Legal Feeds Blog
|Bill Basran says his time at Vancouver’s wills clinic has been ‘an enormously gratifying experience.’|
Crown counsel can only volunteer for departmentally approved activities and have traditionally been restricted in the level of insurance coverage they can obtain for pro bono work. It has also been difficult for government lawyers to rule out potential conflicts of interests, due to the enormous scope of legal cases involving the federal government.
Under the new policy, lawyers will be insured to work at the three legal clinics in Vancouver, Edmonton, and Ottawa, on specific areas of law screened by the government to minimize conflicts. Justice Minister Peter MacKay announced the move during a speech at the University of Calgary’s law faculty on Friday.
He said: “Accessibility to justice has become increasingly important in the complex society we live in today.
“Through this initiative and policy, many Justice Canada lawyers here in Alberta and across the country, can now volunteer their considerable legal skills and knowledge in providing pro bono legal services to Canadians.”
The three approved projects are:
• The Wills Clinic operated by Access Pro Bono B.C., located at the Justice Access Centre at the Vancouver Courthouse. Trained pro bono lawyers and articling students draft and execute simple wills, representation agreements, and powers of attorney for seniors living with low incomes and people who have terminal illnesses.
• The Edmonton Community Legal Centre, which provides a variety of pro bono legal information and advice to people living with low incomes. Justice lawyers volunteering at the centre are limited to providing pro bono legal advice on landlord and tenant matters.
• Law Help Ontario at the Ottawa Court House, which provides pro bono legal help to unrepresented people living with limited means who are suing or being sued in civil court. Department of Justice lawyers volunteering at the clinic are limited to providing pro bono legal advice to non-family civil litigants in Small Claims Court and the Ontario Superior Court.
The pro bono policy document explicitly prohibits volunteer work in the areas of criminal law, habeus corpus matters, and “any other matter involving the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.”
Volunteering will normally take place outside of working hours, except “on an exceptional basis,” it says.
The development has been several years in the making. In the past few years, some law societies have started providing no-fee liability insurance to Crown lawyers who participate in pro bono activities approved by their law societies.
The insurance is now available to lawyers in Ontario, Alberta, B.C., and Saskatchewan.
This has opened up the possibility of pro bono work, but the department has also needed to work with pro bono organizations on practicalities such as avoiding conflicts of interest, explains Bill Basran, director general of the Department of Justice’s B.C. regional office and who has been closely involved with the project.
Basran has been volunteering at the Vancouver wills clinic and describes his time there as “an enormously gratifying experience,” that has involved helping people to put their affairs in order at the end of their life.
The department now wants to expand the pro bono scheme to other cities and is considering opening clinics in Toronto and Saskatoon.
“We’ve received a lot of interest from Justice lawyers across the department,” he says.
Lisa Blais, president of the Association of Justice Counsel, says her organization “applauds the attempt to increase access to justice” and looks forward to the program being expanded.
The unavailability of insurance had previously been the biggest concern of ACJ members, regarding pro bono work, she states.
Whereas pro bono files sometimes contribute towards performance targets for lawyers in private practice, this has not been written into the policy for the Crowns.
“It would be up to individual managers to consider that type of contribution in performance appraisals,” says Blais.
Check out Canadian Lawyer’s April issue for more news and views on pro bono work, including the results of a national survey of lawyers and firms.
|Canadian lawyers are mobilizing to help Filipino families with sponsoring relatives affected by Typhoon Haiyan. (Photo: Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters)|
They are offering initial legal consultations and assistance with preparing immigration applications for Canadians and permanent residents in Canada.
The CBA has also built an online interactive map to help users find participating lawyers in each province, and a checklist explaining how the program works.
The map is in the process of being updated, but section chair Mario Bellissimo says he expects the final number of lawyers taking part to be “in the dozens.”
The lawyers hope the initiative will be picked up via social media and that Filipino clients will help spread the word.
