I spent today, and will be spending tomorrow, as per-diem duty counsel at Old City Hall. The job entails taking on the role of free lawyer for accused persons for certain limited purposes. I generally work a shift or two a month and really enjoy the work.
All of the Toronto duty counsel offices employ both full-time lawyers and per-diems (lawyers with a private practice who come fill-in for the day). The job involves a lot of running around and can be exhausting. I have a ton of respect for the full-time staff who perform this sometimes thankless job day-in and day-out.
Duty counsel will assist with all aspects of the bail process (although occassionally they will recommend an accused seek out private counsel), assist with guilty pleas (some offices, however, require an accused to meet certain financial criteria for duty counsel assistance), and be present to assist in administrative “set-date” courts.
Duty counsel does not do trials. Some legal aid offices have created staff offices that will assist with certain trial matters, but this is not the role of duty counsel.