The Advisory: Volume 9, Issue 3, December 2011

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Fall Back to Pro Bono

By Dale Spackman, QC, Bencher and Director, Pro Bono Law Alberta

Pro Bono Law Alberta was established as the legacy project of the Law Society of Alberta during its centenary celebrations in 2007. Its vision is: “Creating and promoting pro bono opportunities for Alberta lawyers.” Its mission is ”to improve access to justice by increasing the scope and availability of pro bono legal services to Albertans of limited means. Pro bono legal services are intended to compliment, not to replace, a properly funded legal aid system”.

Pro Bono Law Alberta’s fall season began with an exciting number of events and projects including a new resource bank and a pilot project to provide small claims duty counsel.

New Resource Bank to Promote Sharing of Knowledge

A new resource bank created by Pro Bono Law Alberta will promote sharing of information, resources and knowledge between pro bono organizations across the province.

This summer, it updated its legal resource manuals and distributed the updated information to all pro bono clinics in Alberta. In addition, the new online resource bank was created at It will become a valuable resource for the clinics. It will include many of the resources found in the resource manuals, in addition to links to relevant websites, court forms, automatically updated legislation and other resources available only online. The resource bank has the ability to be updated in real-time without the cost and labour involved in preparing manual updates.

The online resource bank will not be a public site, but will be available to volunteer lawyers, members of legal clinics, articling students and law students. In addition to being able to access the resources already posted on the online resource bank, user members will be able to host resources online for others to access. To date, over 40 people have joined this network.

Be connected to the pro bono legal community! Join the Online Resource Bank.

Small Claims Duty Counsel Now a Pilot Project

The small claims duty counsel project was launched as a pilot at the Calgary Courts Centre on October 4, 2011. The program’s goal is to provide legal assistance to low income Albertans engaged in proceedings before the Small Claims Court who would benefit from advice from legal counsel.

Pro Bono Law Alberta has been working with Pro Bono Students Canada on this project. The following law firms have agreed to provide volunteer lawyers for the pilot phase of this project: McCarthy Tétrault LLP, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP and Gowlings LLP.

The Small Claims Duty Counsel clinic will operate every Tuesday and Friday and will be ‘staffed’ by one lawyer and one student enrolled in the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Law. Lawyers who are volunteering with the project will provide summary legal advice and services, which may include attending court, to self-represented individuals who are engaged or are considering in engaging in civil litigation in Small Claims Court in Calgary. There are no financial eligibility requirements for clients of the project.

It is designed to improve access to justice for Albertans and provide lawyers and law students with meaningful and rewarding volunteer opportunities.

Legal Grounds Advice Clinic

The first ever Legal Grounds Advice Clinic took place on October 26, 2011 at the Calgary Public Library. It was held in conjunction with a Legal Resources Fair and noon hour information session on the justice system in Alberta as part of “Law Connect”, an annual event hosted by Calgary Public Library. These three events provided a ‘one stop legal shop’ for Calgarians to access legal information from community agencies and free, confidential advice from volunteer lawyers.

The clinic was a one-day joint initiative between Pro Bono Law Alberta, Calgary Legal Guidance, the Calgary Public Library and Macleod Dixon LLP. Its goal was to provide free legal advice and information to Calgarians in a friendly, approachable environment over a cup of coffee. Individuals could pre-book their appointments and a limited number of walk in appointments were available on a first-come, first-served basis.

The response was overwhelming with 103 people receiving legal advice provided by a group of volunteer lawyers from Macleod Dixon. During the Legal Advice Clinic, Calgary Legal Guidance offered two other services for the public. An identification clinic and a documents assistance booth were set up to provide assistance to individuals who need help with the completion of court forms and other documents.

“Alberta and the Justice System” was a noon-hour question and answer session hosted by Canadian Bar Association Alberta which allowed participants to learn about the justice system from a judge, prosecutor and defense lawyer.

In addition to Legal Grounds Advice Clinic and noon-hour presentation, the Legal Resources Fair, at which Pro Bono Law Alberta was an exhibitor, provided Calgarians with the opportunity to learn about the legal services available in our community. Law Connect and the multitude of legal services provided was an opportunity for hundreds of Calgarians to access legal information and advice.

Mr. Rob Rakochey, Partner at Macleod Dixon LLP, summed up the success of the Legal Grounds Advice Clinic in this way: “What an awesome day we had yesterday! I want to thank everyone who participated in this inaugural event - our lawyers, students, staff, the PBLA team, CLG people - everyone. I have had nothing but compliments, and thanks from everyone involved. I was very proud of us all, and I know we made a difference in the lives of all of the people that we assisted yesterday.”

Volunteer Lawyer Services Update

The Volunteer Lawyer Services (VLS) program expansion continues with the announcement of a new volunteer lawyer recruitment program called “Just Take 2”. The Just Take 2 campaign encourages current volunteer lawyers through an incentive program, to refer a colleague to Volunteer Lawyer Services and double the impact of this service to low income Albertans. The program encourages all Alberta lawyers to consider joining. As of October, there are 135 volunteer lawyers on the roster, 41 of whom have joined in 2011.

To sign up, please call 403-541-4803 or email

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