Pro Bono Students Canada

Evelyn Dormer – Former Coordinator

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PBSC Volunteer Evelyn Dormer

PBSC Volunteer Evelyn Dormer

Evelyn Dormer volunteered with the pilot run of PBSC’s Tax Advocacy Project in her third year at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law.  Like many law students, she had learned unique skills in law school, but had never had the opportunity to apply them and see how they worked.  When she got involved with TAP, it was to gain experience with “real clients who had real tax issues.”

Established to help solve the problem of unrepresented litigants appearing before the Tax Court, TAP partners students with tax lawyers from Dentons LLP (previously Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP).  Working in pairs, TAP students are involved in all stages of the litigation process.  They meet with the clients, get a history of the case, obtain relevant and missing documents and a list of witnesses, prepare submissions, and finally, conduct the hearing.

For Evelyn, TAP was one of the most valuable elements in her legal education. It gave her “real practical training from the perspective of client management and advocacy, whether that was through drafting, pleadings or communicating with opposing counsel.”  She and her partner, Denise Cooney, ran an appeal themselves, litigated it and got a win under their belts before graduation.

“The lawyers at Dentons were really great in walking us through the steps and making sure we knew how to do things,” says Evelyn. With no experience running a trial, Evelyn says there were matters that she had no idea how to handle, “but they were very patient and walked us through it.” In addition to the procedural rules and substantive law, there are things like which side to sit on and what to wear, and mentors provide support for students at every step.

During her hearing, Evelyn knew that her mentor-lawyers were sitting in the gallery, in case she needed them during a recess. “That’s the benefit of doing this when you’re in school,” says Dormer. After that experience, she applied and was accepted to a clerkship with the Tax Court of Canada, which she not have done, and may not have been offered, if not for her TAP experience.

Although Evelyn completed her articles at a labour firm, she is “incredibly grateful” for the PBSC experience. “The trick is to do things that enrich you and educate you and are going to make you a better lawyer and an interesting person,” says Evelyn, “having the experience of doing this on your feet is invaluable.”

In her letter of support to have TAP receive the Canadian National Pro Bono Program Award in 2012, Evelyn Dormer included an excerpt that she and her project-partner received from their client after her file was successfully concluded.  It went: “thank you both again for all your hard work. You guys have been awesome, and I’m blessed to know that God does send good people like you my way. I’m forever grateful!”