Pro Bono Students Canada

2012 National Pro Bono Conference Profiles Law Student Pro Bono!

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PBSC staff hit the road to Montreal November 1st and 2nd for the 4th National Pro Bono Conference.  The conference, held every two years, is organized by the country’s five provincial pro bono organizations: Pro Bono Québec, Access Pro Bono BC, Pro Bono Law Alberta, Pro Bono Law Ontario and Pro Bono Law Saskatchewan.  PBSC is an in-kind sponsor of the conference, which is always a wonderful opportunity to remind colleagues of the critical role law students can play in filling the access to justice gap.  As it turns out, that reminder was hardly necessary: panelists and speakers took every opportunity to praise our students for the invaluable work they do in supporting the delivery of pro bono services across the country.

PBSC National Director Nikki Gershbain moderated a lively panel on pro bono and legal education. Titled: “A” For Effort? Encouraging Law Schools to Take Up the Pro Bono Challenge, panelists examined the role played by Canada’s 22 law schools in advancing the cause of pro bono lawyering.

McGill law student and former PBSC McGill Coordinator Amanda Gibeault provided a law student perspective on the topic of mandatory pro bono at the 2012 Pro Bono Conference.

Much of the discussion focused on the question whether law student pro bono should be mandatory. While identifying as “agnostic” on the issue, McGill Law Dean Daniel Jutras cautioned the audience to avoid false dichotomies like “theory” and “practice” when it comes to student learning.  He stressed the importance of ensuring there is pedagogical value to all experiential learning opportunities, whether or not they are in the public interest.  Osgoode Professor Richard Haigh, Director of the only mandatory public interest requirement program in the country, provocatively suggested we set an example for law students by making public interest work mandatory for faculty members.  He reminded the audience of the many requirements law schools impose on students as a matter of course, and suggested that experiential training in the public interest should not be considered any different.  Michael Bergman, Executive Director of Chicago’s Public Interest Law Initiative, rejected the idea of any mandatory service requirements, adding “with the right supports and structure in place, I know I can convert students to the public interest [without requiring them to do pro bono]”.  Finally, Dr. Amanda Gibeault, a McGill Law Student and former PBSC Coordinator, appealed to law schools to get students out of the classroom and serving the community.  In her view, “learning is inevitable” when students are engaged in pro bono work.

Barbara Grossman, the Dentons (formerly Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP) Partner who leads the firm’s National Pro Bono Program, was presented with the 2012 National Law Firm Pro Bono Award by Nikki Gershbain, the National Director of PBSC. Photo by Sylvain Légaré.

PBSC had another exciting moment at the conference, when one of our law firm partners, Dentons (formerly Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP), was awarded the 2012 National Law Firm Pro Bono Award.  PBSC nominated Dentons (formerly FMC) for the award, which recognizes a Canadian national law firm that has made an outstanding contribution to the provision of pro bono legal services. Director Nikki Gershbain was invited to present the award to Barbara Grossman, the Dentons (formerly FMC) Partner who leads the firm’s National Pro Bono Program.  Gershbain praised Denton’s pro bono program and the firm’s dedication to providing free legal services to low-income individuals and non-profit organizations.  Gershbain highlighted the ground-breaking Tax Court of Canada Advocacy Project, the first of its kind in Canada.  PBSC and Dentons developed the project together, which now operates in four law schools in three cities.  As part of the project, law students work under the careful supervision of Dentons lawyers, representing low-income appellants before the Court.  The project was initiated by Chief Justice Gerald Rip, earned a 2011 Zenith Award and has attracted significant positive press.

PBSC is looking forward to the next pro bono conference in Saskatoon in 2014!