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Jamie Maclaren, Access Pro Bono

B.C. virtual public legal clinic aimed at underserved areas of law, improving equity in articling

Wednesday, September 22, 2021 @ 9:36 AM | By Ian Burns

British Columbia, like most jurisdictions across the country, is grappling with ways to make sure people are able to access legal services that meet their needs. And a new legal clinic set to launch next year is aimed at not only doing that, but also offering a new articling experience for law students.

Next May, Access Pro Bono (APB) is planning to set up its “Everyone Legal Clinic,” a virtual public interest clinic which will engage dozens of professional mentors, and employ four supervising lawyers, one supervising notary and one administrator to remotely train, supervise and support 25 articling students and five new notaries over two six-month semesters to offer legal services in areas of law which low to middle-income people face on a regular basis, such as family law, real estate, wills and criminal law.

APB executive director Jamie Maclaren

APB executive director Jamie Maclaren said the clinic is something which had been thought about for a long time, but the COVID-19 pandemic has led to greater acceptance about remote service and virtual connections between lawyers and clients.

“And at the same time the law society has been looking at reforming their articling system and their program for getting law graduates to call, and because of all these circumstances this seemed like the perfect time to pursue this as a project,” he said.

The clinic is being set up as an incubator for legal practitioners who will then be able to provide affordable legal services to underserved communities in British Columbia. And it will also be a revenue generator, so students will be able to keep half of what they bill, with the other half going back to the clinic to help with operating expenses.

And another big goal of the clinic is to improve the equity, diversity and working conditions of B.C.’s articling system, said Maclaren.

“The current articling system is very market based, so if you have a degree from a law school that isn’t well recognized you are less likely to be hired into an articling position,” said Maclaren, who also serves as a law society bencher. “And what we have seen from Ontario and other jurisdictions is people from equity seeking groups and racialized law graduates are less likely to be hired into articling positions than their colleagues. So, we will try to address that issue by being very conscious and deliberate about admitting as many people of colour and from equity seeking groups as possible.”

The law society has also set up an “innovation sandbox” which allows for some relaxation of the rules that would normally apply to legal service providers and the relationship between articling students and their principals. The legal clinic was admitted under the program, which is aimed at ensuring more attention is paid to areas of unmet legal need.

There is no real quality control on articling positions in the province, said Maclaren.

“Lawyers and students have to fulfil a list of very basic conditions when it comes to articling, but the experience can vary greatly from one student to another depending on who you work for,” said Maclaren. “Anecdotally we know there is a certain amount of exploitation in the current articling system, so the law society is trying to find alternate pathways to get to call than the current system — which produces this bottleneck and prevents a good many law graduates from ever getting to call. We feel like we have something here that will with help that issue.”

More information about the Everyday Legal Clinic can be found here.

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