Legal Resources for Settlement Workers in BC: Access Pro Bono

So, thank you for having me. And Access
Pro Bono got a little bit of an introduction right before we all came on
stage. And so I understand many of you are probably already familiar with a lot
of our services. But Access Pro Bono is a nonprofit society that was incorporated
in 2010 to carry on the work of two organizations that facilitated pro bono
legal services across BC, called Access Justice and Pro Bono Law BC. So,
Access Pro Bono. And our organization matches individuals and nonprofit
organizations of limited means with volunteer lawyers who have agreed to
take on and provide legal services on a pro bono or free basis across BC. So we
have a number of rosters of lawyers who have agreed to provide their services
free of charge. And we also have a number of kind social services organizations
that have generously provided their facilities. Most specifically for our
summary legal advice clinics where people may come and consult with a
lawyer, usually for around half an hour, at a social service center within the
community. Access Pro Bono’s vision is a justice system in which having limited
means is not a barrier to obtaining quality legal services. And Access Pro
Bono’s mission is to promote access to justice in BC by providing and fostering
quality pro bono legal services for people and nonprofit organizations of
limited means. Now we offer a number of different programs for folks of limited
means who have legal issues, and I’m going to get into some of these in more
depth in the course of my talk, but primarily our services are our summary
legal advice clinics, our roster programs – and there are a number of these – our
Civil Chambers Duty Council Program which is based out of the Vancouver
courthouse library. And this is for folks who have urgent or pending civil legal
issues. We have a number of duty counsel who come and volunteer and can either
appear in court or assist folks in drafting materials for civil legal
issues that are urgent. We have our Paralegal Program where paralegals- where
we’ve- where we’ve recruited a number of paralegals across the province to assist
folks in drafting legal materials. Our Wills Clinic Program which is also based
out of the Vancouver courthouse. And our Refugee Program. And finally our
Residential Tenancy and Employment Standards Programs. The program that many
of you might be most familiar with is our Summary Legal Advice Clinic Program.
And this program is for clients who call our intake line and set up 30-minute
appointments to speak with a lawyer in a specific legal area. Once a client, or
someone on behalf of a client, has called our intake line they’ll be set up with a
30-minute appointment with a lawyer. These appointments are with qualified
lawyers and we do our very best to match people’s legal issues up with lawyers
who have expertise in that area. And these meetings are bound by the
strictest rules of lawyer client confidence. We can schedule clients with
follow-up meetings if necessary. And so I know of some clients who can’t afford a
lawyer. We can’t find them a lawyer through our roster program, but, you know,
go to seven or eight clinic appointments and can really kind of get teed up for
the entire court process just through 30 minute appointments. It’s not ideal but
it’s better than nothing. And lawyers do their best to provide their clients with
written advice. So there’s a sheet that they’ll fill out
through the course of the appointment, where they’ll give the
client essentially a prescription of what their legal advice is. Coming from
the appointments that the client has something to take with them in case, you
know, everything went too fast and they have trouble, you know, explaining it to
the next person they have to deal with on their issue.
Our lawyers for our summer legal advice clinics do not go to court with clients,
and they do not take their clients on in a full representation capacity. Though
there have been situations where a lawyer is compelled by a specific issue
and then will transfer to our roster program and then take a client on in a
more full capacity. But- but in the half hour appointment they can assist a
client in preparing for court. And this can range from anything from, you know,
reviewing drafted materials to explaining the rules of evidence to
trying to identify what needs to be said in an upcoming application or court
hearing. We have a means test to identify people’s eligibility for our program, for
our Summary Legal Advice Clinic Program. And this means test is applicable across
a number of our other programs as well. There’s no equity or asset test. So to be
eligible for a clinic appointment a client’s gross monthly household income
must be below $5,000 Canadian for a one to three person household, or 7,000 for a
four or more person household. So we try and be somewhat flexible in our
financial eligibility criteria. And we typically try not to take on clients
that are eligible for a legal aid lawyer, and so we’re trying to fill the gap
between folks who are covered by Legal Aid and then folks who have the funds to
hire their own lawyer. The clinic process is pretty self-explanatory. A client will
call our client line. One of our trained client call volunteers will book them an
appointment with a qualified lawyer, or if they have an issue
that our services cannot assist with and they’ll provide them with alternative
legal resources. And this could be a referral to Legal Aid, a referral to
public legal education, etc. And then finally the client will be set up with
an appointment at a legal clinic across the province. And our client line is
displayed here. You can call the 604 number if you’re based in Vancouver. But
the- you can also call the 1 877 number or you can simply email us at
[email protected] dot ca. And we really do respond to every call and email. So
someone is there to listen. Relevant to this specific conference, there are
specific clinics for immigrants and refugees that are based out of Immigrant
