Pro Bono Law of BC offers new resources for lawyers

Pro Bono Law of BC (PBLBC) is introducing new training resources for lawyers interested in pro bono work. Other projects to support and promote pro bono are also on the horizon, thanks to a two-year funding commitment from the Law Foundation and matched funding from the Law Society, as approved by the Benchers on February 4.

Created as a non-profit society in April, 2002 at the initiative of the Law Society and the CBA (BC Branch), Pro Bono Law of BC does not deliver pro bono services directly. Instead, it works to encourage pro bono within the profession and to support programs across the province. As Chair Kelly Doyle told the Benchers in February, the role of PBLBC has always been to complement existing local programs, raise the profile of pro bono and encourage the willingness of lawyers to serve.

“Effectively, PBLBC acted as a first point of contact for the public seeking information with respect to pro bono services, as a resource for law firms, the courts, community groups and the public and as a catalyst for culture change through raising awareness of the importance of pro bono as opportunities present themselves,” Mr. Doyle said.

How has Pro Bono Law of BC helped? One recent example is a free resource guide on building pro bono partnerships between community groups and law firms. This guide is modelled on the partnership between the Multiple Sclerosis Society (BC Division) and Davis & Company. Another much- needed resource is an online poverty law training program to familiarize lawyers with welfare law. These materials will be accessible shortly on the Pro Bono Law of BC website.

In the near future, Pro Bono Law of BC will target the recruitment of lawyers and law firms for pro bono work of various kinds. “Pro bono polices have become common in national law firms in the last two years,” Mr. Doyle told the Benchers. “A growing number of lawyers are expected to become involved in pro bono service, and offering those lawyers a choice of service opportunities encourages diversity and broad participation.”

Since 2002, Pro Bono Law of BC has worked on a number of other initiatives, including these:

  • Court of Appeal Pro Bono Program – With the involvement of Chief Justice Finch, and in coordination with the Salvation Army BC Pro Bono Program, PBLBC has developed a pro bono program in Vancouver and Victoria to provide services to unrepresented clients appearing in the Court of Appeal. Following on this initiative, PBLBC has been approached on whether the program can be extended to sittings of the Federal Court of Appeal in Vancouver.
  • Supreme Court Self-Help Centre – With others in the justice community, Pro Bono Law of BC participated in the development of a new self-help centre at the Vancouver Law Courts to provide information, advice and assistance to unrepresented litigants. The self-help centre will include pro bono referrals.
  • Insurance coverage – Non-practising and retired members of the Law Society, as well as Crown Counsel and in-house counsel (who would not otherwise carry professional liability insurance), are now insured for approved services they offer through approved pro bono programs. This is thanks to the cooperative efforts of Pro Bono Law of BC and the Lawyers Insurance Fund. To become approved for this purpose, pro bono programs must agree to follow certain best practices, and PBLBC vets applications for approval.
  • Pro bono policies – PBLBC is available as a resource to law firms that wish to develop pro bono policies or programs.
  • PLTC – With the help of PBLBC, the Professional Legal Training Course has recently updated its practice material to include detailed information about PBLBC and about pro bono opportunities.
  • Information and referrals – Through its small office staff and website, Pro Bono Law of BC is becoming a place for the public and profession to turn to learn more about pro bono resources and opportunities. The PBLBC website also offers the option of matching volunteer lawyers with pro bono opportunities in the community.

Pro Bono Law of BC had initially secured three years of funding from the Law Foundation, and later received funding from a few additional sources including the Law Society (which provided $7,500 for 2003-2004 and $15,000 for 2004-2005). The Society has also provided office space for the program. More recently, the Law Foundation committed to two more years of funding at $85,000 a year on the condition that Pro Bono Law of BC obtain matched funding. PBLBC applied to the Law Society for matched funds. After a vigorous debate at their meeting on February 4, the Benchers agreed to provide match funding of $85,000 in 2005 and in 2006. While acknowledging the importance of the work of Pro Bono Law of BC, some Benchers were not in favour of extending funding in this way and stressed the importance of Pro Bono Law of BC becoming financially independent of the Law Society.

PBLBC plans to retain a full-time executive director and undertake more extensive fundraising. The Society expects to obtain charitable status in the near future and plans to pursue various funding options — being sensitive not to compete with local pro bono programs for financial contributions from law firms.

Coming soon

Online poverty law training

Some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our communities need advice on social welfare issues. And while many lawyers in BC now volunteer their time to assist clients who cannot afford to pay for legal services, few may encounter poverty law issues often enough in private or public practice to feel comfortable volunteering those services.

The right resources can help bridge the gap.

In response to this need, PBLBC has developed online poverty law training for lawyers who would like to offer pro bono services in the area of welfare law. Funded by the Law Foundation of BC, the online training will be available soon in the lawyers' section of the PBLBC website at www.probononet. bc.ca. The training material covers an overview of welfare law, income assistance and disability assistance, effective skills for interviewing poverty law clients, reconsideration applications, tribunal proceedings and judicial review applications.

For more information on Pro Bono Law of BC’s initiatives, please contact Carol Jones, Coordinator, at 604 893-8932 or by email at cjones@probononet.bc.ca



New pro bono guide online

Pro Bono Law of BC has a new resource to assist law firms and lawyers in the delivery of pro bono services.

Pro Bono Law — A Solution is Community Partnership: A Guide to Developing a Community-Based Pro Bono Program outlines the steps for creating and sustaining a pro bono partnership between a community group and a law firm, modelled on the partnership between the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada (BC Division) and Davis & Company. Taken from the perspective of a community organization that wishes to establish a pro bono law program, the guide outlines how a successful program can be launched and administered and offers advice for law firms that would like to provide support through pro bono services.

The 44-page guide is available for download in PDF format from the PBLBC website at www.probononet.bc.ca and from the MSS-BC website at www.mssociety.ca/bc/pdf/ vlap_pblbc_manual.pdf. Limited quantities are also available in print – call PBLBC at 604 893-8932 or send an email to info@probononet.bc.ca to request a copy. The guide was produced by the MS Society of Canada through funding from the Law Foundation of BC.