Law Times

April11, 2016

The premier weekly newspaper for the legal profession in Ontario

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 1 of 15

Page 2 April 11, 2016 • lAw Times house lawyers have typically shied away from pro bono work because it so oen falls outside their area of expertise. "I've heard people talk about pro bono, and people say, 'I'm a corporate-commercial lawyer. What the hell am I going to do for people with immigration issues or wills? ose are things I'm not knowledgeable enough about, so I'm not within my comfort zone. I really want to make a contribution, I want to do something, but I can't.'" When they do manage to find work that's within their area of expertise, it's oen a result of a scattered search through aca- demia or advocacy organiza- tions. "Some of the universities have programs or advice centres where people can go in and give advice," says Garcia. "Communities as well — I know the Latin American com- munity, for example, has some centres for Spanish-speaking people, places like that where people who need help can go." One such immigration- focused group, Connect Legal, happened to be one of the cata- lysts for PBO's new corporate law clinic, aer the groups merged earlier this year. Burns credits the merger for giving the group the push it needed to enter corporate law. "When we amalgamated, we wanted to really make corporate pro bono a priority for us," says Burns, "and so we started look- ing at serving artists and serving the new immigrant entrepreneur piece that Connect Legal had been doing." But while Connect Legal had been matching volunteers with clients, the new initiative will follow the clinic model, which allows volunteers to commit a set amount of hours for early-stage counsel, without the obligation of carrying a client through to resolution. It also conveniently includes malpractice coverage through LawPro. "We just thought that this model made the most sense, so that people know what their time commitment is, especially for in-house corporate lawyers," says Burns. "We're trying to create opportunities that are tailored to their expertise, their interests, and that fit into their busy schedule." With more than 100 appoint- ments already booked over the next two months, demand is swelling — although PBO says it isn't done yet shaking the branch- es of the corporate legal world for potential volunteers. Burns has been sitting down with senior corporate partners on the pro bono committees of major law firms, and she antici- pates enthusiastic buy-in. "It's just one of those things where we haven't been able to go to them in the past and say, 'Look we can take 15 or 20 of your law- yers for this clinic.' Now we're going to them with opportun- ities that are right in their wheel- house." Joanne Gilbert, a third-year lawyer at Keyser Mason Ball LLP in Toronto, says that law firms such as hers are increasingly encouraging lawyers to do pro bono work. "My firm actually has given me, from day one of practice, the opportunity to get involved and to make my own connections and build my own network," she says. Gilbert says that she's look- ing forward to the kinds of pro bono opportunities that the clinic will afford transactional lawyers like her. "e obvious volunteering opportunities for young law- yers are in the litigation setting," she says. "Well, if you're a trans- actional lawyer, you're not real- ly involved in the adversarial context, but new businesses do require help, so it's a good oppor- tunity for transactional lawyers to give back to the community." Pro bono work also offers young lawyers the chance to build client-intake and busi- ness-development skills. "It's a great way for younger lawyers to have a hand at client-intake and early-stage advice. It's kind of a nice way for younger lawyers to get their feet wet." Even for in-house lawyers, there can be a business-develop- ment incentive. Nissan Canada's Garcia points out that, for inter- nal lawyers looking to move back into private practice, pro bono work can offer a launch pad. "Small-business owners be- come large businesses, and then at some point those networks are critical," he says. "I'm seeing a lot of people go- ing from in-house back to private practice. Well, if you go back to private practice, now you have a network of small businesses that used you before and are now suc- cessful. So now you have a client base. It's a good client-building initiative as well." LT NEWS Demand swelling for pro bono corporate law clinic Restore funding to family law program: critic Continued from page 1 $ $ SURVEY CLOSES MAY 9, 2016 Untitled-10 1 2016-04-05 4:30 PM Rankin says he plans to ask Justice Min- ister Jody Wilson-Raybould about her plans for the program when she is expected to ap- pear before the House of Commons justice committee to answer questions about her de- partment's spending plans. Deputy Conservative justice critic Michael Cooper says the program is an important one and funding should be quickly restored. "It is very disappointing that we have seen a lack of action from the government on the renewal of this program. "It is surprising and I think it is indicative of the fact that this government, based upon its actions, appears to want to turn its back on a program that is vital to ensure access to justice," he adds, pointing out that Wilson- Raybould has identified access to justice as one of her priorities. Cooper says it can be difficult for young lawyers to navigate the court system, let alone a self-represented litigant going through a di- vorce. "Here we have a program that is work- ing, that is providing, in collaboration with the provinces, information to persons who might otherwise have difficulty maneuver- ing through a complex judicial process at a time in their lives that is among the most difficult and the federal government, instead of renewing that program that a review de- termined was working, was needed, is very disappointing." In the federal government's main esti- mates, tabled in the House of Commons in February, the justice department said there was a decrease of $6.19 million in its spend- ing due to the sunsetting of the SFI program. e justice department's Report on Plans and Priorities for 2016-17, tabled in March, says the department wants to find the money needed to keep the program going. "e Department will seek renewal of the Government's Supporting Families Experi- encing Separation and Divorce Initiative to pursue activities associated with funding that comes to an end on March 31, 2016," the de- partment wrote. Since then, however, there has been si- lence. While the government is free to add mon- ey over the course of the year to a depart- ment's budget, funding to continue the pro- gram wasn't mentioned in the federal budget and the justice department is refusing to say what exactly will happen to it. "e Government remains committed to the Supporting Families Initiative," wrote spokesman Ian McLeod, adding that Wil- son-Raybould's mandate letter includes the creation of a unified family court. "Discus- sions are ongoing, but we're not in a position to provide further information at this point." A justice department evaluation of the program, published in March 2014, found that it was working and that a national pro- gram to address the needs of families going through separation or divorce was necessary. "e SFI activities are addressing many of the significant needs of families," the evalua- tion said. "Although some progress has been made, there continues to be a need for specific le- gal information that addresses the needs of families who are from linguistic or cultural minorities and those living in remote com- munities. "Also, the complex needs of high conflict parents are not being completely addressed and those cases are creating extensive back- logs in the family justice system. "Information alone is not sufficient for some of these families. Access to timely, low cost and accurate legal information at cer- tain points in the legal process is particularly important for self-represented litigants, who represent an increasing proportion of family justice system users." One of those hoping the program is re- newed is Rick Craig, executive director of the Justice Education Society of British Co- lumbia. Craig's group has received four or five grants under the program — most re- cently $175,000 in 2015 to expand its Fami- web site to make it a national resource and $55,000 to develop tools to help self-represented litigants in family law cases in B.C. If the SFI program didn't exist, finding the money for those kinds of initiatives would be difficult, says Craig. "We would have had to try to get money out of places like the law foundations, but all the law foundations have been very restricted in the last few years because of low interest rates. To me, they [the justice department] have been a fabulous partner." LT Continued from page 1

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of Law Times - April11, 2016