Burlington native forms what he thinks can become a national program to aid people who need guidance finding the right legal help

News 100 blueBy Pepper Parr

June 22nd, 2020



Alex Don, a Burlington native, a graduate of Assumption High school and a Member of the Upper Canada Law Society with a legal education that took place in France, England and McGill University, has created a not-for-profit organization that is offering pro bono legal services across Canada using a network of 400 volunteers.

Alex Don

Alex Don, founder of the National Canadian Lawyers Initiative.

While studying in Strasbourg France Don served as a Clerk for a Judge with the Court of Human Rights where he became much more aware of the need to respect the rights and needs of ordinary people within the Judicial system.

When he began to practice law he chose the field of insolvency and corporate reorganization as his specialty.

Don first saw the need for help for those who were hit by the impact of Covid19.  They needed legal help but didn’t have the funds needed to retain a lawyer but more importantly – they didn’t know where to look for the help they needed.  For many their normal income stream had dried up.

When Alex Don started receiving calls from people who were encountering legal problems as result of the COVID-19 crisis, but were unable to provide a retainer because their income had been affected he decided to create an organization that could meet the needs of several groups.

The National Canadian Lawyers Initiative (NCLI), which currently has an office in Burlington, was founded on April 28 and received approval from the Law Society of Ontario to provide pro bono legal service on May 14.

NCLI logoNCLI was created to improve the access to justice especially during the COVID19 period. Alex Don then realized that access to justice was a problem for many people long before we had to deal with Covid19.

“When I started receiving calls” said Don ” I soon realized there was a very large unmet need. That was when the idea for a national organization took for in my mind.

“We created a platform where this help could be made available

“The volunteer lawyers, many of whom are law students, do not go to court to defend people. They are there to listen and document the legal problem and then prepare a short brief which is sent along to lawyers who are in a position to take on cases.

“The volunteer can and have spent up to as much as five hours talking to people with legal problems. They focus on identifying the problems and then do what they can to pair them up with a lawyer

Don reports that NCLI has gotten as many as 100 calls some days.

The Law Society does have a program that gives a 30 minute conversation with a lawyer at no cost to the caller. Few senior lawyers take on this type of Law Society volunteer work.

Ontario has a Legal Aid service that involves a means test that many people don’t qualify for – they aren’t poor enough. They have jobs but they don’t know where to turn to for the kind of help they need.

At the same time there are hundreds of lawyers who have been called to the bar but don’t have much in the way of experience – they know the law, they can write applications but they don’t have clients.

Don decided there was an opportunity to help people and reached out to various colleagues to create an online platform that could do just that.

“People need help with contracts that are not working out, lease agreements that have to be renewed or employment matters – there are legal problems everywhere.

Don saw a need during the Covid19 crisis and then realized that the need was a lot bigger. He wants to grow the organization and once it is proven begin looking for funding to make it part of the legal infrastructure.

NCLI team

Some of the members of the National Canadian Lawyers Initiative.

“This is why our team of volunteers have started this not-for-profit, to help the people in our communities. Our mission is simple: To launch a web-based platform that will match law students and newly-called lawyers to seasoned legal professionals who together will provide the much-needed legal advice in their communities, quickly, efficiently and most importantly free of charge.”

There is currently as lot of federal funding in place; some of which Don thinks might be available to fund NCLI adding “we might be able to help people determine if they are eligible for financial support.

Alex Don started out seeing the NCLI initiative as a temporary 12-month program that could help people in all areas of law, with the exception of criminal law.

NCLI is an attempt to pair law students or men and women recently called to the bar, with mentors who can guide them. “A lot of law students lost their summer placements,” said Mark Mejia Kuznetsova, a vice president at NCLI.

“There are a lot of students with a lot of time on their hands and not much to do during the summer months … This way they will get some experience and give back to society.”

The NCLI operates on a first-come, first-served, triaged basis.

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