“Tension at the Border”: Pro Bono and Legal Aid

This document considers tensions between legal aid and services offered by the legal profession without charge. It primarily focuses on Canada, but other jurisdictions are mentioned for comparison. Justice system participants acknowledge that the problem of unmet legal needs in Canada is growing, and efforts are being made to find creative new approaches to solve the problem. This paper proposes a new partnership between justice system participants, particularly legal service providers, and governments. The authors recommend a discussion of essential legal services and who should be eligible for those services, with legal aid plans adequately funded to provide those services to the most vulnerable, low income populations. According to the committee, pro bono work should not fill the void produced by government cuts to legal aid services. However, pro bono work and the many creative new approaches to deliver legal services now being explored can supplement government programs to ensure that essential services to those not eligible for legal aid are available and that there are options to improve access to justice for the working poor and middle class. Discussion questions are included at the end to stimulate feedback and further conversation.