Pro bono mentorship program

Have you thought about doing pro bono work but don’t know where to start? The Canadian Bar Association has launched a program to pair you up with a lawyer who will gladly show you the ropes.

The CBA’s Pro Bono Mentorship Program is seeking applications from both mentors and mentees. Any lawyer or articling student who is a CBA member can be a mentee. Any practising or retired member of a provincial or territorial bar can be a mentor.

The amount of time mentorship takes up is up to the parties involved. The program suggests a minimum of one phone call a month to keep the relationship going. The formal mentorship lasts for one year.

Roy Millen, a partner with Blake, Cassels and Graydon LLP in Vancouver, says the mentoring relationship can be beneficial to both lawyers involved: “It often just takes a five-minute phone call with senior counsel to provide some reassurance, as well as new ideas and approaches to a problem. It’s a surprising relief, when one has the primary responsibility for providing advice, to be able to obtain some advice oneself!”

Shannon Salter, a litigation associate with Farris Vaughn Wills & Murphy LLP in Vancouver, says pro bono work makes you feel good: “It gives me a sense of community; it connects me with people and problems that I would otherwise only read about in the newspaper. It’s a fantastic way to develop your advocacy, problem-solving and client management skills in a low-risk environment.”

Salter recalls one especially satisfying case. “A few months ago, I helped a single mother fight an eviction from her housing co-op. We got short leave to bring an injunction application, which allowed her to stay in her home with her young children. There is no way this client, who barely spoke English, could have steered through the court process on her own.”

Salter says she is fortunate in that she was mentored at her own firm. A retired partner, Jack Giles, QC, had a long-standing relationship with the Salvation Army Pro Bono program and brought pro bono into the firm culture. Salter has a wealth of colleagues she turns to for advice on pro bono files. In turn, she helps articling students with their files.

Jamie Maclaren, Executive Director of Pro Bono Law of BC, says troubled economic times bring increased need for pro bono legal services. As law firms experience a slowdown in some departments, he says pro bono offers an excellent morale-booster for lawyers and a chance for lawyers to develop more skills.

To find out more about the CBA’s Pro Bono Mentorship program, contact Stephanie Vig, program coordinator, at 613-237-2925 ext. 221 or stephaniev@cba.org.