Bellissimo admits it isn’t always easy for people whose communities have been destroyed to provide the identification documents normally required by immigration officials.
But there are ways around this, he explains.
“There are exemptions. Sometimes there may be statutory declarations from family members, or some other record [to help identify the person].”
For example, baptism certificates or pay stubs may be accepted in some circumstances.
“As lawyers, we can be fairly innovative and instruct clients on things they wouldn’t necessarily think of on their own,” he says. “We try to get as creative as possible…though there has to be a balance so someone doesn’t sneak in who shouldn’t be here.”
Asked how many people the lawyers hoped to help, Bellissimo says: “I wouldn’t be surprised if it was in the hundreds.”
The tropical cyclone swept into the Philippines on Nov. 8, flattening homes and killing more than 6,000 people.
“We understand that sponsoring a relative can be a complicated process at the best of times,” said Catherine Sas, a lawyer involved in the program. “Given the challenges families in Canada are facing, we are prepared to review applications to make sure that documents are in order,” she added.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada announced last month it would prioritize the processing of applications already in progress on request from Filipinos who were “significantly and personally affected” by the disaster.
To help people take advantage of this, Miller Thomson LLP at the time offered to provide pro bono immigration legal services to Filipinos affected by the typhoon.
Photos: Heather Gardiner
Students mingle at the Pro Bono Students Canada luncheon on March 8 that featured former Supreme Court of Canada judge Claire L’Heureux-Dubé.
(l to r) McCarthy Tétrault LLP partner Matthew Kelleher, University of Toronto law student Brendan Stevens, and Osgoode Hall Law School student and 4Students columnist Rebecca Lockwood. Stevens and Lockwood are also co-ordinators of Pro Bono Students Canada.
McCarthys counsel James Farley, Claire L’Heureux-Dubé, and PBSC national director Nikki Gershbain.
Students enjoy the spread at PBSC’s luncheon, held at McCarthys’ Toronto office.
(l to r) U of T law student Emily Gilmour with McCarthys articling students Daniel Goldbloom and Meaghan McWhinnie.
Osgoode dean Lorne Sossin brought his sense of humour as moderator of the Q & A period with Claire L’Heureux-Dubé.
Former Supreme Court justice Claire L’Heureux-Dubé answers questions about her time on the top court’s bench and told students to keep in mind that “we don’t work for money, we work for justice.”
Say It Forward, a pro bono program created by Neeson Court Reporting, will offer firms a financial perk for using Neeson’s services.
Beginning Feb. 15, for every $20 spent on transcripts at Neeson Court Reporting, firms will be provided with a $1 “redemption of services” credit they can use towards transcript and ancillary services for pro bono matters.
The program’s creator Kimberley Neeson, president of Neeson Court Reporting, says she came up the program as an “answer” to the unethical gift-giving dilemmas that she has witnessed over the years.
“Choices are being made simply because of the incentive,” says Nesson, who has participated in focus groups where she has witnessed the trend. “I’m really hoping that law firms choose their service providers based on neutrality, competency, and pricing.”
Nesson says she has seen firm employees rewarded with gifts that range from an all-expense-paid trip to Las Vegas, days at the spa, and large-scale parties, all for booking at a particular court reporting firm.
“My belief is a firm should be booked because it is the right place to conduct a discovery or hearing for your client,” wrote Neeson in a press release. “I also believe that this type of gift really belongs to the client, the person who is ultimately paying for the disbursement of fees to a court reporting agency.”
For Neeson, the program is her way of not only thanking her clients, but also a way to “help a lot of people in need”
“I’m really trying to do something innovative and I truly hope that it will help some people,” says Nesson, who says the program has been met with a positive response. “I hope that it’s sort of a feel good for all of us, because we’re giving back as a collective to people that can’t otherwise access justice.”
Firms who sign up for the program will be given a Say it Forward account, enabling all of their lawyers to participate. They will have a full calendar year to use their credits, and have the option to donate their remaining balance to Pro Bono Law Ontario once the calendar year ends, giving the organization a year to utilize the donations.
