News Releases

For immediate release November 20, 2002

New society to coordinate free legal services in BC

VANCOUVER - A new initiative by the Law Society of BC and the BC Branch of the Canadian Bar Association will help bring free legal services to organizations and people who don't qualify for legal aid and cannot afford a lawyer.

Pro Bono Law of BC is a new, non-profit society, funded by the Law Foundation of BC, that will help community groups throughout the province link up with lawyers who want to volunteer their time and expertise.

"We know that lawyers across BC provide many hours of pro bono services in their communities. But we also know that there are many lawyers who would like to help but don't know what opportunities exist and there are many community groups that could really use their help. We are going to link the two together," said Vancouver lawyer Carman Overholt, President of Pro Bono Law of BC.

The new Society takes its name from the Latin phrase pro bono publico, which means "for the public good." Pro Bono Law of BC defines pro bono legal work as "legal services for persons of limited means or not-for-profit organizations, provided without expectation of a fee."

Pro Bono Law of BC's first initiative is a new website that will allow community groups and existing pro bono programs to register requests for pro bono legal services. BC lawyers wanting to provide free legal services can then log on and contact these organizations. The website can be found at www.probononet.bc.ca.

Pro Bono Law of BC has the support of BC's judges. "I strongly endorse the vision of this project," says BC's Chief Justice, The Honourable Lance Finch. "I believe that it has the potential to foster the availability of pro bono services in every BC community, and active pro bono programs within every law firm in the province."

Pro Bono Law of BC has also produced a "Best Practices" manual for programs providing pro bono services and has just launched a campaign to encourage more BC lawyers to volunteer their services. The Law Society of BC has also agreed to expand its insurance program to provide insurance coverage, free of charge, to non-practising, in-house and retired lawyers as well as Crown counsel who provide approved pro bono services.

"Pro Bono Law of BC is not a substitute for a properly funded legal aid program," Mr. Overholt said. "This is an example of the lawyers of BC doing their part to assist persons of limited means. It is now time for the government to do its part by properly funding the legal aid program."

Law Society of BC media contact:

Brad Daisley, Public Affairs Manager
Office: 604-443-5724 or 1-800-903-5300 toll-free in BC
Cellular: 604-836-3257
Email: bdaisley@lsbc.org
www.lawsociety.bc.ca

Canadian Bar Association, BC Branch media contact:

Caroline Nevin, Associate Executive Director
Office: 604-646-7853 or 604-687-3404 or 1-888-687-3404 toll-free
Cellular: 604-808-6148
Email: cnevin@bccba.org
www.bccba.org

Pro Bono Law of BC case study - Multiple Sclerosis Society, BC Division

People with multiple sclerosis are often faced with a variety of legal challenges, such as 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 Adrianne and 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 in running a pro bono program. Pro Bono Law of BC also introduced Adrianne to John Pavey, coordinator of the Salvation Army's successful pro bono program throughout BC. John and Adrianne subsequently met with lawyers from the Vancouver firm Davis and Company 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 pro bono program.

Pro Bono Law of BC case study - Court of Appeal program

Representing yourself in the Court of Appeal can be very difficult. The rules are intricate and the legal issues are often very complex. But thanks to a joint project from the Salvation Army and Pro Bono Law of BC, people who are representing themselves in the Court of Appeal may now be able to get advice from a lawyer. Under this new program, which began in September 2002, unrepresented Court of Appeal litigants can be referred to the Salvation Army's pro bono coordinator, who will identify the legal problem and determine whether there is a real need for legal assistance. The Salvation Army will then refer the person to an appropriate volunteer lawyer. The volunteer lawyers will be recruited by senior lawyers who practise civil law, criminal law and family law.

Pro Bono Law of BC case study - 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, 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 Johnston. "The pro bono project is a good initiative and I hope it is continued and expanded."

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Backgrounder

What is Pro Bono Law of BC?

Pro Bono Law of BC is a new, non-profit society that has been formed to oversee the coordination of pro bono efforts province-wide. It is a joint project of the Law Society of BC and the BC Branch of the Canadian Bar Association. Both organizations have appointed directors to the Society's board and those directors will, in turn, appoint community directors from community groups involved in the delivery of advocacy or pro bono services.

What is the purpose of Pro Bono Law of BC?

The purpose of Pro Bono Law of BC is to facilitate pro bono efforts by BC lawyers province wide.

How did Pro Bono Law of BC get started?

At the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Bar Association in St. John's Newfoundland in 1998, it was resolved that the CBA should take steps to encourage and promote pro bono activity and to recognize pro bono efforts undertaken by members of the legal profession in Canada. At the Annual General Meeting of the Law Society of British Columbia in September, 1998, it was resolved that the Law Society of British Columbia work cooperatively with the CBA (BC Branch) to develop and encourage programs for the delivery of pro bono legal services within the province of BC. A committee was struck in response to these resolutions and that committee recommended the establishment of an organization dedicated to coordinating the delivery of pro bono services throughout the province. For more information see:

  • Interim report of the Law Society - Canadian Bar Association Pro Bono Committee
  • Report on the October 2001 Pro Bono Forum [PDF]
  • Final report of the Law Society - Canadian Bar Association Pro Bono Committee [PDF]
What does "pro bono" mean?

The term "pro bono" comes from the Latin phrase pro bono publico, which means for the public good. The term "pro bono" is traditionally used by the legal community to describe free legal services. Pro Bono Law of BC's definition of pro bono is "Legal services for persons of limited means or not-for-profit organizations, without expectation of a fee."

Does pro bono work take the place of legal aid?

The services provided by BC lawyers through pro bono programs is an example of this province's lawyers doing their part to help the disadvantaged. Pro bono work, however, is not a substitute for a properly funded legal aid program. That is the obligation of the federal and provincial governments.

What sort of legal work is covered by a pro bono program?

Many people think of pro bono work as defending the wrongly accused or launching consumer class actions, but it can be anything that is for the public good. Pro Bono Law of BC particularly wants to encourage more solicitors to get involved. Solicitors are traditionally involved in non-court legal work such as wills and estates, corporate-commercial transactions and real estate deals. Many non-profit organizations need this type of legal advice and cannot afford to pay for a lawyer.

What does Pro Bono Law of BC do?

Pro Bono Law of BC's primary purpose is to match community groups and the individuals they serve who need legal advice with lawyers willing to assist them.

It will also provide a range of resources such as a pro bono best practices manual for lawyers and community organizations providing pro bono services.

Other projects include identifying training needs for pro bono programs and pro bono lawyers and providing support to community groups.

How does Pro Bono Law of BC accomplish all this?

Pro Bono Law of BC's number one method of delivering services is through a new website: www.probononet.bc.ca. The website works as a link so that community groups can connect with lawyers willing to provide them and the individuals they serve with free services. There are four user groups who can register on the website: community groups; lawyers and law firms; pro bono delivery programs and other professionals such as mediators, law students or translators who can assist with the delivery of pro bono services. There is also a section of the website that provides resources and information for the general public.

How much pro bono work do BC lawyers do?

A survey conducted by the Law Society in 2001 revealed that 78 per cent of the lawyers who responded were providing pro bono services of some kind with the average lawyer contributing about eight hours a month.