Pro Bono Students Canada

Paying My Charitable Quid Pro Quo (Tax Court of Canada Project)

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By Drew Hasselback — Financial Post — December 21, 2011

Paying My Charitable Quid Pro Quo

Last fall, I made a promise to law offices in Toronto: Contribute to Postmedia’s annual Raise-a-Reader campaign, and in return I’d write about your firm’s favourite charitable or pro-bono endeavour. So here goes.

Let’s start with Raise-a-Reader itself. As part of that campaign, I and several National Post colleagues sold copies of our paper on a Toronto street corner one September morning.

I brought a secret weapon to my shift – a team of eager and remarkably competent articling students from Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP.

The firm has long supported Raise-a-Reader, and the students were brilliant. Chris Horkins says that not only did he and his fellow students enjoy supporting our cause, they also found the experience an interesting challenge. “You have to make some sort of an
impression,” he says. “I think we did a good job making a lot of money. I remember selling a few for $20 or $10 for a paper.” Borden Ladner Gervais LLP has organized its own literacy project, BLG Reads to Kids. Lawyers, students and staff volunteers from the firm read to kids in kindergarten through Grade 3 at schools across the country. The project is immensely popular within BLG’s ranks, with about 15% of the firm participating on a regular basis.

Patrick Hawkins, a BLG partner, says the program is aimed at kids who’ve been having difficulties with reading skills. Laudable objectives aside, the program is fun, Mr. Hawkins says. “The kids are excited to spend time with you. They enjoy working through the books, and you can see the progress that they make month to month.”

McCarthy Tétrault LLP founded the Unaccompanied Minors Project in 2005. Each year, more than 30 kids from abroad arrive at Pearson International Airport without any authorized adult guardian. The program steps in to provide those kids with a legal representative.

Christine Lonsdale of McCarthys says that since the program began, 71 lawyers from the firm have provided 5,360 hours of legal advice to 198 minors. The program has grown beyond the firm, too. Royal Bank of Canada, Pro Bono Law Ontario, Peel Children’s Aid and the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada all participate.

“This is a hugely popular program,” Ms. Lonsdale says. “We obviously value all of our work, but here you have a huge connection with making a difference in one person’s life.”

As previously discussed on Legal Post, Dentons (formerly Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP) has helped organize a pilot program to supervise university law students who will act for unrepresented litigants at the Tax Court of Canada. The project launched this year. Six law students have been selected to participate.

“They’re very bright, motivated and keen,” says David Spiro, counsel with Dentons (formerly FMC). Under the tax court’s “informal procedure” rules, which are used in disputes of less than $12,000, evidence rules are relaxed, and litigants need not be represent-ed by licenced lawyers at hearings. “With the help of these law students who are being trained and mentored by Dentons (formerly FMC), I think that the whole process will flow a lot more smoothly.”

Labour and employment law boutique Filion Wakely Thorup Angeletti LLP was one of the first law firms to back the Stephen Lewis Foundation “Give a Day” campaign. The project challenges Canadians to recognize World AIDS Day by contributing one day’s pay to an organization that fights HIV. “About five years ago, there were only three of us,” says Roy Filion. “Gradually, most of the downtown [Toronto] law firms joined the bandwagon.”

The firm also does some pro-bono employment law work for the Stephen Lewis Foundation and other charitable organizations, Mr. Filion adds.

Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP has long been a sponsor of Camp Oochigeas, a holiday spot for kids with cancer. The 400-acre facility, near Parry Sound, Ont., offers many of the usual things you’d expect from a summer camp, like water skiing or the chance to jump in the lake. But it also has an on-site medical facility where kids can receive cancer treatments.

“It’s actually a pretty cool experience for the campers to have their chemo in the morning, then go water skiing in the afternoon,” says Jim Bunting, a partner with Davies Ward who is also on the camp’s board.

While many companies and individuals participate in the annual Toronto United Way Campaign, Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP partner John Macfarlane believes his firm has a special relationship with the program. For at least 10 consecutive years, Oslers has raised more money for the United Way than any other Toronto law firm.

The competition is good natured, Mr. Macfarlane says. “As one of my partners says, this is a race that he would love to win every year, but only by a dollar. The more the merrier. It all benefits the right cause.”

Miller Thomson LLP has its own project, the Miller Thomson Foundation, which each year offers 100 university entrance scholarships in the amount of $3,000 to students across Canada.

“Given the increasing cost of attaining a higher education, our scholarship is designed to financially assist these graduating high school students from across Canada in attending university or community college within Canada,” says Gerald Courage, Miller Thomson’s managing partner.

Scholarship winners must excel at academics, extracurricular activities and community service programs. Since 1995, the firm has awarded scholarships totalling $2,850,000.

Jason Woycheshyn of Bennett Jones LLP is proud of his firm’s involvement in Toronto’s annual Dragon Boat race. The event on Lake Ontario raises funds for different charities each year. Partners, associates, staff and articling students all contribute to the firm’s 20 person team.

“It’s a really good team building exercise,” Mr. Woycheshyn says. “The most important part of dragon boating is being in unison. It doesn’t matter how fit any particular team is. If you’re out of sync, the boat doesn’t go as fast.”

We thank all these firms for backing Raise-a-Reader, and we wish them well with their own charities.

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