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History of the Law Foundation of British Columbia

"Thanks to the wisdom and foresight of its founders, the unwavering support of the Bar over the last 50 years, and the tremendous work of the Board and staff of the Law Foundation over the years, each year, millions of people access information about the law through Law Foundation funded programs, and hundreds of thousands of people receive assistance to resolve their legal problems."

History of the Law Foundation of British Columbia

Before 1964, lawyers in England and Scotland kept money they were holding on behalf of clients in an account marked “for clients,” and the lawyers kept the interest paid on those accounts. The Law Society of Scotland found the practise of lawyers earning interest on clients’ money acceptable, but the tax authorities did not. In the end, the House of Lords, in the case of Brown vs. Inland Revenue Commissioners, found that the interest did not belong to the lawyer.

Subsequent to the Brown decision, common law jurisdictions around the world had to find a way of complying with this new statement of the law. In New South Wales, Australia, they decided to deal with the issue by creating a Law Foundation to receive the interest and use it for legal aid, legal education and legal research purposes. The Law Foundation of New South Wales was established in 1967.

It was 1967, when Charles Braizier, QC, of Davis and Company (now DLA Piper) in Vancouver went to Australia and became aware of how New South Wales had dealt with this issue. When Mr. Braizier, who later became Treasurer of the Law Society, returned to British Columbia he informed his friends Arthur Harper, QC, and Kenneth Meredith (later Justice Meredith) about what New South Wales had done. They decided to recommend to the government that a Law Foundation be formed in British Columbia to collect and distribute the interest on lawyers’ trust accounts in that province. Mr. Harper has described travelling to Victoria by ferry to meet with the Attorney General to ask him officially to change the Legal Profession Act to create the Law Foundation.

In April 1969, The Law Foundation of British Columbia was formed. After receiving a loan of $100 from the Law Society to buy supplies and enlisting the administrative support of the local community foundation, the Law Foundation of British Columbia opened for business. Income in the first year was $50,031 and grants were made totalling $5,000. (Contrast with a high income of more than $50 million in 2007).

The Law Foundation of British Columbia was the first ever Law Foundation in North America. Since 1969, similar foundations have been established in every province, every territory, and every state in the United States and, each year, more than $400 million is raised to promote access to justice.

Law Foundations in Canada, have been through a number of changes since 1969:

  • From 1971 to 1986, law foundations were formed in all other Canadian jurisdictions, all by statute, all with significant support from the legal profession.
  • In the beginning, law foundations received a set rate of interest on the money that was held; more recently, the return has been pegged to the prime rate.
  • More than $1 billion has been granted by Canadian law foundations since their inception in their mandated areas of legal aid, legal education, legal research, law reform and law libraries.

Since its inception, the Law Foundation of British Columbia has approved grants totalling more than $600 million to support important law-related programs in British Columbia. These 120 programs per year are supported by the current grants budget of $27,000,000:

  • A network of 50 poverty law advocacy programs assisting people with their poverty law problems in communities around the province;
  • a network of 25 family law advocacy programs;
  • clinical legal education programs at all three law schools;
  • a variety of public interest law programs;
  • public legal education programs to educate the public about the law and their rights;
  • support for the Legal Services Society and Courthouse Libraries;
  • important work in law reform; and
  • a number of other programs and projects that contribute to enhancing the rule of law and access to justice in British Columbia.

Thanks to the wisdom and foresight of its founders, the unwavering support of the Bar over the last 50 years, and the tremendous work of the Board and staff of the Law Foundation over the years, each year, millions of people access information about the law through Law Foundation funded programs, and hundreds of thousands of people receive assistance to resolve their legal problems.