Lawyers in British Columbia are taking their services to the streets.
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
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Hyack Square in New Westminster on Sept. 11 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Rose Garden, City Park in Kelowna on Sept. 14 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and Centennial Square in Victoria on Sept. 18 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
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.