The Salvation Army pro bono clinic

John Pavey and Don MacDougall
John Pavey (left), Central Coordinator for the Salvation Army pro bono program, meets with Langley lawyer Don MacDougall, who serves both as a clinic volunteer and as a member of the program's Executive Committee. Through regular clinics in communities across BC, lawyers offer summary legal advice to people who cannot afford to pay for a lawyer but who are ineligible for legal aid.  

For Don MacDougall, a lawyer with Fleming, Olson and Taneda in Langley, pro bono is one way of fostering public confidence in lawyers. "For lawyers concerned about the appearance of the profession to the public, pro bono is an opportunity to bridge the gap and show that lawyers are people, they are accessible and they are not reserved solely for the very rich," he says.

MacDougall is a volunteer and Executive Committee member for the Salvation Army Pro Bono Program, which holds legal advice clinics in 21 offices across the province at least once a month, with a few clinics operating weekly and one clinic (on Robson Street in Vancouver) held daily.

Currently, clinics run in Courtenay, Duncan, Nanaimo, Victoria, Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Gibson's, Vancouver (three locations), Burnaby, Richmond, Surrey, New Westminster, Port Coquitlam, Chilliwack, Vernon, Kamloops, Kelowna, Cranbrook and Fernie. New clinics are coming to North Vancouver, Langley and Maple Ridge.

Relying entirely on Salvation Army fund-raising, including some donations from law firms, the pro bono program offers summary advice on criminal, family, immigration, labour and welfare law and on such civil matters as residential tenancy disputes, small claims and bankruptcy proceedings. Volunteer lawyers give advice, prepare documents or assist clients who intend to appear in court unrepresented, but they do not serve as counsel in court matters.

To qualify for the program, clients must be ineligible for legal aid and must meet financial criteria - having a monthly household income not exceeding $1,500 for a single person (or $2,500 for a person with one or more dependants) and holding no more than $30,000 in equity.

"We expect to assist at least 3,000 clients in BC by the end of 2003," says John Pavey, Central Coordinator for the program. "We have approximately 300 lawyers involved actively with our program - each lawyer, on average, commits to two hours of volunteer service per month."

"I think most lawyers see the Salvation Army as an organization that does a lot of good; we are also good at what we do," Pavey adds. "The lawyers believe that we provide an environment in which their boundaries are recognized and respected. This ensures that clients are not adding burdensome legal issues to the lawyer's caseload, unless the lawyer chooses to respond by providing more than what is expected."

MacDougall agrees. "What impressed me about the program is that it allows lawyers to provide advice to clients in a summary fashion for specified and scheduled blocks of time," he said. "The program itself takes care of weeding out people who can afford to pay for legal advice and takes care of all arrangements for the appointments. The lawyer's job is only to meet with the clients and provide advice at the meeting, without any ongoing obligation after the meeting is over unless the lawyer wants to take on that responsibility."

For lawyers who have little face-to- face interaction with clients in their own practices, the pro bono program offers that opportunity, MacDougall notes — and clients are very grateful for the assistance.