Launch of ProBonoNet BC links lawyers and the community

The first website of its kind in Canada, ProBonoNet BC, was launched on November 19 at www.probononet.bc.ca, offering lawyers across BC the opportunity to respond directly to needs for pro bono assistance in their communities.

ProBonoNet BC is the cornerstone project of Pro Bono Law of BC - a non-profit society founded in 2002 by the Law Society of BC and theBC Branch of the Canadian Bar Association, with funding from the Law Foundation of BC. The site will facilitate pro bono practice in the province by linking BC lawyers with community groups and pro bono organizations that need their services.

For lawyers interested in undertaking or renewing a commitment to pro bono, a visit to the ProBonoNet BC website is the first step.

What's on the site?

Lawyers will find a range of pro bono opportunities on the ProBonoNet BC site and can choose to offer their services - whether summary advice, legal representation, legal research or mentoring - to those programs that best fit their interests and skills.

The home page of the website is designed primarily for members of the public. Lawyers and law firms can join the "Lawyers and Law Firms" user section in order to view the full range of requests for assistance, to see the latest pro bono news, to access pro bono resources and to exchange information on a secure message board. Juricert provides the registration process for this section of the site.

Community groups have their own user section, while sections are under construction for other professionals (including mediators and interpreters) and for pro bono delivery organizations.

What is pro bono?

Pro Bono Law of BC defines pro bono work as "legal services for persons of limited means or not-for-profit organizations, provided without expectation of a fee."

The website is not intended to play a direct role in the delivery of pro bono legal services - rather, its function is to make connections between lawyers and the community. Pro Bono Law of BC is based on the principle that, while it is the primary responsibility of government to provide legal aid to ensure equal access to justice, the legal profession has a fundamental part to play in ensuring the proper administration of justice.

With the extension of insurance coverage for pro bono made possible in 2002 by the Law Society and the Lawyers Insurance Fund, and with the launch of ProBonoNet BC, the profession is well positioned to enhance BC's already strong pro bono culture.

How to register

To register with ProBonoNet BC, visit the site at www.probononet.bc.ca. Click on "Lawyers and Law Firms" and complete the registration procedure.

Once you are registered, you have access to the "Lawyers and Law Firms" section of the site and can canvass requests for assistance that have been registered by community groups and can view those requests by area of practice or by region, or both.

Registered users also have access to pages specifically designed for the "Lawyers and Law Firms" user group. These pages include resources, news, a calendar of events and a discussion board. Lawyers can contribute their own firm's news, events and resources and view what has been posted by others. The news section also carries the latest updates on insurance coverage available to lawyers doing pro bono work.

The work has already begun . Pro Bono Law of BC case studies

Multiple Sclerosis Society, BC Division

People with multiple sclerosis are often faced with a variety of legal challenges over human rights, employment equity, insurance, income security, estate planning and family law. "Staff and volunteers at the MS Society have provided support on a wide range of these issues for several years," says Adrianne Boothroyd, the Society's Community Services Coordinator. "But what we really needed was professional legal advice and advocacy."

Pro Bono Law of BC provided the MS Society with the basic information they needed to set up their own pro bono legal advice program - information about best practices, quality control and the legal issues involved. Pro Bono Law of BC also introduced Adrianne Boothroyd to John Pavey, coordinator of the Salvation Army's successful province-wide pro bono program. Both then met with lawyers from Davis and Company in Vancouver and are now developing a new pro bono legal clinic for the people the MS Society serves. The clinic will be a joint effort by the Salvation Army and the MS Society. Lawyers at other firms are also assisting the MS Society with its program.

Court of Appeal program

For a lay person to appear alone in the Court of Appeal can be very difficult. The rules are intricate and the legal issues are often complex. But thanks to a joint project of the Salvation Army and Pro Bono Law of BC, people representing themselves in the Court of Appeal may now be able to get advice from a lawyer. Under the program, which began in September, unrepresented Court of Appeal litigants may be referred to the Salvation Army's pro bono coordinator who will identify the legal problem, determine whether there is a real need for legal assistance and, if so, refer the person to an appropriate volunteer lawyer.

Eastside Family Place Society

Eastside Family Place runs a drop-in centre and parent education programs in Vancouver's Commercial Drive neighbourhood. Thanks to a successful fund-raising program and government grants, Eastside Family Place, along with the nearby Britannia Community Centre, began construction of a new building that would finally get the Society out of the old, leaky portable building they had been using for 14 years.

With the assistance of Pro Bono Law of BC, the Eastside Family Place's Administrative Coordinator, Mary Johnston, was able to link up with Vancouver lawyer John Third of Fraser Milner Casgrain, who provided legal advice relating to the construction, leasing and operation of the new building.

"It's been a very positive experience for us, and we're very grateful," says Ms. Johnston. "The pro bono project is a good initiative and I hope it is continued and expanded."