Pro Bono Students Canada

PBSC Launches 2011-2012 Program Year!

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Once again, PBSC chapters from coast to coast enlisted some of the country’s leading pro bono lawyers to speak to thousands of law students across Canada about the tremendous value of pro bono. Every September, all 21 PBSC chapters launch their programs by recruiting high-profile speakers to inspire students with their own personal stories about the challenges and rewards of working for the public good.  PBSC is proud of the role we play each year in highlighting for students, right from the start of their legal careers, that it is every lawyer’s professional responsibility to undertake some kind of pro bono work in order to ensure greater access to justice, particularly for impoverished and lower-income individuals and non-profit organizations.  Here are some highlights from just three of launch events we held this year:

PBSC-UBC

David Eby

David Eby

The UBC launch event was held on a sunny Friday afternoon in early September.  The chapter served lunch to 180 law students while keynote speaker David Eby, Executive Director of the BC Civil Liberties Association, spoke about controversial legal issues in Vancouver, such as Insite and the Polygamy Reference. He encouraged the students to participate in initiatives and projects through PBSC, asserting that BCCLA had highly benefited from the work of students in the past.  In addition to his day job at the BCCLA, David is President of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, a research associate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Legal Affairs columnist for 24 Hours newspaper in Vancouver, a recent NDP candidate in the Vancouver-Point Grey riding, and an avid guitarist and vocalist.  To listen to some tracks from David’s four-piece band Ladner, named after a Vancouver suburb, click here to visit the page.

PBSC-U of T

Cynthia Petersen

Cynthia Petersen

PBSC-U of T held their launch event on the back lawn of the Faculty, where they hosted a lunch for 200 first year students. Guest speaker Cynthia Petersen is a constitutional lawyer who has litigated almost all of the LGBT rights cases decided by the Supreme Court of Canada over the past two decades.  Cynthia emphasized the many benefits that have come from her own pro bono practice, including the personal gratification that she has experienced working on important social justice causes.   She noted that test case litigation, by definition, requires novel legal arguments and therefore necessitates intellectual creativity, imagination and rigour.  The cases usually involve collaborative efforts by numerous lawyers and she spoke about the professional advantages of working with talented counsel from across the country.  For those students who have chosen to study law with a view to securing an occupation that provides financial security, she mentioned the reputational benefits of working on high-profile cases, and the possibility of attracting paying clients from one’s pro bono work.

PBSC-McGill

This year, a strike by some McGill University staff left many students not wanting to cross a picket line, and so PBSC-McGill moved their launch event to the St. James United Church – which also quite fittingly happens to a hub for social activism in Montréal.  The chapter welcomed 50 law students and three guest speakers for a riveting panel discussion on the importance of pro bono.  Janet Dench, the Executive Director for the Canadian Council for Refugees, relayed the many ways PBSC students have assisted the CCR in the past, and remarked on the way in which PBSC has helped to create a generation of law students committed to the public interest.  Walter Tom, Coordinator of the Concordia Student Union Legal Information Clinic, highlighted the ways in which his experiences as a lawyer of colour and an immigrant have impacted his lawyering, and encouraged the students to use the law as a tool to actively help the community.

Roderick Macdonald

Roderick Macdonald

Professor Roderick A. Macdonald left each and every student in the room in a state of personal reflection, after a speech that asked three foundational questions: “Who am I? Who do I aspire to become? How do I become the “I” of my hopes?” Professor Macdonald explained to the students: “Volunteering through Pro Bono Students Canada means doing “human rights” in your own back yard. It is the occasion to learn the ethic of professional responsibility in a context of discovery, of support, of engagement.  It is a point of comfort and stability in an environment characterized by uncertainty, instability, frustration and occasional hostile acting-out. And it is also a refuge from the careerism (and occasional cynicism) that surrounds all of us in the law Faculty.”

As he does each year, Professor Macdonald surprised his audience of mostly first year students by taking out his guitar and performing his closing remarks through a song by the famous American folk singer Phil Ochs, “Où va la chance – There but for fortune.”  Professor Macdonald sang:

“Show me a field hand, a bunkhouse uncleaned,
Back ache and heart break, for family few dreams,
And I’ll show you a migrant, with so many reasons why,
There but for fortune, may go you or I… you or I.”

Check out this complete list of PBSC’s 2011 launch events.