Law Society hosts pro bono legal and advocacy services workshop

Representatives of 44 organizations gathered in the Benchers Room on October 15 to discuss ways to enhance pro bono referrals.

“The Law Society recognizes the referral process is a vital link in the delivery of pro bono legal services,” said President Anna K. Fung, QC, as she welcomed workshop participants. “There is a little irony in the fact that a major referral challenge arises from the sheer number of clinics, agencies and community organizations hosting pro bono legal and advocacy services throughout the province.

“Simply identifying all those pro bono hosts is challenging, never mind tracking their ever-changing contact information, and matching them to the constant flood of service requests.”

A number of the participants in an open brainstorming discussion identified the need for a province-wide database of pro bono legal and advocacy service providers that is comprehensive, current and widely accessible.

“Many of us have contact lists for pro bono service providers,” said Ulrike Kleeman, manager of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada’s Volunteer Legal Advocacy Program. “Those lists tend to be focused by location and by purpose. Even current lists go out of date quickly. We need to consolidate our lists of providers into a provincial database that can be readily updated by its users.”

Other participants identified gaps in service — particularly travel to smaller centres and translation, by both lawyers and non-lawyer advocates — and the need for legal research support as recurring concerns.

Wayne Robertson, executive director of the Law Foundation, introduced brief presentations by three leaders of BC’s pro bono world: Allan Parker, new executive director of the Western Canadian Society to Access Justice, John Pavey, manager of Salvation Army Pro Bono Consultants, and Jamie Maclaren, executive director of Pro Bono Law of BC.

Robertson stressed the importance of the work currently being done by those three organizations — funded by a $75,000 grant from the Law Foundation — to coordinate their service delivery and to streamline their cross-referral processes.

“Collaboration among key players is essential to making best use of limited resources,” he said. “These days there’s a strong cooperative spirit running though BC’s pro bono community, presenting exciting opportunities for pooling resources to tackle common challenges.”

Leaders, program directors and frontline staff from community service organizations, public legal education and information providers, and pro bono legal and advocacy service groups attended the workshop.

Lorna O’Grady, manager of CBA’s Dial-A-Law and Lawyer Referral Service programs, John Simpson, manager of public information and community liaison for the Legal Services Society, Brian Higgins, senior supervising lawyer for the UBC Law Students’ Legal Advice Program, David Mossop, QC, poverty law program director for the Community Legal Assistance Society, and Sarah Khan, staff counsel for the BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre, all delivered presentations.

Law Society staff will circulate a summary of the brainstorming session to the workshop participants as support for their further discussions.