The Advisory: Volume 10, Issue 3, July 2012

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Law Society’s Accomplishments Sustain Commitment to Pro Bono Culture

By Susan Billington QC, Policy and Program Counsel, Law Society of Alberta

Pro Bono Law Alberta is the most visible demonstration of the Law Society’s commitment to pro bono.

However, it really was a culmination of 10 years of involvement by the Law Society working to foster a culture of pro bono in the legal profession in Alberta. The starting place was to recognize that there is, and always had been a robust pro bono culture in the legal profession in Alberta. The task was made easier because the Law Society did not have to create something – it only had to facilitate, encourage, and enhance it.

The Law Society has sustained its commitment to the structured delivery of pro bono legal services by lawyers to low income Albertans ineligible for Legal Aid as this outline of key accomplishments shows.

Pro Bono Legal Clinic Expansion

In 1998, the delivery of pro bono legal services by lawyers was recognized and adopted by the Law Society as an important access to justice initiative. The Law Society focused first on fostering the development of the pro bono clinic model in urban centres in Alberta. The Law Society worked with local lawyers using the pro bono clinic Start-up Kit (1999), based on Calgary Legal Guidance, and five new clinics have opened their doors throughout Alberta:

  • The Edmonton Community Legal Centre (2001),
  • The Children’s Legal and Educational Resource Centre (2002),
  • The Central Alberta Community Legal Clinic (2006),
  • Lethbridge Legal Guidance (2007), and
  • Grande Prairie Legal Guidance (2008).

Pro Bono Publico: In the Public Interest

An extensive policy analysis was completed in the 2003 report entitled Pro Bono Publico: In the Public Interest. The Law Society developed and adopted a strategic plan in 2004-2005 to implement the Report’s recommendations which were to:

  1. Create a definition of pro bono;
  2. Further expand the pro bono clinic model to new centres;
  3. Establish errors and omissions coverage to encourage pro bono legal services; and
  4. Initiate stakeholder consultations for future pro bono initiatives.

This report is extensively referenced in the textbook Lawyers Ethics and Professional Regulation (Markham: Lexis Nexus) Canada 2008.

Errors and Omissions Insurance

Errors and omissions insurance through the Alberta Lawyers Insurance Association was extended to two categories of lawyers. This was intended to facilitate and encourage the provision of pro bono services by a wider proportion of the profession to: (1) insurance exempt (government and in-house lawyers) volunteering for an approved pro bono provider; and (2) to a new category of membership referred as “active for pro bono legal services only” to accommodate retiring and inactive lawyers who provide pro bono legal services through an approved pro bono provider.

Pro Bono Award

The Law Society, together with the CBA - Alberta extended the Distinguished Service Awards in 2006 to include a category for pro bono legal service.

Federation of Law Societies Report to the Federal Minister of Justice

The Law Society of Alberta participated with the Federation of Law Societies in the fall of 2005 in presenting a paper to the then Federal Minister of Justice, the Honourable Irwin Cotler entitled “Pro Bono Initiatives in Alberta”.

Pro Bono Stakeholder Consultations

Consultations were undertaken with the pro bono stakeholders throughout the province in spring and the fall of 2006 which resulted in two further reports: “Stakeholder Consultation on the proposed Pro Bono Alberta Network (June 2006)”; and “Building the Vision-Stakeholders Roundtable on Pro Bono Legal Services in Alberta (October 2006).” At the Roundtable in October 2006, it was agreed to form a provincial pro bono organization with a representative from each pro bono clinic to serve on the Board of Directors.

Pro Bono Law Alberta: The Law Society’s Centennial Legacy Project

Pursuant to the successful outcome of the pro bono stakeholders consultations in October 2006, the Benchers adopted the formation of a provincial pro bono organization called Pro Bono Law Alberta as the Legacy project in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Law Society of Alberta in 2007. Pro Bono Law Alberta has established a record of accomplishment for which the Law Society is proud to have fostered.

Conflict of Interest Rules

In June 2009, the Code of Professional Conduct was amended to balance the conflict of interest Rules with the social benefit of encouraging lawyers to provide pro bono legal services through pro bono service providers, thereby enhancing access to legal services for Albertans. The pro bono Rules and Commentary were also included in Chapter 2.04(7) of the newly revised Code of Conduct.

Pro Bono Funding Task Force

undertaken in 2011 by the Benchers regarding the funding for Pro Bono Law Alberta which resulted in an ongoing commitment in-principle by the Law Society to contribute to the funding of PBLA on a rolling three-year commitment.

In summary, these successes will ensure that the Law Society’s commitment to fostering a pro bono culture will continue in the years to come.

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