Legal advice-a-thon raises awareness and funds

Pro Bono Going Public 2009, an initiative of Western Canada Society to Access Justice, Pro Bono Law of BC and the Salvation Army Pro Bono Program, held free legal advice clinics outdoors in mid-September in Vancouver, Kelowna and Victoria. The goal of the one-day events was to serve the public, create awareness about lawyers’ efforts to increase access to justice, and raise funds to support BC’s pro bono programs.

Seventy-eight volunteer lawyers provided free legal advice to 167 clients. Low and modest-income individuals and homeless people appreciated the opportunity to meet with lawyers in the accessible and casual nature of the outdoor clinics. These clients received much-needed guidance on a wide range of legal issues and thanked the lawyers for helping to ease their stress and fear.

“Most volunteer lawyers seemed delighted by their Pro Bono Going Public experience and some lawyers stayed beyond their scheduled shifts to help more clients,” says Jamie Maclaren, Executive Director of Pro Bono Law of BC. At one point in Vancouver’s Victory Square Park, there were 11 volunteer lawyers providing free legal advice to clients at the same time, requiring a few lawyers and their clients to sit on park benches and on the lawn.

Co-workers, friends and family members of the volunteer lawyers, as well as the general public, generously pledged their financial support. Pro Bono Going Public 2009 exceeded its fund-raising goal — pledged support to date totals $24,554 with an additional $6,500 in corporate sponsorships.

This was the second advice-a-thon in Vancouver and the first time for Kelowna and Victoria. Pro Bono Going Public is intended to become an annual outdoor event in each of these cities.

Maclaren says, “We feel that we were able to raise considerable awareness in each city concerning the widespread availability of pro bono legal advice clinics, the traditional and substantial benevolence of BC’s pro bono lawyers, and the acuity of the access to justice crisis that begs for a replenished legal aid system.”