Local lawyers plan to offer free legal advice to the poor
Later this week, more than 100 lawyers will gather in New Westminster and Vancouver to highlight the lack of access to justice.
Pro Bono Going Public 2013 will have lawyers gathering in Hyack Square on Wednesday (September 4) and in Victory Square on Friday (September 6) to give free legal advice to people of modest means.
The event is sponsored by the Canadian Bar Association and the Law Society of B.C.
The executive director of the Access Pro Bono Society of B.C., Jamie Maclaren, told the Georgia Straight that if people find they need legal advice but can't afford to hire a lawyer, they should call his organization.
"So long as they meet our financial-eligibility criteria, we'll gladly set them up with a lawyer for some free legal advice, and possibly some free legal representation thereafter," he said.
According to the Access Pro Bono Society of B.C., there are nearly 1,000 lawyers who provide free legal advice on a regular basis through its clinics across the province.
"Lawyers are portrayed quite often in the entertainment industry as greedy ambulance chasers and unscrupulous and money-grubbing and so forth," Maclaren said. "Certainly that's not our experience here in B.C. It's a very charitable and giving profession. The pro bono ethic—the culture of pro bono—goes back generations and generations. It goes back to the beginning of British common law and actually back to the Roman times."
He noted that B.C. lawyers have the highest "engagement level" with pro bono work in the country.
Maclaren added that B.C. also has "one of the worst" legal-aid systems in Canada, which itself doesn't fare very well internationally.
"We rank ninth out of 16 North American and western European countries when it comes to access to civil justice," he said.
The chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Beverly McLachlin, has often called upon lawyers and law students to do pro bono work.
Meanwhile, former chief justice Lance Finch said at his June 6 retirement dinner that the two most important initiatives undertaken by the legal profession were the Access Pro Bono Society of B.C. and the Public Commission on Legal Aid, which was chaired by lawyer Len Doust.
"Every year in British Columbia hundreds of lawyers undertake legal work for no fee whatever, providing millions of dollars of legal services to those who would otherwise not be able to afford them," Finch said at the time.
He noted that most other professionals—including doctors, engineers, and architects—are not expected to work for free.
"One notable exception is the teaching profession, where our educators spend hundreds and hundreds of volunteer hours every year helping our young people build self-confidence and achieve self-fulfillment, by coaching team sports, supervising clubs and extended field trips, fundraising and providing extra help to students who need it," Finch added. "I say hats off to our educators."
(For an alternative view on pro bono work, check out a 2008 commentary on duhaime.org/ by former lawyer Lloyd Duhaime. Likely to the consternation of lawyers who do pro bono work, Duhaime's article suggests that some of it is being done for marketing purposes, and occurs because lawyers are overcharging paying clients to subsidize these efforts.)