“Pro Bono Law Ontario could certainly use a lot of our services,” says Neeson, who worked alongside the organization when creating the program. “I want to give back, and I want to give back in a meaningful way, and I think pro bono touches all of us in this community.”
But for firms that don’t need to use the credits, Nesson says they can still go to a good cause. Firms that sign up for a Say it Forward account can immediately pledge their credits to PBLO.
“We think it’s a creative and excellent idea,” says Matthew Cohen, PBLO’s director of litigation projects. “We have always seen pro bono as a movement that touches all participants in the justice system.”
Cohen believes the program will be a “great way” to extend pro bono work into the court reporting industry, an area PBLO hasn’t worked with in the past.
“We’re hoping that a lot of firms will engage in this,” says Nesson, noting that the program is directly tied to collecting credit from a typical transcripts order. “If you can’t use it, then PBLO certainly can, and they will benefit from it directly, and that means a lot of Ontarians can benefit from all of the work that we’re all doing collectively.”
|The Teen Legal Helpline launches in Ontario next week.|
The helpline’s main purpose is to assist teens who don’t know where to turn for legal help.
“Teens have legal questions that don’t always call for full representation,” says Matt Boulos, executive director and one of the founders of Teen Legal Helpline.
“Sometimes you just need an answer to your question so you can understand your problem and so that you can make the right decision. And that decision might be to get more help but at the very least if you don’t get that first answer, you’ll never know.”
At first, the helpline will be limited to questions in the areas of criminal, family, and immigration law, with labour and employment and housing law to be added at a later date.
Boulos says they decided to focus on those areas of law based on research they conducted with teens in Ontario, specifically in Toronto’s St. James Town and Regent Park neighbourhoods.
Boulos created the helpline after being involved in a legal situation with a teen in his youth group.
“I grew up in Scarborough, [Ont.,] I mentored kids in the same youth group that I grew up in. One of my boys had been accused of a sexual assault and he had come up to me asking me for my advice. I knew a criminal lawyer, and had the two chat. What struck me was it was an incredibly brief conversation but then [the boy] knew what he needed to do in terms of how to carry himself and understanding the process with the police and the investigation,” Boulos tells Legal Feeds.
“I just couldn’t really abide by the idea that there were going to be teens out there who were going to be in a similar position but not have the good fortune to show up at a youth group that just happened to have lawyers and people connected to the law hanging around,” he adds.
The lawyers who have signed up to volunteer for the helpline are mainly solo practitioners and lawyers from small firms, says Boulos. However, bigger law firms, including Torys LLP and Blake Cassels & Graydon LLP, have provided other legal services pro bono to help Teen Legal Helpline get started.
The helpline has also been funded through a grant from the Law Foundation of Ontario and private donations, and they are in the midst of a major fundraising drive.
Boulos hopes to get the word out to teens through their relationships with community organizations and social workers. They also have youth ambassadors — teens who have started a social media campaign to spread the word to other teens.
Starting on Friday, more than 90 volunteer lawyers will be out in several B.C. communities as part of a free legal advice-a-thon, where they will provide legal advice in one-hour shifts to those who can’t afford legal services, including the homeless.
Lawyers will be stationed in Victory Park Square in Vancouver on Sept. 7 from
|Last year's event in Vancouver.|
The event — Pro Bono Going Public — was organized by the Access Pro Bono Society of B.C. So far the organization has raised almost $50,000 towards its goal of $60,000. The money raised will help fund its roster programs and legal aid clinics.
Claire Hunter, an associate at Hunter Litigation Chambers in Vancouver, has represented numerous clients through Access Pro Bono in the B.C. Supreme Court and B.C. Court of Appeal. She is one of many lawyers and law firms offering their services at no charge in Vancouver on Friday.
“I’ve been involved with other programs through Access Pro Bono for a couple of years, and I believe the organization is doing important work,” she says.
