Pro bono initiative: the next steps
Pro Bono website, Society and Foundation ahead in 2002
The prototype of a new pro bono website for B.C. was introduced at Pro Bono Forum 2001 in October.
The new website will be an online resource for lawyers and law firms, pro bono service providers, community groups and law students and will also feature useful links and information for the public. Development of the site, and consultations with user groups, are continuing.
The Law Society and the CBA will incorporate two legal entities to coordinate, support and promote ongoing pro bono legal services. One will be a new pro bono society with responsibility for administering the overall initiative, and the second will be a foundation to undertake fundraising. The program is spearheaded by the joint Law Society/CBA Pro Bono Task Force, co-chaired by Bencher Peter J. Keighley, Q.C. and CBA President Carman Overholt.
The new society will not deliver pro bono legal services directly, but will assist lawyers in finding suitable pro bono opportunities and support community groups to facilitate the effective and coordinated delivery of pro bono through approved service providers.
The pro bono program will focus on the delivery of legal services that have not been covered by legal aid in the past. The Law Society and CBA remain committed to ensuring government recognizes its responsibility to properly fund legal aid.
As part of the Law Society's commitment to support more B.C. lawyers' involvement in pro bono legal service programs, the Benchers have approved the extension of insurance coverage for pro bono work.
Practising lawyers who are protected by the mandatory policy currently deliver most of the pro bono legal work in the province.
The Lawyers Insurance Fund will now also offer coverage for pro bono work undertaken by exempt lawyers (such as those employed by government), as well as non-practising and retired lawyers. The joint Pro Bono Committee recommended this coverage as an important way to expand the pool of lawyers willing to offer pro bono services - which will benefit both the public and the profession.
The Benchers have decided to provide the same coverage as exists under the mandatory liability insurance policy ($1 million per claim, $2 million annual aggregate), without payment of an insurance fee or deductible by a retired, non-practising or exempt lawyer who performs pro bono legal services. There are two key provisos: First, the lawyer must perform pro bono services through a pro bono service provider approved by the Law Society. Second, the services cannot be for the benefit of a person previously known to the lawyer, including a family member, friend or acquaintance. Practising insured lawyers providing pro bono services that meet these two key provisos will also receive relief from payment of any deductible in the event of a claim.
Criteria are being developed for determining which service providers will be approved for the purpose of this coverage.
The Lawyers Insurance Fund anticipates the overall risk of expanding coverage in this way is small and the cost to the Fund will not be significant.
In 2001, the Law Society/CBA Pro Bono Task Force distributed a pro bono survey to all lawyers in the province to gather information on the delivery of pro bono legal services.
In total, 619 responses were received. Over 78% of respondents indicated that they are providing legal services, without expectation of a fee, for persons of limited means or for non-profit organizations. Of these respondents, 30% indicated that they provided pro bono legal services only to non-profit organizations.
Of the respondents who are not currently providing pro bono legal services, 70% said that it was not likely that they would provide such services in the future. The main reasons cited for not offering pro bono were family commitments, lack of insurance coverage, lack of law firm support and other work commitments. A significant percentage nevertheless said they do other volunteer community work.
When asked whether they believe that lawyers should voluntarily perform a minimum number of hours of pro bono legal services each year, 47% agreed with the statement, 45% disagreed and 8% were undecided.
Asked whether they support the creation of a non-profit society to promote, support and serve as a resource to organizations and lawyers delivering pro bono legal services, 48% agreed, 34% disagreed and 18% were undecided.
The full survey results will be posted in the Reports - Survey Results section of the Law Society website at www.lawsociety.bc.ca in mid-January.