Why community involvement is important
As a career counsellor at a law school, I have the pleasure of being one of many to greet the incoming students every September, and to congratulate the graduating students every May. Whether the students are beginning their law school journey or continuing on with the next step toward becoming full-fledged members of the legal profession, some pieces of advice always stays the same – remember what brought you to law school in the first place, be good to those around you and get involved in your community.
Section 2.2-2 of the Law Society of BC’s Code of Professional Conduct for British Columbia (the “BC Code”) holds that “a lawyer has a duty to uphold the standards and reputation of the legal profession and to assist in the advancement of its goals, organizations and institutions.” This includes an exhortation to enhance the profession through activities, among others, such as:
- Sharing knowledge and experience with colleagues and students through publications, law school projects and teaching of legal education courses;
- Providing legal services on a pro bono basis, or participating in other legal aid programs; and
- Filling elected and volunteer positions, including board roles, within various non-profit and charitable organizations, including the Law Society, Bar associations, and other groups.
To support its members in their community involvement efforts, the Law Society of BC has designated specific pro bono programs as approved for insurance coverage purposes. All deductibles and surcharges are waived for Law Society of BC members in good standing who provide pro bono legal services through these programs. In plain language, this allows non-practising and retired lawyers, or in-house counsel, to provide pro bono legal services without having to pay for insurance: accessprobono.ca/insurance-coverage.
The approved pro bono programs as of January 1, 2015 are:
- Access Pro Bono Society of BC (Summary Advice Program, Civil Chambers Program, Roster Program, Paralegal Program, Children’s Lawyer Program)
- Artists Legal Outreach – The Alliance for Arts & Culture
- Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada Volunteer Legal Advocacy Program
Regardless of where you work in the legal profession – large firm, small firm, corporate in-house counsel, government or public interest – community involvement is of crucial importance for lawyers and law students. Not only will giving back to your community improve your sense of well-being, it will also benefit your own career development. Volunteer experience can help demonstrate your interest in a particular practice area or field to a potential employer. For individuals with limited work experience, community involvement presents an excellent opportunity to develop transferable skills for the practice of law.
If you are a new call who is looking for a paid position, consider maintaining your non-practising membership and volunteering with one of the Law Society of BC’s approved pro bono programs. Not only will you continue to develop your practical legal skills, you will also network with other lawyers through your work for these organizations.
Finally, your community involvement need not be law-related. Your day job might pay the bills, but your volunteer commitments can help fuel your passion (or perhaps simply your desire to see more Canucks games, as in the case of a lawyer friend who volunteers with the Canucks Fund and now sells 50/50 tickets at Rogers Arena on a volunteer basis). Regardless of your motivation, find a cause or an organization that aligns with your interests and get involved today.
Jennifer Lau is the Associate Director, Career Services at Peter A. Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia.