TORONTO, ON SEPTEMBER 28, 2020 –
Pro Bono Students Canada (PBSC), together with Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) and Epstein Cole LLP, is pleased to announce the launch of its new Family Justice Centre (FJC).
The FJC presents an innovative opportunity to bring together law students and pro bono lawyers to deliver free legal services to low-income, self-represented family law litigants in Ontario. The FJC will launch virtually in the fall of 2020, utilizing videoconferencing technology to connect litigants with law students and pro bono lawyers to provide responsive legal services that go beyond summary advice. Expansion to provide in-person services is also planned when supported by public health authorities.
The launch of the FJC is made possible by Epstein Cole’s generous foundational donation of $150,000. “Philip M. Epstein, Q.C. and Epstein Cole’s leadership in access to justice and mentoring the next generation of family law lawyers is unparalleled in Canada. We are excited for this next chapter in our long-standing partnership,” said Brittany Twiss, National Director of PBSC.
The substantial and long-standing disparity in the ability of Ontarians to access the family justice system adversely affects families and the ability of our courts to manage cases justly. In some jurisdictions, upwards of 80% of litigants begin their court cases self-represented. The inequity in access to the family justice system has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the backlogs caused by court closures and the inability of people to pay for legal services due to job and/or income loss.
The FJC aims to bridge this justice gap. Through the creation of public legal education resources and regularly held virtual legal clinics, family lawyers in private practice and upper-year law students will provide unbundled legal services (summary advice, document preparation, legal education, and legal coaching) to individuals who are unable to afford a lawyer. “With the benefit of legal advice and well-drafted court forms, clients will be empowered to meaningfully participate in their own cases and assist the Courts to provide just intervention,” said Roslyn Tsao, Managing Partner at Epstein Cole.
“The Family Justice Centre will facilitate a tangible response from the family law bar to the access to justice issues faced by self-represented litigants, as identified in the 2016 Bonkalo Report,” said Tsao. “Volunteering with the FJC is an opportunity for family law lawyers and law students from across Ontario to address the perennial family justice crisis on more than one front. Law students, who will work with family law practitioners in this type of advocacy role, will also benefit from the experience and exposure to this work in their future careers – regardless of whether they practice family law or otherwise.”
“Leveraging the skills and enthusiasm of PBSC’s network of law students will maximize the FJC’s impact,” said Twiss. “Operating virtually allows us to expand our reach and serve clients from anywhere in Ontario, including from remote and previously under-served areas, where the justice gap is often most prevalent.”
PBSC is grateful to LAO, which has generously agreed to fund the employment of eight part-time law students who will support the development of the FJC, facilitate the virtual legal clinics, and develop public legal education materials. PBSC is currently in the process of recruiting upper-year law students from its Ontario Chapters.
In the coming weeks, PBSC and Epstein Cole will be reaching out to engage private family law firms and lawyers from across Ontario to participate in the clinics. Participating lawyers will provide summary legal advice to clients and supervise law students in the preparation of court documents. PBSC will also work with community and other organizations to provide access to technology and other supports to clients and their families.
“The Family Justice Centre is an innovative response to a complex and enduring set of barriers faced by low-income family law litigants,” said Edward Iacobucci, Dean of the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, and Board Chair of PBSC. “I am proud of the PBSC National team at the Faculty of Law for developing this initiative, and grateful for the support and leadership demonstrated by the FJC’s Founding Partner, Epstein Cole.”
About Pro Bono Students Canada
PBSC was established in 1996 at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law. PBSC’s mission is to provide free legal support to people and communities facing barriers to justice. Each year, the organization recruits approximately 1,700 law student volunteers who work with community partners and under the supervision of pro bono lawyers to serve over 13,000 people. The organization’s student volunteers alone provide approximately 130,000 hours of free legal support annually, helping to combat the access to justice crisis while providing students with opportunities to develop valuable skills and experiences.
About Epstein Cole LLP
As Canada’s largest family law firm, Epstein Cole has been instrumental in shaping family law in Canada through representation in precedent-setting cases, law reform, and decades of educating and mentoring family law practitioners. The firm has a long-standing tradition of giving back through speaking and teaching, service work on various not-for-profit/charitable boards, chairing of legal programs nationally, committee work, and partnering on initiatives to enhance access to justice for family law litigants.
About Legal Aid Ontario
LAO is a long-standing partner of PBSC, particularly in relation to family law programming. LAO is a publicly funded and publicly accountable non-profit organization that promotes access to justice for Ontarians by providing high-quality legal aid services in a cost-effective and efficient manner. LAO encourages and facilitates flexibility and innovation in the provision of legal aid services.
Donor and Media Inquiries
Brittany Twiss, National Director
Lawyer/Law Student Volunteer Inquiries
Dana Rotenberg, Program Manager