There are many roads to enhancing access to justice across Canada and I have been fortunate to travel several of these via involvement with Manitoba organizations like Legal Aid Manitoba, Community Legal Education Association, Fort Garry Women’s Resource Centre and Legal Help Centre of Winnipeg. Government funded legal aid, public legal information and education programs, and free legal advice services are all essential routes to providing broad-based access to justice.
Another route to access to justice runs straight through our law schools. For the past several years, I have had the privilege to work with law students from Robson Hall at the University of Manitoba through programs coordinated by the local chapter of Pro Bono Students Canada. Pro Bono Students Canada is a national program with chapters in every law school across the country. Their website sets out their mission and objectives:
Together, our law student volunteers serve communities from coast to coast, working to increase and enhance access to justice by offering high quality, professional legal assistance. PBSC has three key objectives. First, to provide law students with volunteer opportunities to develop their legal skills. Second, we seek to have a positive impact on the legal profession by promoting the value of pro bono service to the next generation of lawyers. And third, we aim to increase access to justice across Canada.
The projects of the U of Manitoba chapter for the past year are outlined here and include opportunities for students to participate in a broad range of programs with varied community-based agencies and organizations. Some projects are research-focused while others provide students with direct client-contact. In every case, students are supervised by practicing lawyers who also participate as volunteers.
The projects I have participated in as a supervising lawyer have without exception been well organized and effective both to develop and strengthen students’ legal skills and to enhance access to justice through the enthusiastic effort of the student volunteers.
One of the benefits to volunteering with PBSC is the chance to work with and get to know future lawyers. As the current year’s project winds down, I am already looking forward to meeting the student I will supervise next year. Each of the students I have supervised and worked with in developing projects has been keen, bright and ambitious.
Getting involved as a volunteer with PBSC is an easy way to support access to justice initiatives across the country. The time commitment is typically not significant, but the impact can be.