Instructor(s): Matt Cohen, Brian Houghton
Externship Seminar

Note: 2 ungraded credits per term

Note: Students enrolled in year-long externships must participate in the fall term Externship Seminar.

Learning objectives:
Pro Bono Ontario develops and manages high quality programs that connect volunteer lawyers with Ontarians who can't afford a lawyer.

Under the direction of a staff lawyer, students in this externship will work with other staff as well as volunteer lawyers at Pro Bono Ontario, whose clients are vulnerable individuals desperately in need of help with everyday legal problems. These include frail people on fixed incomes who have fallen prey to predatory lending schemes, caregivers facing job loss when tending to sick relatives, children facing barriers to their education, or self-employed contractors struggling to collect monies owed. Pro Bono Ontario’s litigation services prevent a spiral of costly social problems, and often mean the difference between shelter and homelessness, food on the table and hunger, economic stability and bankruptcy, productive work and unemployment. These services also address the needs of low-income, self-represented litigants who are struggling to navigate the complexities of the civil justice system.

Students will divide their time between two offices: 1) Pro Bono Ontario’s office at the Superior Court of Justice courthouse at 393 University Avenue, Toronto where they will work on all aspects of providing assistance to low-income, self-represented litigants. The clinic will provide students with hands-on, practical litigation experience in order to develop their skills in legal research, client communication, client needs analysis and practical legal writing. Students will gain exposure to a broad range of legal disputes including issues in civil procedure, employment, consumer law, lending, and housing law. Similar work at Pro Bono Ontario’s court-based help centre at the Toronto Small Claims Court at 47 Sheppard Avenue East may be included; and 2) Pro Bono Ontario’s office at 90 Eglinton Avenue East.  This work will support the Free Legal Advice Hotline, a state of the art summary advice service that helps low-income Ontarians with a range of civil legal issues. Work for Hotline clients will be focused on consumer protection matters.  Students will support PBO staff who are attempting to match clients with lawyers who provide pro bono representation.

Placement activities:
At the help centre, under the supervision of an experienced staff lawyer (periodically on-site), and volunteer lawyers from both firms and in-house legal departments (on-site), students are encouraged to take an active role in assessing the legal needs and eligibility of potential clients and to work directly with volunteer lawyers in the development and provision of advice to clients. Students will make initial contact with the potential client, assess their legal needs, research the applicable area of law, prepare memos outlining background, legal considerations and their recommendations, work directly with volunteers to develop a legal strategy for the client, assist with court form completion, and gain valuable experience attending and observing volunteer lawyers to provide summary advice at the litigation clinic. Please note that this clinic does not represent clients in legal proceedings, but rather advises self-represented litigants on legal matters, thereby elevating their ability to gain meaningful access to justice system.

At the Hotline, under the supervision of an experienced staff lawyer (typically on site), students will review, summarize and organize files that are tagged for special attention and possible pro bono representation by a law firm.

While the pacing and volume of work is subject to variation, students can expect a workload over the term of 9-12 hours/week. Students will complete their clinic hours during three or six hour workdays, to be determined with the student.

This Clinic uses the standard course selection process. Select this course as you would any other.

Satisfactory completion of the externship, including the submission of required assignments, evaluations and logs, earns two ungraded credits each term. The faculty supervisor assesses, in consultation with the field supervisor, whether the requirements for earning credit have been met.
Academic year
2022 - 2023

At a Glance

Both Terms



1 JD