Pro Bono Students Canada

Osgoode students learn about the role of public service in a legal career

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Article originally published on Yfile: Osgoode’s Daily News, September 12 2013

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In October, a group of 150 student volunteers from Osgoode Hall Law School will be fanning out throughout Toronto to provide free legal services to low-income individuals and community organizations.

For the next six months, the Osgoode students – under the watchful eyes of supervising lawyers – will each spend three to five hours a week assisting a total of 35 public interest organizations, community groups, government agencies, legal clinics and lawyers working pro bono (voluntarily and without payment or at a reduced fee as a public service), as well as unrepresented litigants at courthouses and administrative tribunals.

The students are with the Osgoode chapter of Pro Bono Students Canada (PBSC), the only national, student-run pro bono service organization in the world, with chapters at 21 law schools in Canada.

“PBSC helps students develop valuable legal skills while promoting the pro bono ethic and increasing access to justice in their local communities,” said third-year Juris Doctor (JD) student Rebecca Lockwood who, together with fellow JD student Miju Damodar, coordinates the PBSC Osgoode program. “It also satisfies Osgoode’s requirement that students perform 40 hours of public interest work as a condition of graduation.”

PBSC Osgoode will kick off its 17th year of operation on Monday, Sept. 16 with a luncheon at Osgoode Hall Law School. Guest speakers will be David Allgood, executive vice-president & general counsel for the Royal Bank of Canada; Nikki Gershbain, national director of PBSC; and Gordon Baird, partner at McCarthy Tétrault, PBSC’s national law firm partner.

Gershbain said PBSC offers a wealth of projects for law students, but one of its most successful and longstanding is the PBSC Wills Project, which is run in partnership between the PBSC chapters of Osgoode and the University of Toronto.

PBSC student volunteers work with pro bono lawyers to draft wills and powers of attorney for low-income individuals. The project’s referring community partners are the 519 Church Street Community Centre, Two Spirited Peoples of the First Nations and Legal Aid Ontario. The project is supported primarily by pro bono lawyers from Basman Smith LLP – particularly Osgoode alumni Mary Wahbi (LLB ’84) and Karen Yolevski (LLB ’05).

“It is such a high-demand project and replicable model that we now run the project at Saskatchewan, Dalhousie, University of Montreal and McGill University, and are starting projects this year in Vancouver, Calgary, Windsor and London,” Gershbain said.

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