Danielle McLaughlin – PBSC PartnerPrint
Back in 1996, Danielle McLaughlin received a phone call from David Steinberg, a recent law school graduate who had been tasked with helping set up Pro Bono Students Canada under Dean Ronald Daniels at the University of Toronto. Danielle was head of administration for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and David wanted her organization to be involved with the new pro bonoinitiative. “And I thought, What on earth are we going to do with volunteer law students?” she recalls with a laugh. “I thought it would be a matter of making work.” David persisted, though, and after meeting with Danielle and convincing her to try out a student volunteer or two, the CCLA became one of PBSC’s very first community partners.
At first, the work wasn’t glamorous. As Danielle remembers, the earliest PBSC students helped organize documents and litigation files, which were notoriously scattered at the time. “Alan Borovoy, who was general counsel at the CCLA for more than 40 years, is infamous for his ‘organizational’ skills,” says Danielle. “We really had some difficulty finding things.” But with help from PBSC students, documents were sorted and the files came together, allowing CCLA staff to research and litigate much more efficiently. These early contributions gained even more significance when some of the materials originally organized by PBSC students found a new home in the National Archives of Canada.
“We keep thinking of more and more ways we can do wonderful things together. We’ve had an extremely fruitful relationship with PBSC that’s building well into the future.”
Danielle is now the Director of Education and Administration at the CCLA. Her position involves developing and delivering a range of seminars and workshops on civil liberties issues to students of all ages. Over the years, PBSC students have benefited greatly from Danielle’s training sessions, especially as their work evolved to include less document organization and more intensive research. Student volunteers have even influenced CCLA direction and decision-making. “This organization works very hard at finding the balance among conflicting rights in cases, and it often takes a lot of time to work out a position,” says Danielle. “In the process of getting there, we always try to involve PBSC students and hear what their views are and what they can bring to the discussion.”
Students are also encouraged to bring forward issues they come across on their own. When a pro bonostudent from Osgoode brought up a case he had a particular interest in, the CCLA called an office meeting to determine whether it would be appropriate to intervene in the case. “I think it was great for him to see that his concept was being taken very seriously,” she says. “Our volunteer students bring a level of enthusiasm to the office that’s always wonderful.”
More recently, the CCLA and PBSC launched an exciting new project that has student volunteers from every law school across Canada monitoring local civil liberties issues. Students post their findings to the CCLA PBSC Rights Watch Blog, creating a real-time tool for civil liberties advocates, academics and lawyers. “We keep thinking of more and more ways we can do wonderful things together,” says Danielle. “We’ve had an extremely fruitful relationship with PBSC that’s building well into the future.”