Pro bono legal service launches to help small businesses during COVID-19 crisis

Initiative also aims to offer valuable experience to law students

Pro bono legal service launches to help small businesses during COVID-19 crisis

A not-for-profit initiative to provide legal services to small business owners during the COVID-19 pandemic was launched this week by a group of Ontario lawyers. The National Canadian Lawyers’ Initiative – which has just been approved by the Law Society of Ontario - aims to offer legal advice to struggling small business owners, while providing valuable experience to law students who will lose out on placements this summer due to the pandemic. Recently retired lawyers and judges are also being called upon to volunteer their services as mentors to guide the next cohort of new practitioners.

“There are other pro bono services in Ontario that help people in dire financial situations, but what’s unique about this situation with COVID is that there are small businesses and freelancers and people who usually do quite well financially and wouldn’t qualify for legal aid that are now really struggling,” says Alex Don, executive director of NCLI. “Small business owners started reaching out to me, asking what to do about commercial leases and wondering if they need to claim bankruptcy.”

Legal advice will be available on matters such as reneged or broken contracts, leases, mortgages, lapsed or pending permits, and employment issues. Small businesses are invited to complete an online form to describe their specific issue, after which they will be matched up with a law student and a lawyer mentor for guidance and legal support.

Don and his team plan to reach out to Ontario law schools to spread the word and recruit students who have recently completed law degrees or are nearing completion.

“Law students are a vulnerable party and a lot of them don’t have summer placements, so this is a great way for them to get engaged and gain experience,” says Don.

The initiative is starting in Ontario, but Don hopes it will eventually have a national presence with chapters in every province.

For more information, visit https://natcanlaw.com/

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