The Law Foundation of Ontario has evolved in many ways since it was first created in 1974, while staying true to its access to justice mandate.

In the early years, the bulk of the Foundation’s discretionary funding (i.e. the 25% not required by law to go to Legal Aid Ontario) went to institutions such as the Law Society of Ontario, law schools, and law libraries. Over time, the Foundation has become more proactive and creative in identifying areas of need and new ways of meeting them. As a result, a much broader range of organizations now has access to Foundation funding for innovative projects, services, and research.

Highlights in the Foundation history

1974:  Creation of The Law Foundation of Ontario

An amendment to the Law Society Act established The Law Foundation of Ontario in 1974. The purpose was to receive the interest on lawyers’ mixed trust accounts and to use it to support legal education, legal aid, legal research, and law libraries. The Foundation was the third Canadian jurisdiction to create a law foundation. British Columbia was first in 1969, followed by Saskatchewan in 1971. As of 2001, all Canadian provinces and territories had law foundations in place.

Sydney Robins was the founding Chair of the Foundation. He had been the Law Society Treasurer and later served as a judge on the Supreme Court of Ontario and the Ontario Court of Appeal.

1979: The Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History

The Osgoode Society is the only national organization devoted to recording the history of Canadian law. It has published more than 80 titles (many award-winning), and recorded hundreds of oral history interviews stored with the Archives of Ontario. The Honourable Roy McMurtry founded the Osgoode Society in 1979 with support from the Foundation, the Ministry of the Attorney General, and the Law Society of Ontario. The Foundation has supported the Osgoode Society’s unique mandate through annual grants since 1980. Learn more…

1983: Association of Canadian Law Foundations

The Association of Canadian Law Foundations was formed in 1979. The Association promotes excellence in the work of Canada’s law foundations through annual conferences and information sharing. The Foundation is also an associate member of IOLTA, the equivalent body in the United States.

1993: Creation of the Class Proceedings Fund

The Class Proceedings Fund began in 1993 with a $500,000 grant from the Foundation. The fund helps plaintiffs in class action lawsuits by funding legal disbursements and covering adverse cost awards. The Class Proceedings Fund and the Class Proceedings Committee were established under a 1992 amendment to the Law Society Act. Learn more..

1996: Guthrie Award

The Guthrie Award acknowledges outstanding individuals or organizations for their contributions to access to justice and excellence in the legal profession. The Foundation created this award in 1996 to honour H. Donald Guthrie who served as a Trustee for 21 years, including 13 years as the Chair. Learn more…

2001: Creation of Pro Bono Law Ontario and the Ontario Justice Education Network

In 2001, the Foundation helped to create two exciting new organizations:

  • Pro Bono Law Ontario creates opportunities for lawyers to provide free (“pro bono”) legal services to people of limited means and the charitable organizations that serve them.
  • The Ontario Justice Education Network strengthens public understanding of the legal system and the administration of justice.

2005: Articling fellowships

In 2005, the Foundation created a program to fund articling student positions at public interest organizations.
Examples of organizations that have received articling fellowships include: Amnesty International, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic, Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, and Canadian Civil Liberties Association. Learn more…

 2005: Roy & Ria McMurtry Endowment

In 2005, the Foundation established the Roy & Ria McMurtry Endowment which currently funds two annual scholarships. One scholarship is for youth who have been at risk of being in the criminal justice system, and is administered through the Second Chance Scholarship Foundation. The other is for a student of an Ontario law school, distributed to each school on a rotating basis. Learn more…

2006: Community Leadership in Justice Fellowship

In 2006, the Foundation created the Community Leadership in Justice Fellowship. This program funds two community leaders for a sabbatical at a post-secondary institution. This enables the Fellow, the academic institution, and the public interest organization to pursue ways to address distinct and challenging aspects of the law and the justice system. Learn more…

