Pro Bono Students Canada

Osgoode’s ‘Continuum’ Puts Spotlight on PBSC’s Wills Project

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Continuum, Osgoode Hall Law School of York University Alumni Magazine, Winter 2014

Wills Project lawyer supervisors Karen Yolevski (left) and Mary Wahbi (right)

Wills Project lawyer supervisors Karen Yolevski (left) and Mary Wahbi (right)

 

Alumni Mary Wahbi ’84 and Karen Yolevski ’05 of Basman Smith LLP have been and continue to be instrumental in the operation of one of Pro Bono Students Canada ’s most successful and long -standing projects – the PBSC Wills Project .  
 
As the legal firm partner for the Wills Project, which is run with the support of PBSC chapters at Osgoode Hall Law School and the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, Wahbi and Yolevski develop precedent materials, run training sessions, mentor and supervise PBSC students, recruit other estate lawyers to the project, and personally take on dozens of clients on a pro bono basis.  
 
“The Wills Project would not be possible without Mary Wahbi, who has supported it from the very start, and Karen Yolevski who has been working with Mary for several years now,” said Nikki Gershbain, National Director of PBSC, the only national student-run pro bono service organization in the world, with chapters at 21 law schools in Canada.  
 
The PBSC Wills Project, which began at Osgoode in the 1990s, now operates in six Canadian cities. PBSC student volunteers work with pro bono lawyers to draft wills and powers of attorney for low-income clients who do not have the resources to pay for legal assistance with estate planning. Students conduct screening interviews, provide legal information, receive client instructions and draft the documents. Students also deliver Public Legal Education workshops to larger groups of individuals who are on a wait-list for the project.  
 
Gershbain explains that the Toronto program, originally limited to HIV-positive clients referred by the 519 Church Street Community Centre, has expanded to include referrals from Two-Spirited Peoples of the First Nations and Legal Aid Ontario. “Unfortunately, the need for the service far outweighs our capacity to take on more clients. We can’t advertise the project broadly for fear of being flooded by potential clients, and even still we are constantly turning people away.”  
 
She says the hands-on Wills Project is a favourite of Osgoode and U of T law students, 17 of whom are involved with this year’s program. “The placement opens up their eyes to poverty and access to justice issues in a very real way, which will hopefully make them better and more sensitive lawyers as a result.” It’s also satisfying work for pro bono lawyers such as Wahbi, managing partner at Basman Smith LLP, and Yolevski. Wahbi sums up their involvement this way: “We believe that being involved in this project has helped us stay grounded, be more well-rounded professionals, and give to the community in general and to the legal community  
 
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