“My sense is that they have a fairly limited budget and that they could make good use of additional funds. The advice-a-thon is a good opportunity for fundraising but it’s also profile-raising for the organization.”
Hunter is seeking donations through her personal fundraising page. So far she has raised $1,700 of her goal of $2,000.
Not only does pro bono work benefit litigants who can’t afford legal services, it’s also a chance for young lawyers to get some experience, says Hunter.
“It’s a great opportunity for young lawyers to get into court on matters that they might not normally be lead counsel on,” she says.
Pro bono work is needed now more than ever in B.C. as fewer lawyers are taking on legal aid cases. Legal aid is one component of the province’s justice system that’s under scrutiny following the release of three reports last week with suggestions for reform to B.C.’s criminal justice system.
Jamie Maclaren, executive director of Access Pro Bono, tells Legal Feeds that the government needs to increase the incentive for private lawyers to take on legal aid cases.
“No matter how much we reform our family law and criminal justice systems — and heaven knows they need substantial reform — the government can’t expect [the Legal Services Society] to switch from a staff lawyer service model to a private lawyer service model without substantially incentivizing the private bar to take on legal aid files,” he said.
In addition to this problem, there are many legal issues that do not fall under legal aid and if lawyers aren’t willing to take on cases pro bono, even more litigants will go unrepresented, says Hunter.
“There are many matters in British Columbia that are not covered by legal aid, in particular virtually all civil litigation,” she says.
Multilaw, the Multinational Association of Independent Law Firms, has existed for 20 years and consists of 73 member firms with 6,000 lawyers in more than 150 commercial centres throughout the world including two Canadian firms — Shibley Righton LLP and Miller Thomson in Toronto.
“Multilaw now has an official pro-bono mission and our primary goal is to make a difference in the cities we visit,” says Hope Krebs, a partner at Duane Morris LLP in Philadelphia.
The pro-bono initiative includes both monetary donations and hours of service.
“We ask member firms to make a contribution of one billable hour per firm or individual. The billable hour struck a chord with us — every lawyer can relate to what it represents. That’s really the way we fund the mission,” says Krebs.
From the billable hours project, a donation of €6,865 was made to the Smile of the Child children’s charity based in Athens during Multilaw’s 2012 European Regional Conference this past May in Greece.
The association also identifies local charities to provide hours of service to during the its weeklong Multilaw Academy for young lawyers, such as the one held recently in Philadelphia.
“Instead of having a sightseeing component to the conference, we helped out at a large local food bank called Philabundance,” says Krebs.
All 16 of the academy delegates from 11 countries along with the course organizers took an afternoon out of their study time to take part in service work.
“The reality is our younger generation cares a lot about the welfare of the places they go to,” says Krebs. “In the case of Philabundance they didn’t want our legal services, they wanted our time to go through the food at the food bank.”
The Multilaw Academy serves three functions, says Bill Northcote, a partner with Shibley Righton LLP in Toronto.
“One is the pro-bono effort, and it does cross-cultural and international law training for senior associates. It also builds relationships among the younger lawyers.”
About 11 years ago, the network realized most of the lawyers attending its professional development conferences tended to be more senior.
“There was a feeling that in order to ensure Multilaw continued to develop indefinitely we needed to bring a younger generation through and form the leadership base of the association in the future,” says Adam Cooke, head of development at Multilaw.
Eric van Emden, a former senior partner from Bosselaar & Strengers in the Netherlands, also saw it as a way to enhance the retention of his associates. The conferences, which move to various cities around the world, became a way for young lawyers to gain some international experience.
“In our firm it’s viewed as a sign of appreciation, and the associates who go are on the partnership track and we want to retain them,” says Northcote, noting Shibley Righton has sent five associates over the last 11 years.
Bryce Chandler, a senior associate from Shibley Righton based in Windsor, Ont. attended the 2012 Academy in Philadelphia.
