PBO had another very strong year in 2021. We provided direct legal services to more than 29,000 clients. Our Free Legal Advice Hotline continued to demonstrate its value as a safe, efficient, and effective means of delivering access to justice. We served 91% of our clients from across Ontario through the Hotline. 88% of the people who called told us the Hotline was the first place they were able to get legal help for their problems.
There are three important stories hidden behind these impressive statistics.
The first is that PBO has been blessed with exceptional support from the legal profession. Volunteer lawyers carved time out of incredibly busy schedules for the Hotline, often while schooling their children at home during pandemic lockdowns. The market for legal services boomed last year, which meant that our volunteers had to choose between paid client work, their personal lives and PBO. And they chose service. Many law firms generously increased their levels of charitable giving to Pro Bono Ontario, and PBO’s core funder, the Law Foundation of Ontario, committed to three years of stable funding for the organization.
The second is that behind the impressive volume of clients served are real and personal stories of hardship. In 2021, Ontarians lost their jobs, their businesses, and their housing at alarming rates. They fell behind on bills, struggled with consumer debt and protection issues, and faced the daunting prospect of going to court on their own. Each Hotline call answered was an opportunity for people to tell their stories, get important information about their rights and options, and get direction about concrete steps they could take to address their legal needs.
The third hidden story is that we were only able to answer 53% of the calls that came in and missed more than 20,000 calls that were made just outside our normal business hours of 9:30 am to 12:00 pm and 1:00 to 4:00 pm.
The beginning of a new year is always a time of reflection for PBO. We are constantly striving to evolve and innovate to ensure that we can provide a wide front door for the public to enter. We ask ourselves constantly: Do our services meet the needs of the public? What can we do to improve service delivery? How can we remove more barriers to access?
Our data is clear that those with inflexible work schedules need friendlier hours. As such, we are excited to announce that, starting in April, the Hotline will be opening earlier, closing later, and providing services through lunch hour. Our new hours will be 9:00 am to 5:00 pm – an increase in access of 45%.
There are many layers to this challenge, and we cannot do it without the help of the profession. We need to recruit an additional 1,000 lawyers to volunteer their services. To make this more manageable for lawyers, PBO will be introducing morning and afternoon shifts and shortening the time commitment for volunteers from full-day shifts of 5.5 hours to half-day shifts of 4 hours.
PBO is also scaling up the support we offer volunteers, which includes real-time staff support and extensive knowledge resources.
During the pandemic, we saw first-hand how the inequities in everything from jobs to housing to education have bubbled up to a boiling point. We need your help as we try to reach as many people as we can across every community in Ontario.
We are so grateful to all of our volunteers and donors. Together we can meet this challenge.
For more information and to volunteer, please visit https://www.probonoontario.org/volunteer.