Lawyers for Literacy

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” ― Frederick Douglass

February is I Love to Read month in Manitoba and this week, a number of Manitoba lawyers are practicing reading aloud while collecting pledges and gathering books to donate as part of Lawyers for Literacy.

The 3rd annual Lawyers for Literacy event on February 23 is sponsored by the Law Society of Manitoba, in support of the work of West Broadway Youth Outreach. WBYO is a small non-profit operating in Winnipeg’s West Broadway neighbourhood to provide after school and evening recreational opportunities to local children.

Events like Lawyers for Literacy serve several functions. There are the obvious effects of generating funds for a worthy cause and meeting an immediate need in the community. But the event will also serve to build up collegiality and professionalism among those lawyers participating, whether through reading or donating, by reminding them that law is a serving profession and that serving others often requires a team effort.

In the past two years, more than 100 lawyers have spent part of a Saturday reading to and hanging out with kids in the inner city, while raising thousands of dollars to support the ongoing work of this agency. While these efforts may represent just a drop in the proverbial bucket of social services in this city, the impact on those participating is immediate and real. Sitting side-by-side and reading with a child is an experience that brings immediate rewards for both the volunteer and the child.

Supporting literacy development is a means to increase access to justice, available to every court, law firm and individual lawyer. The law depends heavily on the written word and, without the ability to understand those words, access to the rights and remedies the law provides is effectively blocked.

We can all take steps to better support legal literacy by following these basic recommendations from the Canadian Council of Administrative Tribunals’ publication Literacy and Access to Administrative Justice:

• make sure, as much as is possible, that our clients understand all the proceedings;

• examine how we deal with low literacy clients and how this can affect fair administration of justice;

• follow the lead of many organizations and use “plain language” in all our communications, written, visual, and spoken.

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