Canadian Lawyer

May 2023

The most widely read magazine for Canadian lawyers

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Page 47 of 67

46 FEATURE DEPARTMENT PROFILE LAW FIRMS seem to do a much better job touting their pro bono work – not to mention themselves – than do in-house legal departments. So, it may be surprising to discover that more than 100 legal departments participated in staffing Pro Bono Ontario's free legal advice hotline in the last 18 months. The service, which took 30,000 calls in 2022, offers up to 30 minutes of free civil law (but not family, immigration, or criminal law) advice to indi- vidual Ontarians Monday to Friday, 9–5. "The in-house components are great, great contributors and critical to our program," says Yonit Fuhrman, PBO's Toronto-based deputy director. "Of the 13 sponsored days or weeks we had last year, nine involved legal departments." Chicago-based Theresa Duckett, asso- ciate general counsel & VP at BMO Financial Group, leads a cross-border legal team repre- senting BMO's North American commer- cial and corporate cards portfolio and all the Canadian retail banking operation's commercial transactions. Among her accom- plishments is developing and implementing a global pro bono team for the group, an endeavour that began in 2015. In 2020, BMO was recognized at the Canadian Law Awards. Its legal department won gold for Banking & Financial Institutions Law Department of the Year and Pro Bono Initiative of the Year. In-house lawyers, Duckett says, are uniquely suited to deal with the diverse issues that arise in broadly based consumer legal assistance programs such as PBO's hotline. "Our lawyers who volunteer with PBO aren't necessarily experts on the wide range of issues ¬– like civil litigation, employment, housing – that they encounter, but because we spend a lot of our days solving unexpected problems as part of our jobs, we have the flex- ibility to walk into unfamiliar situations and It is not just law firms that contribute to underserviced communities – the legal department of BMO is a critical part of Pro Bono Ontario's programs, writes Julius Melnitzer BMO's pro bono efforts cross borders BMO's pro bono services started in 2015. Seven of its offices have hosted volunteers since then. In 2020 alone, BMO volunteers offered the following programs: Pro Bono Ontario's free legal advice hotline: 43 volunteers provided free legal advice on civil litigation, employment, housing, and consumer issues to low-income Ontarians. Education program: 10 volunteers advocated for families seeking support in addressing school-related challenges, such as bullying and discipline. Last year, five cases had successful placement and representation before the board of education. Power-of-attorney clinic: 30 volunteers assisted with the creation and execution of powers of attorney and advance-care directives for personal care or property for 62 patients in need at local healthcare facilities. Assistance for Children with Severe Disabilities program: 10 volunteers assisted parents of patients at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto with their legal appeals for government benefits for children with severe disabilities. BMO'S PRO BONO PROGRAMS deal with them." What's unique about BMO's legal and compliance pro bono program is its cross- border nature. "While US attorneys can't participate in the PBO hotline, which requires Ontario- called lawyers, BMO seeks out opportunities for our folks to deliver services from wherever they are," Duckett says. By way of example, BMO is one of the few legal departments to take on asylum cases. "And while so far we've only done that

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