Services Society of BC, The Gathering Place, Mosaic. And then there’s some
specific immigration and refugee clinics out- that are held out of the courthouse
and out of SUCCESS Coquitlam. However immigrants and refugees may also just
call the client line and may just be booked into a regular appointment. And so
we certainly have services for people with specific immigration and refugee
issues, but immigrants and refugees don’t just have immigration and refugee issues.
They also might have, you know, poverty law issues or family law issues. And so
our lawyers will do our best to find a lawyer that meets their specific needs.
The next program I’m going to talk about is our Roster Programs. And this is the-
these are programs that are for clients who need more than 30 minutes of summary
legal advice. And so sometimes when someone has gone to a summary legal
advice clinic appointment it becomes very clear to the client and the lawyer
that they need something more. And so that’s when they can be referred to our
Roster Programs. We have our Barristers Roster which is kind of our catch-all
roster. And so when I say roster I mean our Roster Programs are a series of
mailing lists of lawyers who’ve agreed to
be on call to potentially take on clients in a more full representation
capacity. And so I’m our roster program manager. And when I get a referral of a
client who needs more full representation services I will do a
financial eligibility and merit assessment, and then send that
opportunity out to this roster of lawyers. And if a roster is interested- if
a lawyer is interested and available they’ll get back to me. And then I will
match the client up with the lawyer for more more full representation services.
So our Barristers Roster: we take on clients with legal issues, really of any
sort, including civil, criminal or administrative law. And the only issues
we don’t take on are full-on Provincial Court or Supreme Court trials.
But we will take on clients who have specific issues in Provincial or Supreme
Court. The- say they have an application they need assistance or representation
at, we will send those opportunities out on our roster. Our Family Law Program: we
will send clients with family law issues- we will send those opportunities out to
our roster of family law lawyers to try and assist pairing folks who have family
law issues up with a lawyer. Our Refugee Program matches and supports volunteer
lawyers with British Columbians seeking to sponsor one or more refugees from
Syria, Iraq or elsewhere. And so this is really a roster to pair lawyers up
with sponsors. We have a Wills and Estates Program which has been fairly
active lately. So folks who don’t have a will, or need other services in terms of
advanced planning, we can send them out on our roster. And lawyers have been
known to travel to hospitals and to people’s homes, into palliative care
service centres, to provide these services to clients. And then we have our
Solicitors Program where volunteer lawyers provide legal advice and
assistance to community organisations in all areas of nonprofit law. Our next
program is our Residential Tenancy Program.
This is a program where lawyers and law students will provide legal
representation to low-income tenants and qualifying landlords who have an issue
that comes under the Residential Tenancy Act. And so will serve folks who are
facing evictions, illegal rent increases, security deposit issues, requests for
repairs, and some monetary awards. Representation is BC wide but cannot be
guaranteed. And like with our roster programs,
unfortunately because all of our volunteers are providing their services
on a volunteer basis, we can’t guarantee that that we’ll be able to match every
client up with a lawyer or student. But services are BC wide. And this is the
contact information to get in touch with our Residential Tenancy Program. We also
have a Unemployment Standards Program that provides legal representation to
low income employees who have an issue that can be heard by the Employment
Standards Branch. Common issues being termination pay, vacation pay and
overtime. Again representation is BC wide but cannot be guaranteed. And contact
information for our Employment Standards program is here. We also have a number of
new programs including our Medical Legal Partnership Program, where we’ve paired
up with social workers and other hospital employees, staff at palliative-
palliative care facilities, to provide legal services to people who are facing
end-of-life issues. We also have a Court of Appeal Program where we have agreed
to provide some degree of legal services to every self represented litigant who files with
the Court of Appeal. We have a number of new clinics, not so new within the last
two years. And one that I did not mention here was our Homeless Connections ID
Clinic Program, where volunteers assist folks who have no identification with
obtaining some. And another program that I failed to mention in my powerpoint is our Islamophobia Hotline. And this is a province-wide telephone
service for people who’ve been discriminated because they’re-
discriminated against because they’re Muslim. And this is the product of a
consortium of social justice and anti-racist groups across BC. And Access
Pro Bono manages the hotline. And so if you or someone you know has experienced
Islamophobia you can call that number and we will try and pair that person up
with a lawyer to to explore their options. Now I don’t have the phone
number up here but I’ll try and circulate it after the fact. And so to
close, if you have any questions about our programs or services you can contact
me. My direct line is there or, yeah my line with an extension is there. And then
if you have specific questions about the Summary Legal Advice clinics my
colleague Frank is a good person to contact. So thank you very much!

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About the Author: Oren Garnes

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