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Are your pro bono legal services covered by LAWPRO?

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Coverage summary

Whether or not a lawyer has coverage for pro bono legal services depends on the lawyer's current insurance status as well as on the type of pro bono legal services to be provided.

If you purchase the standard professional liability insurance coverage through LAWPRO, you generally have coverage for professional services that are performed, whether they are paid services or provided pro bono.

If you are claiming exemption under the policy, but wish to provide pro bono legal services through an approved pro bono legal services program, you may have reduced limit coverage for such services.

Providing pro bono legal services through a LAWPRO-approved program associated with Pro Bono Ontario

What is Pro Bono Ontario?

Pro Bono Ontario was established in 2002. Its objective is to foster the development of pro bono projects in Ontario for low-and modest-income individuals and voluntary organizations. This includes creating and promoting opportunities for lawyers to provide free legal services, to foster pro bono projects and to act as a resource centre for Pro Bono Ontario programs. Pro Bono Ontario provides a co-ordinated approach to the delivery of pro bono legal services in Ontario.

For a list of pro bono legal programs under Pro Bono Ontario that are approved by LAWPRO, see http://www.lawpro.ca/insurance/Practice_type/probono.asp. For further information on Pro Bono Ontario, visit www.probonoontario.org.

Exempt lawyers

Lawyers who claim an exemption, and also provide approved pro bono legal services through a LAWPRO-approved pro bono legal services program associated with Pro Bono Ontario, have insurance coverage as follows:

  • They are provided with the standard run-off insurance coverage of $250,000 per claim/in the aggregate for their approved pro bono legal services, even though the services are provided while exempt under the program; and
  • They are NOT required to pay any deductible amount for claims relating solely to such services.

This coverage applies to legal services provided through approved programs associated with Pro Bono Ontario and does not include legal services beyond the following:

  1. those rendered to low income persons in civil matters or in criminal matters for which there is no government obligation to provide counsel;
  2. services that simplify the legal process for, or increase the availability and quality of legal services to persons of limited means; and/or
  3. those rendered to charitable, non-profit and public interest organizations with respect to matters or projects to address the needs of low-income and disadvantaged individuals.

It is important to note that if a lawyer otherwise engages in the private practice of law, she or he would be considered to be providing legal services in private practice and would not qualify to maintain his or her exempt status, and would have to pay the LAWPRO insurance premium and levies, as required by the Law Society.

Lawyers who buy the standard insurance program coverage

If you purchase the standard insurance program coverage and provide pro bono legal services through a LAWPRO-approved program associated with Pro Bono Ontario, you are insured for claims arising out of these services.

As well, to encourage lawyers to provide these types of pro bono services, LAWPRO implemented the following insurance program enhancements in 2003:

  • You are not required to pay any deductible amount or claims history levy surcharge for claims relating solely to such services;
  • Those applying for the part-time practice option are not required to consider any hours of professional time or past claims relating solely to these services in their application for this part-time practice option.

For a list of Pro Bono Ontario programs approved by LAWPRO, see www.lawpro.ca/probono.

Providing pro bono legal services to a non-profit organization not associated with Pro Bono Ontario

Exempt lawyers

Generally, lawyers who provide professional services (even on a pro bono basis) must obtain the standard insurance program coverage.

However, this does not necessarily mean that exempt lawyers are unable to provide pro bono legal services. Provided you meet the following criteria, you may be able to maintain your exempt status and lend your legal expertise on a no-charge basis to non-profit organizations not associated with Pro Bono Ontario. If you do so, you will not be insured for these pro bono services:

  1. You must obtain pre-approval from LAWPRO: Contact Customer Service for a copy of the pro bono application for exempt lawyers or download the form from the LAWPRO website at http://lawpro.ca/file_online/PDF/probono_form4exempts.pdf. You must complete and return this application prior to providing the pro bono legal services.
  2. The organization must meet specific conditions to be approved by LAWPRO, as follows:
    • The organization benefiting from the pro bono work must be a not-for-profit organization; and
    • The lawyer must be providing pro bono legal services specifically for the organization, and not for any individual(s) in that organization or its clients.

No insurance for these pro bono services

If you receive approval from LAWPRO to maintain your exempt status while providing pro bono legal services for an organization not associated with Pro Bono Ontario, you will NOT have any liability insurance coverage for any legal services provided while exempt. You will have only basic Run-Off Insurance coverage (with limits of only $250,000 per claim and in the aggregate) for services that you provided before becoming exempt.

In other words, the LAWPRO insurance program would provide no coverage if a claim were to arise relating to your pro bono legal services. You would be responsible for all defence and indemnity costs associated with the claim.

Lawyers who are exempt should note that if they provide pro bono legal services for an organization that is not approved by LAWPRO, they would no longer qualify for an exemption, as they will be considered to be practising law in private practice. So, if you provide professional services but are simply not billing for them, (e.g. providing legal services to family, friends, or organizations on a pro bono basis), you would not qualify for an exemption and must pay the insurance premium and levies.

Lawyers who buy the standard insurance program coverage

Lawyers who purchase the standard insurance program coverage and provide pro bono legal services through programs or to organizations not associated with Pro Bono Ontario are insured for claims arising out of these services.

However, you are required to pay any deductible amount or claims history levy surcharge associated with that claim. Furthermore, those applying for the part-time practice option are required to consider any hours of professional time or past claims relating solely to these services in their application for this part-time practice option.

For more information

If you have further questions regarding the provision of pro bono legal services as it relates to professional liability insurance issues, please visit the LAWPRO Web site at http://www.lawpro.ca/probono or contact LAWPRO Customer Service at (416) 598-5899 or 1-800-410-1013 or by email at [email protected].

This article has been adapted from an article that originally appeared in LAWPRO Magazine in June 2004.

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