Student-Run Program Serves Most Vulnerable


The Pro Bono Students Canada team at the UBC Student Development Awards.


The UBC Chapter of Pro Bono Students Canada (PBSC) has been recognized this year with the Helen McCrae Award, a prize offered by the Office of the Vice-President, Students to recognize exceptional contributions to the student experience and learning environment at UBC.
 
Over the years, PBSC has made a significant impact amongst both students and the community. Run entirely by students and supported by staff, PBSC serves vulnerable communities in Vancouver by placing law students at organizations who could not otherwise afford the legal services that these volunteers provide.
 
“By offering law students with the opportunity to provide pro bono legal services to community organizations and individuals while in law school, we are encouraging and promoting future pro bono involvement from these students when they are lawyers. It is making a direct, positive impact on the access to justice crisis gripping our province,” said Kaila Mikkelsen, Assistant Dean, Students at the Allard School of Law.  
 
In just this past year, PBSC placed 88 law students with 34 community organizations. These students worked on 44 different projects contributing to the equivalent of between 5,220 to 8,700 hours of free legal work. In monetary terms, this is roughly three quarters of a million dollars of free legal services. 
 
“Being involved with PBSC has really enriched my law school experience and introduced me to a range of students, lawyers, and other members of the Allard School of Law and Greater Vancouver community who are committed to making a difference,” said Catherine Wang, a third year student and one of the student coordinators for PBSC.
 
Some of the community organizations that PBSC has supported over the years are the Disability Alliance of BC, Battered Women Support Services, Community Legal Assistance Society and Ecotrust Canada. The work done by student volunteers at these organizations range from drafting legal documents and agreements, and preparing scripts for court proceedings to helping the organization navigate complex legal questions and barriers pertaining to issues such as property rights and housing. 
 
Former student volunteer Sarah Khan talks about her most memorable placement, which was at the Atira Women’s Resource Centre:
 
“My placement at Atira reoriented me to a concept that had slipped away after hours spent distilling case law and statutes into digestible bullet points— the human element of law. As a student, it’s easy to lose sight of how inaccessible the legal system is to those outside the profession, and how dangerous this barrier can be. In my role as a volunteer advocate, it was apparent that the women Atira supports are people with legal problems— problems that have serious and immediate consequences on their lives. The gravity of this human element, the struggle to move forward with life while working through the legal system in an attempt to access justice, is what makes pro bono legal service both a privilege and responsibility to carry out.”
 
Pictured above from left to right:  Carly Stanhope, 2016-2017 PBSC Coordinator, Tracy Wachmann, PBSC On-Site Supervisor, Catherine Wang, 2017-2018 PBSC Coordinator, Charlotte Baigent, 2017-2018 PBSC Coordinator and Kaila Mikkelsen, PBSC On-Site Supervisor