“I found the academy to be an excellent opportunity. It addressed cross-border legal, social and cultural issues but also, you’re put in a room with 18 to 20 other people with whom you have very little in common and it becomes a lesson in networking and socializing. It also provides excellent insight into business development and getting to know member firms,” says Chandler.
|Ryan Teschner says the pro bono work done through the East Scarborough Store Front fills a real need.|
Two years ago Teschner, along with fellow associate Trevor Guy, helped launch a pro bono program to provide improved legal services to the residents via the East Scarborough Store Front, an umbrella organization that brings together 40 different partner agencies to help residents in the Kingston-Galloway area of Scarborough.
Through the firm’s pro bono legal services initiative created in January 2010, help is available to clients in the community who need assistance that goes beyond that of a legal aid lawyer.
“Often 15 minutes with a legal aid lawyer isn’t enough to help some people,” says Teschner. “Sometimes there are issues that are more complicated.”
When that is the case, the legal aid lawyer fills out a referral form and sends it to Teschner and Guy who co-ordinate with their colleagues and determine whether it’s an area the firm practises in, and can assist, for free.
The firm has worked on 20 matters for East Scarborough residents over the last two years.
Recently, an associate in the firm’s tax department assisted with the paperwork required to set up a trust fund for the funeral of 14-year-old shooting victim Shyanne Charles, whose funeral will be held July 28.
Money needed to be raised to fund different aspects of the girl’s funeral so her family could have the type of service they wanted to have, Teschner explains.
“They came to us in an effort to set up a fund that could operate to collect those funds in the appropriate way to apply to the appropriate expenses. An associate in the tax department worked on the relevant documents and in a few hours provided the services to get the fund up and running,” he says.
“Fortunately, there was a very real way we could help here, unfortunately it was after the tragedy had already occurred, but so as not to leave somebody without the ability to have the kind of funeral that they would like to have for their loved one. We were able to step in and play a small role in making that happen,” says Teschner.
While he acknowledges that “access to justice” has become a bit of a buzz phrase over the last few years, Teschner feels the pro bono program Heenan Blaikie has established with East Scarborough Storefront is “real access to justice.”
“It’s great for our lawyers here too — they are given experience on matters they might not always get experience with and to see very real examples of how their legal skills benefit a particular person,” he says.
The pro bono program is part of the firm’s overall efforts to assist Toronto’s priority neighbourhoods with legal services and access to youth employment opportunities.
“What’s been eye opening, and unfortunately confirmatory to me, is that people who are not able to access counsel find themselves in a situation more difficult to handle simply because they don’t have the resources to go up against those who might be making life a little bit difficult. It’s a consistent theme in the 20 matters we have handled. The missing ingredient of access to justice is often what creates dire situations.”
|Lawyers per 10,000 census population. credit: Ontario Civil Legal Needs Project|
“We now have access to hard data that can be used to identify the civil legal needs of Ontario’s low- and middle-income communities, as well as the distribution of legal service providers available to meet those needs. We have not had access to this type of data before,” McMurtry noted at the report’s release.
The geography report examines and compares the demographic characteristics of the Ontario population and the distribution of legal services, to create a detailed picture of the market for civil legal services across Ontario.
“Some of the larger, more rural areas appear underserviced at first glance but actually have a good number of lawyers and paralegals compared to the population. This is encouraging news since we may be able to use existing legal service providers to improve access to civil legal services,” says John McCamus, the chairman of Legal Aid Ontario.
The research also shows that almost half the lawyers in the province provide some pro bono or free legal services. “An unexpected, positive finding was the high per centage of lawyers - 46.7 per cent in 2009 - who provide some level of pro bono or free legal services,” says Osgoode Hall Law School dean Lorne Sossin. “While there are still questions about the nature of those services, we can use this information to further engage the profession in access to justice solutions.”
Read next week’s Law Times for more details and analysis of the report.
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Gail J. Cohen