Letter  by Mr. Justice Harvey Brownstone

July 22, 2004


It is my great pleasure to write this introduction to the Student Manual for the PBSC Family Law Project at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law.   My colleagues and I who preside in Family Court in the Ontario Court of Justice in Toronto are delighted to welcome you to this exciting and unique opportunity to enhance your legal education.   As a complement to your academic studies in Law School, your exposure to “life in the trenches” at a Family Court will provide you with valuable perspective and insight into the practice of Family Law.

Those of us who work in the delivery of family justice services face enormous challenges: the overwhelming majority of our litigants are unrepresented and rely solely on duty counsel; many litigants are new to Canada and do not speak either of our official languages; and a large number of our litigants are functionally illiterate.  Our caseload volumes are crushingly high and continually increasing, and we are regularly unable to comply with statutorily mandated timelines for the prompt resolution of cases.  Because children in need of protection are our highest priority, we spend a great deal of time on child protection cases, and there never seems to be enough court time for parents involved in custody, access and child support disputes. 

The Family Law Project was established in 1998, partly as a result of a presentation I made to faculty and students at The University of Toronto Law School.  I felt very strongly that students interested in pursuing a career in litigation (especially Family Law) could benefit from developing a hands-on working knowledge of the Family Court, its procedures and its clientele.   I also knew that students could provide a valuable service to litigants if they could provide them with general legal information and assistance in filling out forms.  The Family Law Project is an unqualified success because it is a win-win program: students acquire in-depth experience to enhance their legal knowledge and help them develop their career goals; and our litigants benefit from the help that the students provide.

You will maximize the benefits to be gained from participating in the Family Law Project, in the following ways:

  1. Work on developing good listening skills, so that you really hear and understand what the client is telling you.  Many of our litigants are inarticulate, depressed, frightened, and confused.  Each time you meet with a member of the public, you have a golden opportunity to convey to him/her that someone really is listening, does understand and does care.  Never underestimate the value of that.
  2. Get to know the court staff, duty counsel and advice counsel.  They are happy to have you there and are only too willing to provide answers and explanations to your questions.  If you are contemplating a career in Family Law, your participation in the Family Law Project will uniquely position you to become familiar with many of the “key players” in the system, and they can be a source of encouragement, knowledge and advice.   Remember, we were all students too!
  3. Make time to get into the courtroom as often as you can to watch the proceedings.  Domestic matters are open to the public, and although child protection cases are closed to the public, most judges will allow students to observe.  Just ask the court clerk to obtain the judge’s permission in advance.   
  4. Introduce yourself to the judges in the courthouses where you’ve been assigned.  Ask the judge’s secretary for an appointment to meet each judge.  My colleagues and I appreciate the assistance you provide to the litigants who appear in our courts, and we want your experience in the Family Law Project to be a positive and beneficial one for you.   Many of my colleagues meet regularly with law students in Law School “shadow” programs, or who are writing papers, or doing research, or maybe they just want advice about a career in Family Law or on the Bench.  So please don’t hesitate to come see myself or any of my colleagues.  We are only to pleased to talk with you.
  5. Remember that many of our litigants are truly the “walking wounded”.  When they come to Family Court, it is almost always because they are in the midst of a traumatic crisis in their lives.   People in this circumstance can sometimes be difficult to deal with.  Please try to maintain your professionalism and objectivity at all times, and remember that compassion is always a welcome approach, no matter what the situation.    Your interaction with members of the public at our courts will stand you in good stead in terms of developing interpersonal skills, regardless of where your career may lead you.


I wish you every success in your endeavours, both at Law School and afterwards.  Enjoy your time in the Family Law Project, and thank you so very much for giving of yourself in such an important way.  I look forward to meeting you and hearing about your experiences.


Mr. Justice Harvey Brownstone

July 22, 2004