Pro Bono Students Canada

PBSC thanks its volunteers for another great year

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Back Row: Matt Kelleher, McCarthy Tétrault, Nikki Gershbain, PBSC National Director, Andrew Matheson, McCarthy Tétrault, Front Row: Wendy Komiotis, Metropolitan Education and Action Committee to End Violence Against Women (METRAC), Abby Deshman, Canadian Civil Liberties Association

For the second consecutive year, the U of T and Osgoode chapters of Pro Bono Students Canada joined forces to hold a spectacular annual appreciation event for PBSC volunteers.

In 2011-2012, more than 300 PBSC law students from U of T and Osgoode donated a staggering total of 25,000 hours of free legal services to help organizations and vulnerable communities in need in Toronto. The contributions made by the two Toronto schools account for almost a fifth of PBSC’s activities across the country.

To celebrate these accomplishments, on Friday, March 2 more than 100 PBSC students, lawyer supervisors and organization partners gathered at the downtown offices of PBSC’s national law firm partner, McCarthy Tétrault LLP, for a wonderful evening of food, wine and good conversation.

Gail Wong, director of student programs at McCarthy Tétrault, opened the event by welcoming the audience on behalf of the firm. The law student coordinators who run the U of T and Osgoode chapters then described some of the exciting and innovative projects PBSC developed this year. They thanked the volunteers and partners for their efforts, and acknowledged McCarthy Tétrault for its ongoing support of PBSC’s programs from coast to coast, as well as PBSC’s principal funder, the Law Foundation of Ontario, and its national legal research partner, Carswell (WestlawCanada).

The highlight of the evening was a panel discussion moderated by PBSC’s national director, Nikki Gershbain, where leading pro bono lawyers and community advocates provided the students with concrete suggestions for how they could incorporate pro bono work into their legal practices. The speakers were Abby Deshman, director of the public safety program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Matt Kelleher, a partner at McCarthy Tétrault and member of the firm’s pro bono committee, Wendy Komiotis, executive director of the Metropolitan Education and Action Committee to End Violence Against Women (METRAC), and Andrew Matheson, a partner at McCarthy Tétrault with an active pro bono practice who, while working as a litigator in the United States, acted for a number of Guantanamo Bay detainees.

The presenters spoke about their own varied pro bono and public interest contributions, and reflected on the impact made by the students through their work with PBSC. The speakers encouraged the students to continue to make pro bono a regular part of their legal practices upon graduation. As Andrew Matheson noted: “If the principle ‘equality before the law’ is going to be anything but an empty phrase, it can’t be equality before the law only for those who can afford it.” Abby Deshman explained that the CCLA could simply not function without the support of pro bono lawyers in private practice. She noted that of the more than 100 cases the CCLA has intervened in, every single one of them relied on pro bono counsel from the private bar.

The event ended with a cocktail reception where students, lawyers and community partners mingled well into the evening, enjoying panoramic views of the city from the firm’s 53rd floor offices. Students left the event inspired to hear stories about the impact of pro bono work on their communities and the profession, and with new ideas to translate the skill acquired through PBSC into their future careers.

Click here to see a photogallery of the event.