Pro Bono Students Canada

Law students fill gap in legal system

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By ANGELINA IRINICI, The StarPhoenix, November 5, 2013

For the last 13 years Pro Bono Students Canada (PBSC) — University of Saskatchewan chapter has been providing free legal services to the community. The 80 students volunteer three to five hours per week working on projects for various organizations in Saskatoon, like new client The Avenue Community Centre for Gender and Sexually Diversity, the John Howard Society, The Lighthouse and long-time client Community Legal Assistance Services for Saskatoon Inner City Inc (CLASSIC). Some projects serve clients in other areas of Saskatchewan as well.

More than half of the students volunteer at three of CLASSIC’s programs: the Family Legal Assistance Clinic (FLAC), the Legal Advice Clinic (LAC) and the Walk in Advocacy Clinic (WAC). WAC includes basic legal services like landlord-tenant, human rights and immigration issues.

Students assist the supervising lawyers with clients in the areas of family and criminal law, work to update CLASSIC’s manuals and are conducting a research project on housing rights. All projects PBSC takes on must be through an organization and run from September until March.

“One of our goals at CLASSIC is to try to plant the seed of the pro bono spirit, and we see that. A lot of our LAC volunteers are actually CLASSIC alumni, so it’s actually younger lawyers in the community coming and volunteering and I think that’s probably a good sign for the future of the law,” CLASSIC executive director Chantelle Johnson says.

Aside from students in the intensive program (a full semester at CLASSIC), the U of S’s chapter provides CLASSIC with all of the student volunteers.

PBSC student volunteer Lindsey Cybulskie is the co-ordinator of FLAC. The third-year law student appreciates that she can apply concepts she’s learning in law school to real situations.

“You’re actually helping people who are going to lose their home that week or they’re going to be put in solitary confinement,” says Cybulskie, who was part of the intensive program at CLASSIC. “They are facing pretty horrific things, and you’re actually able to help them out with it. And the supervising lawyers care a lot — it’s nice to have good role models like that, who actually want to make a difference.”

Not only do the students gain practical experience in their field, but they’re also helping to fill a gap in the community. Many are denied legal aid for being above the income cut off, but can’t afford private services, explains Johnson.

“It’s really practical experience that you’re not going to get anywhere else and it’s also fulfilling a need in the community. There’s a big gap — a lot of people are under misrepresented in the legal system so we can help out that way,” says Carly Romanow, one of PBSC’s program coordinators.

PBSC has chapters in all 21 law schools in Canada and is the only national pro bono service in the world. The U of S chapter is the only one that is funded by the law school itself. Last year, they partnered with 23 organizations and provided nearly 7,000 hours of volunteer service.

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