Pro bono in the park

In stark contrast to the classic greedy lawyer stereotype, 16 local lawyers were in City Park Tuesday, offering free legal advice to anyone who stopped by.

The Access Pro Bono Society of BC held their seventh annual Pro Bono Going Public event in Kelowna, where legal advice of all varieties was provided to people of all incomes and backgrounds.

“Primarily our client base is people with poverty-law issues who are dealing with important and serious legal matters that affect their livelihood and quality of life,” said Jamie Maclaren, executive director of Access Pro Bono. “We also have a good number of people who find themselves in some kind of legal dispute or legal situation and just can’t afford to hire a lawyer to sort it out.”

Access Pro Bono has been operating since 2010, but is a product of two existing organizations that go back to 2002.

The society has more than 1,000 lawyers who volunteer their time in clinics throughout the province.

The one in Kelowna is located at Kelowna Community Resources, 120-1735 Dolphin Ave., and is open every two weeks.

Maclaren said there are similar societies across Canada, but the one in B.C. is by far the largest.

While the stigma around greedy, unethical lawyers may persist, Maclaren said he doesn’t see this among the lawyers he knows.

“You see a lot of that on television especially… I think that’s where a lot of that public opinion comes from,” said Maclaren.  “But in truth, lawyers, especially in Canada, are quite cautious and conservative, a small ‘c’ kind of conservative, and typically quite community-minded. It’s not the same kind of dog-eat-dog game as it is in the United States.”

He said this could be because there are fewer lawyers per-capita in Canada than the U.S., so there is less competition.

Pro bono work is something Maclaren said many lawyers engage in.

“It’s an ethic that’s instilled early in law school and it’s something that’s a tradition of the profession that goes back a long way, so it comes somewhat naturally to a lot of lawyers,” he said.

In addition to providing legal services, Maclaren said they also hope to raise awareness about the lack of government legal aid in B.C.

“In 2002, when the BC Liberal government first came in, they dismantled all the community legal offices that existed in smaller communities throughout B.C.,” Maclaren said. “Those services are now provided by community advocates who aren’t lawyers, they’ve got very minimal legal training.

“They do wonderful work and they’re wonderful people for the type of work they do, but this is work that was once upon time done by lawyers and better served quite frankly by lawyers.”

Maclaren expected approximately 40 clients to come to the event on Tuesday during the four hours the society was operating.


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