2006: Law & Innovation Fund

The Foundation expanded its outreach with the creation of a one-time Law and Innovation Fund. The aim was to fund projects to address critical gaps facing disadvantaged population groups, enabling them to better understand and act on their legal rights. The Foundation solicited applications from across Ontario that related to six themes:

  • The working poor
  • Victims of domestic violence
  • Aboriginal peoples
  • People with mental health challenges
  • Youth
  • People who speak neither official language

2007: Law Commission of Ontario

The Foundation worked with the Ministry of the Attorney General, Osgoode Hall Law School, and the Law Society of Ontario to create the Law Commission of Ontario. Its mandate is to recommend law reform measures to make the law accessible to all Ontarians. Learn more…

2007: Debt Repayment Assistance Program

The Debt Repayment Assistance Program helped law school graduates who had made a commitment to careers in public interest law. During each year of this five-year program, one graduate from each of Ontario’s law schools was eligible to receive $30,000 over a three-year term to help repay educational debt. This enabled them to follow career paths in public interest settings that paid less than private practice. The Foundation committed nearly $1M during the life of the program.

2008: Inclusion of paralegals

The Foundation now receives interest on paralegals’ mixed trust accounts just as it does for lawyers’ mixed trust accounts. This is due to a 2008 amendment to the Law Society Act that brought paralegals under the regulatory authority of the Law Society of Ontario.

2008: Linguistic and Rural Access to Justice (The Connecting Report)

The Foundation commissioned a report to identify systemic responses to two key barriers to access to justice: language barriers and barriers facing people who live in rural and remote areas. The report (“Connecting Across Language and Distance”) became the basis for the Foundation’s Connecting Project. In 2009, the Foundation began implementing the report through Connecting Articling Fellowships. During the first five years, the Foundation made grants for 44 Connecting Articling Fellowships. Learn more…

2009: First cy-près award

In 2009, the Foundation received its first cy-près award from proceeds of a class action lawsuit. This new source of funding enabled the Foundation to create the Access to Justice Fund. The Foundation established a consultation group and enlisted all Canadian law foundations to assist in its grant making across the country. Learn more…

2010: National Access to Justice Fund

With cy-près award proceeds, the Foundation launched the Access to Justice Fund to receive applications relating to five themes:

  • Consumer rights
  • Domestic violence
  • Aboriginal issues
  • Linguistic & rural barriers to access to justice
  • Self-help

Learn more…

2010: Organizational Evaluation

In 2010, the Foundation commissioned an independent evaluation. The evaluator concluded that the Foundation is moving towards its desired results and has the key elements in place to assure effectiveness. Strengths include management and administration, grantmaking, and relationships with grantees. The Foundation is effective as a catalyst as grantees use their grants as leverage to obtain more funding, partnerships and recognition.

The evaluator also recommended that the Foundation strengthen its efforts to:

  • Maximize revenues
  • Assess priorities among grant programs
  • Collect information to help to assess the impact of grantmaking
  • Invest in human resources to bolster stability and productivity

2011: Connecting Project

In 2011, the Foundation implemented more recommendations from the Connecting Report to create innovative partnerships among legal and community organizations:

  • Connecting Communities: to improve the ability of non-legal organizations to provide basic legal information and referral to their clients.
  • Connecting Region/Ottawa: to improve the local delivery of legal information, referrals and services to Ottawa residents who speak neither English nor French or who have communication impairments or disorders.
  • Applications to enhance access to interpretation services for people who are Deaf and for linguistic minorities

Planning for the future

Over the next few years the Foundation will continue to:

  •  Focus on activities that achieve the greatest impact for disadvantaged groups
  • Explore new ways to reach community organizations, lawyers, paralegals, students, and justice sector partners
  • Encourage cy-près awards from class action lawsuits to the Foundation’s Access to Justice Fund

We believe that these strategic directions will help the Foundation to continue making an impact on access to justice even in times of reduced trust account revenues due to low interest rates.