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BMO’s pro bono team works the phones at free legal advice hotline

August 30, 2019 | Culture, Purpose

“It’s important to always think about the ‘greater good,'” says Theresa Duckett, Associate General Counsel, BMO Legal & Regulatory Compliance (LRC), and head of the U.S. Pro Bono Committee. “A lot of people can’t afford the legal services they need, and my skills can make a difference in their lives.”

That’s why Theresa helped create BMO’s pro bono program, which provides legal services to low-income and vulnerable individuals who would otherwise not have access to those services. The program, launched in the U.S. in 2015, now runs in five cities – and it keeps growing. In 2018, nearly 200 BMO volunteers completed more than 1,900 volunteer hours working in the North American pro bono program.

Formed in 2016, the Canadian team partners with Pro Bono Ontario and/or local law firms for all pro bono activities. “The response from BMO employees and senior leaders has been incredible,” says John Uhren, Senior Counsel and Director, BMO LRC, and co-head of the Canadian Pro Bono Committee. “Their support – and the willingness of our employees to take time out of their busy schedules to help others – has shown the true heart of this organization. BMO really cares about people.”

The program isn’t limited to attorneys – non-attorneys volunteer through the program as well. “It just shows how willing people are to get out of their comfort zone and take action when they feel compelled,” says John.

One of BMO’s most impactful pro bono programs is offered in partnership with Pro Bono Ontario and its Free Legal Advice Hotline. Through this initiative, BMO volunteers staff the call centre for one week every three months, providing free legal advice to low income Ontarians on civil litigation, employment, housing and consumer issues. BMO was the first organization in Canada to support this hotline, and in recognition of the work we’ve done Pro Bono Ontario awarded BMO with the “Most Dedicated In-House Legal Department” award in 2018.

“This is a real team effort,” says John. “With every volunteer hour, we’re demonstrating our commitment to improve the lives of some of the most vulnerable members of our communities. It’s been a privilege to play a part in designing and participating in programs that are making meaningful differences.”

Richard Ha, Counsel, BMO LRC has been volunteering at the hotline since the program began. “The opportunity to make a difference is exciting. The issues cover everything from employment to housing to civil litigation – things that matter in people’s day-to-day lives. And while we offer valuable advice, sometimes just having a half hour to speak to someone who can point you in the right direction makes all the difference in the world. It’s all about listening.”

For Richard, this kind of work is its own reward. “I’m very grateful for my job at BMO, and getting this chance to participate in the community is incredible. It really highlights the range of community needs that BMO is addressing. We don’t focus on one specific problem and one single solution. We look at the skill sets we have in our organization, and we figure out how to leverage those to make our communities better.”

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