New report maps plan for pro bono in BC

The joint Law Society / CBA Pro Bono Committee issued its final report in June, culminating four years of work and laying the groundwork for a new pro bono society to coordinate, support and promote ongoing pro bono legal services in BC, a foundation to undertake fundraising and a website to allow community organizations to better communicate their pro bono needs to lawyers. The Committee is sending its report, Pro Bono Publico - lawyers serving the public good in British Columbia, to those who participated in its study and consultations and in Pro Bono Forum 2001 last October. Lawyers who wish to access an online copy of the report, including a synopsis report of the Pro Bono Forum, can visit the Law Society website at www.lawsociety. bc.ca. As previously reported, the new pro bono society will not deliver pro bono legal services directly, but will assist lawyers in finding suitable pro bono opportunities and will support community groups to facilitate the effective and coordinated delivery of pro bono through approved service providers. In its first three years, the society will focus on community development, lawyer and law firm recruitment, development and maintenance of a pro bono website, fundraising and lobbying for a properly funded legal aid system.

One of the lessons learned at the Pro Bono Forum is that effective liaison with community organizations is essential for this initiative to succeed in providing greater access to justice. The pro bono society has accordingly decided one of the first priorities will be to establish a community advisory council.

Introduction of a pro bono website (probononet.bc.ca) this year will be an important component of the pro bono society's work, thanks to development funding from the Law Foundation. The site will deliver legal information and resources to pro bono lawyers and community groups in all areas of the province.

The Lawyers Insurance Fund confirmed last year that it would provide coverage for pro bono work undertaken by exempt lawyers (such as those employed by government), as well as non-practising and retired lawyers. To qualify for the coverage, a lawyer must perform pro bono services through an approved pro bono service organization and the services cannot be for the benefit of a person previously known to the lawyer. The joint Pro Bono Committee had recommended insurance coverage as an important way to expand the pool of lawyers willing to offer pro bono services.

The work of the Pro Bono Committee, and the future work of the new pro bono society, is in keeping with initiatives elsewhere. As noted in Pro Bono Publico: "There is an international movement underway on pro bono which, significantly, is based to a large degree on a growing awareness of the importance of, and the value in, serving the greater good. The Committee supports the efforts of the new Board to ensure that the pro bono ideal and a strong pro bono culture become a reality in British Columbia."