The Everyone Legal Clinic Makes an Entrance

Seeding public interest practices across BC

The Everyone Legal Clinic Makes an Entrance

Over the past two decades, Access Pro Bono (“APB”) has provided free legal services to hundreds of thousands of people across BC. Despite the positive impacts of this vast experience, the organization has seen how geographic, socio-economic, and racial disparities in access to qualified legal counsel have prevented too many British Columbians from finding justice.

It’s clear that British Columbians in rural, remote, and reserve communities often have nowhere to turn for local or “hometown” legal help. Many British Columbians from racialized communities are also distrustful of a legal system with a history of institutionalized racism and repeated failures to protect individuals and communities. They lack access to culturally safe legal help, if they have access to any legal help at all.

Worsening these problems, BC’s articling system isn’t working for everyone. It excludes a disproportionate number of mature law graduates, Indigenous law graduates, and people of colour, whose professional skills and life experiences are suited to serving racialized clients well. Mature students from remote areas, for example, are often forced to move to BC’s big cities to secure an articling position. Many leave their families and home communities for good.

APB came to see how accessibility of legal services is tied to diversity of legal professionals, and how systemic barriers to professional entry are limiting diversity and generally interfering with the dream of becoming a lawyer in BC. In 2020, the organization conceived of a virtual public interest law teaching clinic and legal practice incubator as one way to foster a more inclusive and culturally responsive justice system –– by widening the diversity of legal professionals, increasing the affordability of legal services, and serving more people from underserved communities.

In late 2020, the Law Society of BC created its Innovation Sandbox to encourage private and non-profit sector development of innovative ways to improve access to legal advice and assistance. This coincided with the justice sector’s broad acceptance of videoconferencing technologies as necessary means to deliver legal services and administer justice during the height of the COVID pandemic.

In August 2021, APB seized the opportunities at hand, and applied to the Innovation Sandbox for permission to develop and operate a virtual legal clinic to serve as an experiential learning centre for articling students and new notaries, and as an incubator for legal practitioners who provide affordable legal services to underserved BC communities. The Law Society accepted APB’s proposal, and the way was cleared for the Everyone Legal Clinic.

Fast forward to today, and the Clinic is a going concern with 25 articling students, 16 supervising lawyers, four staff, and dozens of volunteer mentors. The articling students are based in 15 different BC communities, as far west as Ucluelet, east as Cranbrook, north as Burns Lake, and south as Victoria. A quarter of the students are Indigenous, and three quarters are BIPOC. They all engage in a six-month learning semester curriculum centred on the practical, modern-day aspects of running a socially responsible law practice that serves “everyday legal problems” in areas like family, employment, tenancy, criminal, consumer, corporate, and wills and estates. After six months and until their call to the Bar, they provide a wide range of fixed-rate services to the public, under the guidance of the Clinic’s supervising lawyers.

The Clinic’s articling students are also available remotely and locally to assist lawyers’ practices by way of affordable research, litigation, and legal aid services. They offer fixed term work arrangements for legal research and writing tasks, criminal or family legal aid tariff work, or secondments to law firms or practice groups. Visit everyonelegal.ca to see how one of the Clinic’s articling students can support your law practice.