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Pro bono, 15 years strong

|Written By Heather Gardiner
Pro bono, 15 years strong
Supreme Court of Canada Justice Rosalie Abella. Photo: Heather Gardiner

The “germ” has caught on.

University of Toronto Faculty of Law dean Mayo Moran was referring to the growth of the pro bono movement in Canada since the inception of Pro Bono Students Canada in 1996.

She praised the organization for its work after telling the audience at PBSC’s 15th anniversary celebration last week that “the justice system in this country is fragile.”

The country’s lack of legal aid was a common theme throughout the night.

Keynote speaker Supreme Court of Canada Justice Rosalie Abella talked about access to justice and asked, “Why do we still resolve civil disputes the way we did centuries ago?

“Justice may be blind, but the public is not,” she said.

Recent Dalhousie University law graduate Gillian Scarlett. Photo: Heather Gardiner

Recent Dalhousie University Schulich School of Law graduate Gillian Scarlett says she agrees with Abella, “I think the legal system is quite archaic in a lot of senses.”

However, she’s optimistic about the future. “I think pro bono is at the forefront of changing the legal system in a positive way.”

As a law student, Scarlett says she did a lot of volunteer work but wasn’t sure what her niche was. She chose to join PBSC because it offered programming for many different interests. “It was the most well-developed social justice program at law school,” she says.

Founded by Ron Daniels — then dean of law at U of T and now president of John Hopkins University — PBSC has a chapter at every law school in Canada.

Although not every law firm supports pro bono work, organizers and students are hopeful that it’s slowly catching on.

“It will be tough in certain law firms, particularly when the billable hour is the No. 1 driver of legal work,” says Scarlett, PBSC’s national co-ordinator for 2010-11, “but I definitely think that’s why young people need to tackle the legal world en masse and bring pro bono values to their firms.”

Scarlett will be articling with Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP in Calgary in July where she plans to continue to a part of PBSC. She also hopes to eventually start a pro bono group within her firm.