The money will go to the Rural Education and Access to Lawyers (REAL) program of the Canadian Bar Association’s B.C. branch. It helps law students gets experience in communities of less than 100,000 people with a population-to-lawyer ratio of more than 500:1.
“This is allowing it to finish out its five-year pilot project,” says B.C. law society spokeswoman Robyn Crisanti. The program began three years ago with $795,000 in funding from the Law Foundation of British Columbia. The new money — $75,000 for each of the next two years — will help it continue, says law society president Gavin Hume.
“The program hopes to address a critical need to replace retiring lawyers in small communities and provide ongoing access to legal services. The law society is impressed with the early results of the REAL initiative and very pleased to provide the necessary financing to continue this project,” says Hume.
This summer, the REAL program placed 20 summer students in smaller communities. It provides them with advice and information as well as financial assistance with interview-related travel costs. For law firms and lawyers, the program provides funding for hiring summer students and promotional support for marketing the various regions to law students and new lawyers.
The shortage of rural lawyers has been on the B.C. bar’s agenda for some time. A 2007 survey of B.C. articling students showed 82.5 per cent planned to pursue their legal careers in Vancouver or Victoria. That result reflects statistics showing 80 per cent of lawyers practising in that province do so in the metropolitan areas of those two cities.