Law Foundation continues strong BC legacy

Thanks to the vision and determination of BC lawyers, the recent surge in the amount of money held in lawyers’ pooled trust accounts has created spin-off benefits that reach far beyond the legal community. Nearly 40 years ago, BC lawyers persuaded the provincial government to enact legislation that required financial institutions to pay interest on lawyers’ pooled trust accounts to the newly created Law Foundation of British Columbia. The foundation was the first organization of its kind in North America, and many more have sprung up since.

“There is now a law foundation in every province in Canada and every state in the United States,” says Wayne Robertson, Executive Director of the Law Foundation. “Each year hundreds of millions of dollars are distributed to legal aid initiatives across North America, and it’s all at the initiative of the profession.”

Under the Legal Profession Act, the Law Foundation receives and distributes the interest on client funds held in lawyers’ pooled trust accounts to support legal aid, legal research, law libraries, law reform and legal education. The foundation’s income on interest from lawyers’ trust accounts rose from $17 million in 2005 to $39 million in 2006.

“We support community-level advocacy throughout the province,” says Warren Wilson, QC, Chair of the Law Foundation. “We provide support to local advocates to assist the public that can’t otherwise access legal advice.”

The Law Foundation has played a key role in helping to bridge the gap left by cuts to legal aid, and the recent increase in funding has allowed even more projects to be funded. This year the foundation provided a $75,000 grant to the Salvation Army, the Western Canadian Society to Access Justice and Pro Bono Law of BC to help the three organizations promote a seamless continuum of pro bono services. It is one of several projects where the foundation is encouraging greater linkages among existing legal services to promote better public access. For example, the foundation supports the development of a family law hub in Nanaimo — an initiative of the Legal Services Society and the Ministry of Attorney General. Plans are also underway to develop a civil hub in Nanaimo and a combined civil and family hub in Vancouver, with possible expansion to other communities in the future.

“Our goal is to help support a continuum of services that enhance access to justice, including everything from supporting law reform efforts to pro bono initiatives and public legal education,” says Robertson. “I’d like to see no gaps in access to justice.”

In recent years the foundation has funded a number of new public legal education initiatives. For example, the foundation provided $1 million to the BC Courthouse Library Society to ensure that public libraries across BC have a core collection of basic legal materials, and public librarians are trained on legal research. And over the next couple of years, the Public Legal Education Working Group, which the library society belongs to, will develop a public legal education “portal” to help British Columbians access a multitude of resources available online. In addition, the foundation continues to fund the Law Courts Education Society, which has a number of projects underway to promote legal education in the public school system.

“We want to ensure that the public understands the rule of law and the justice system and the important role that courts and lawyers play in civil society,” Robertson said.

In addition to promoting public legal education, the foundation plays a significant role in supporting law schools, continues to provide scholarship funding to law students and plans to broaden its role in supporting continuing legal education for the profession, such as online learning and remote access to seminars, workshops and other resources.

In 2006, the foundation provided $6 million to the University of British Columbia faculty of law for a new law school building and $3 million to the University of Victoria faculty of law to repurpose the law school library.

“The legal profession should feel proud of their support for the Law Foundation because our work really does benefit the public,” Robertson said. “Thousands and thousands of people across British Columbia have been helped since the Law Foundation was founded almost 40 years ago by BC lawyers.”

The Law Foundation is administered by an 18-member board of governors, made up of the attorney general (or appointee), three non-lawyers appointed by the attorney general, 12 lawyers or members of the judiciary appointed by the Benchers to represent geographical areas of the province and two lawyers appointed by the Canadian Bar Association.

The Law Society encourages lawyers to place their trust accounts with financial institutions that provide fair rates of return to the foundation, including Bank of Montreal, Bank of Nova Scotia, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Canadian Western Bank, Coast Capital Savings Credit Union, Envision Credit Union, HSBC Bank Canada, Prospera Credit Union, Royal Bank, TD Canada Trust and Vancity.

The Law Foundation welcomes feedback from the profession. Please call 604-688-2337 or email lfbc@tlfbc.org.