario

You can reach a representative from Pro Bono Ontario as follows:

  • By telephone: 1-855-255-7256, Monday to Friday, 9 AM to 5 PM
  • By email: info@probonoontario.org

Can Pro Bono Act As My Lawyer?

No, Pro Bono Ontario cannot represent you as your privately-retained lawyer. The organization makes it clear that they are not your lawyers and will not establish a legal relationship with callers. 

Instead, the service provides advice, guidance, and tips on your rights and what you can do when you’re having legal troubles. The service may also provide help with drafting documents and referring you to other lawyers who are willing to work pro bono to represent you. 

What Happens If You Can’t Afford A Lawyer?

If you don’t have enough money to pay for a lawyer, there are plenty of other options available if you qualify:

Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) 

Legal Aid Ontario provides free or discounted legal services to those who can’t afford to pay for a lawyer on their own. They provide legal advice and may also help pay for a lawyer to represent you. 

To qualify for their services, you must meet specific financial criteria and your legal matter must be one that is covered by LAO, including the following: 

  • Criminal issues
  • Domestic violence
  • Family issues
  • Mental health issues
  • Refugee and immigration issues

LAO also offers an online directory of lawyers to help you find a lawyer. Alternatively, you can call the centre to find a lawyer at 416-979-1446 or 1-800-668-8258 from Monday to Friday between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Help is available in over 300 languages.

JusticeNet

JusticeNet is a non-profit organization that provides legal assistance and guidance to those whose income is insufficient to pay for standard lawyer fees but too high to meet the financial threshold for legal aid. The service has partnered with legal experts who are willing to charge a significantly reduced rate to eligible clients. 

To use the service, you must register and pay a $25 registration fee. Then, you can access the search box to find a legal professional that meets your needs.

Community Legal Clinic

Community Legal Clinic provides legal assistance to low-income residents of Simcoe County, Haliburton, and Kawartha Lakes. Legal matters covered by the service include the following:

  • Consumer rights and debt
  • Employment  
  • Health and disabilities 
  • Housing law 
  • Human rights 
  • Income assistance 
  • Tribunals and courts 

For legal matters not covered, Community Legal Clinic can provide referrals to other legal services.

West Toronto Community Legal Services (WTCLS)

West Toronto Community Legal Services is a non-profit legal clinic and housing assistance service that helps low-income residents of Toronto’s west end. Legal issues covered include the following:

  • Commissioning and affidavits
  • Employment issues
  • Health and disabilities
  • Housing law
  • Immigration law
  • Income assistance

For all other issues not covered, WTCLS can provide referrals to lawyers or other legal clinics.

Other Alternatives

Lawsuit Loans 

A lawsuit loan is a unique type of financing that you can apply for to help cover the costs of your legal fees. Also known as a settlement loan, a lawsuit loan is applied for right before your proceedings, since the reasons for the loan are very specific. The money is provided in advance of a pending settlement. 

For instance, if you are injured at work and want to take your company to court to cover costs incurred as a result of your injury, a lawsuit loan can help. While you’re waiting for your settlement, the funds from a lawsuit loan can help bridge the gap until the damages are paid out.

Personal Loans

A personal loan provides you with a lump sum of money that you repay over time via small installment payments. Personal loans are very flexible, which means you can use the money for just about any legitimate purpose, including paying for legal fees. You can take out a personal loan for anywhere from $1,000 to $50,000, depending on the lender. 

A personal loan may be a good option if you know how much your legal proceedings are going to cost you. That way, you can apply for just enough to cover these costs without taking out a loan that’s either too much or not enough. To help reduce your total loan cost, try to ensure your finances and credit score are in overall good health.  

Final Thoughts

Lawyers are incredibly expensive, but their help is essential when you find yourself having to navigate the court system. If you can’t afford a lawyer, services like Pro Bono Ontario can help. They’ll provide you with legal advice at no cost, so you can prepare yourself for court without worrying about how you’ll pay your legal fees. 

Pro Bono Ontario FAQs

How much do legal fees cost?

The hourly rate for lawyers ranges depending on their level of experience. In Ontario, for instance, hourly rates can range from $90 for assistance from a law clerk or law student to up to $350 for senior counsel with over 20 years of experience since their call to the bar.

What happens if I lose a settlement but my attorney agreed to a contingency fee?

A contingency fee lets you pay your lawyer a share of the settlement that you’re paid when you win a case. Instead of paying your lawyer upfront, you can pay after the case is won. But if you lose your case, you’ll likely still have to pay your lawyer their hourly rate aside from the contingency agreement.  So, make sure you budget accordingly if the judge’s decision doesn’t go in your favour.  

Can I get a lawyer for free?

Services like Pro Bono Ontario offer free legal consultations to help you prepare for a court case. Other services like Legal Aid provide lawyer representation at a significantly reduced rate and can refer you to lawyers who are willing to work for you pro bono.
Lisa Rennie avatar on Loans Canada
Lisa Rennie

Lisa has been working as a personal finance writer for more than a decade, creating unique content that helps to educate Canadian consumers in the realms of real estate, mortgages, investing and financial health. For years, she held her real estate license in Toronto, Ontario before giving it up to pursue writing within this realm and related niches. Lisa is very serious about smart money management and helping others do the same.

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