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The Advisory: Volume 10, Issue 1, January 2012


Click here to view the PDF version of The Advisory

Pro Bono Law Alberta:
Engaging Lawyers and Involving Stakeholders through Innovative Projects

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 complement, not to replace, a properly funded legal aid system”.

Civil Claims Duty Counsel Project Launched at Calgary Courts Centre

The Civil Claims Duty Project was launched as a pilot project at the Calgary Courts Centre on October 4, 2011 to provide legal assistance to low income Albertans engaged in proceedings before the Civil 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. Lawyers from the following law firms have generously provided their support for this pilot phase: McCarthy Tétrault LLP, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP and Gowlings LLP. The project has expanded its service as of January 17, 2012 with the addition of Norton Rose Canada LLP (formerly Macleod Dixon LLP); Blake, Cassels and Graydon LLP; and Bennett Jones LLP. It is anticipated that more law firms will join the project in the near future.

The expanded clinic operates every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday with two shifts: 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon and 12:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. It is ‘staffed’ by one lawyer and one student enrolled in the University of Calgary Faculty of Law.

The volunteer lawyers provide summary legal and procedural advice, assist with drafting documents, refer clients to other agencies, and in some circumstances, represent individuals in court. As of December 20, 2011, 138 individuals received assistance through the pilot project. Summary and procedural advice frequently touched on the merits of a claim, claim filing procedure, possible defences and counterclaims, identifying causes of action, the naming and service of parties, evidence, costs, and remedies. Lawyers also assisted clients by providing instruction or by drafting documents relevant to the project’s client’s claim. Lawyers have provided representation at trial at least twice, rendered legal services to clients during pre-trial conferences, and have contacted opposing parties for two clients. The majority of individuals seek assistance with contractual and landlord/tenant issues.

The client response so far has been overwhelmingly positive. The overall response is that the assistance received was helpful and that they were satisfied with the overall service that was provided. Clients have remarked that they felt this service is “extremely valuable,” “quick, informative, and efficient,” and “awesome.”

Pro Bono Law Alberta is excited to announce that the Civil Claims Duty Counsel project has been launched in Edmonton Law Courts Building on January 24, 2012 with the following firms participating: Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP, McLennan Ross LLP, Emery Jamieson LLP, Ackroyd LLP and Miller Thomson. It will work with the Edmonton Pro Bono Students Canada on this project.

The Civil Claims Duty Counsel Projects in both Calgary and Edmonton are an innovative way to engage lawyers in a valuable pro bono project that assists many people with various legal issues. The project also provides law students with hands-on experience in working with clients in a court setting.

Roundtable Promotes Sharing of Information and Ideas

Pro Bono Law Alberta hosted the 5th Pro Bono Stakeholders’ Roundtable meeting on November 3 and 4, 2011 for 50 participants from a variety of organizations including pro bono clinics, legal information providers, Alberta Law Foundation, Law Society of Alberta, Legal Aid Alberta, University of Calgary Faculty of Law, and the national office of Pro Bono Students Canada. The Roundtable was an opportunity to learn about other groups who are all part of the ‘access to justice’ community.

The objectives of the meeting were to:

  • bring the stakeholders together for education on matters relevant to the clinics and to allow for small group discussion;
  • obtain input on matters that have arisen in the past year;
  • provide opportunities for sharing information and resources that enhance pro bono delivery to the community; and
  • develop new ideas which will enhance the pro bono network of stakeholders in Alberta.

Sessions included an update by Legal Aid Alberta and Alberta Law Foundation, as well as a session on the Social Implications of Demographic and Economic Trends in Alberta and Emerging Legal Needs. Following that session, the group discussed challenges faced by pro bono clinics and legal organizations as well as solutions as to how groups can work together to ensure legal needs are being met. Staff lawyers met as a separate group to discuss the challenges of litigation in a pro bono clinic context. Alternate solutions for delivery of pro bono services were presented as well as technical tips and tricks to engage young lawyers.

Presentation workshop materials are available on the Pro Bono Law Alberta web site at: www.pbla.ca/library/ under Reports 2011.

Volunteer Lawyer Services Welcomes New Program Manager

Pro Bono Law Alberta is pleased to announce that Kathryn Gilmore has joined the team as Program Manager, Volunteer Lawyer Services as of January 1, 2012. She received her law degree from Queens University in 2005 and was called to the Alberta Bar in 2009. She has been a regular volunteer at Calgary Legal Guidance for almost three years and is fully fluent in French. Rebecca Hepner will stay on with Pro Bono Law Alberta in a part time capacity and will assist the team with meeting the goals of its many projects and programs.

Volunteer recruitment continues to be a focus of the program. As of January 2012, 135 lawyers have joined the roster. There are many different ways that lawyers can help both notfor- profit organizations and individuals. Lawyers who wish to join the program may contact Kathryn at 403-541-4803 to discuss different options to tailor a volunteer description that suits individual lawyers’ needs. The program will embark on a ‘provincial road show’ in early spring during which Pro Bono Law Alberta staff will travel to the pro bono clinics and Legal Aid offices to engage in face to face meetings to discuss program expansion with regard to the protocol and procedures of Volunteer Lawyer Services. For more information on programs and activities, please visit www.pbla.ca.

Board of Directors Plan strategy

In November 2011, the Pro Bono Law Alberta Board of Directors engaged in a Strategic Planning Session to re-examine and set the priorities for the organization for the coming year and beyond. A subcommittee will develop a Business Plan that will provide the foundation for the activities to be undertaken in 2012.

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