The BC Bar Association has announced an action plan to start encouraging young lawyers to move to rural regions of the province.
By George T Baker
Through its Rural Education and Access to Lawyers (REAL) program, a framework for tackling the crisis of access to legal services in rural areas and small communities, one young lawyer will be moving this summer to Prince Rupert to learn from a mentor and hopefully fall in love with the City of Rainbows.
"The program is all about attracting young lawyers and law students to rural areas and small communities in BC with the hope that the exposure would allow them to see the opportunities that exist there and set up permanent practice," said Regional Legal Careers Officer Michael Litchfield.
Litchfield started his job two weeks ago and recently started his own practice as a young lawyer in Kamloops.
He is in charge of placing budding lawyers in the program so that the rural law field can have young lawyers putting down roots in communities like Prince Rupert.
Key to the initiative is the partnership and engagement of Local and County Bar Associations and local community leaders.
In the context of this project, 'rural and smaller communities' is generally expected to include communities under 100K and with more than 500 people per lawyer.
While the targets for this project are selected communities as dictated by local bar interest, it is intended that all components of the Initiative be applicable to any community in the province.
There are four main components to this initiative which Litchfield is responsible for. Amongst them is promoting practice in rural and small communities, helping local and county Bars hire summer, articling and fulltime positions in rural and small communities.
There is an aspect of local and county bar association engagement to coordinate efforts to attract and retain new lawyers in their regions; including financial and promotional support for marketing the regions to law students.
The BC Bar Association is trying to answer the question of how they encourage lawyers to see rural life, where life may be short on the major urban savoir faire but can be typically be more inclusive - and faces its own set of legal troubles.
"There is an issue in some of the small areas of B.C. as far as access to lawyers and it is sort of a multi-faceted problem," said Litchfield.
One of the biggest problems facing the legal system is the ageing of baby boom lawyers, some who are nearing retirement.
Litchfield said that the average age of lawyers in Prince Rupert right now is 49 years, which could place legal services on the North Coast in distress in the near future.
With concerns about doctor shortages in rural B.C. there has not been as much attention paid to dwindling lawyer numbers, which Litchfield said the Bar Association considers a serious problem. Law schools have not filled the need either.
According to a Statistics Canada report on the impact of student fees there has been no appreciable decline in students entering law school.
Litchfield agreed with that conclusion and said the demands for legal services have risen.
Young lawyers, attracted by the big lights of the city and big law firms, have taken a pass on practicing law in smaller locals.
"We are well aware of retirements that are going to be happening over the next 20 years, so the program is tailored to get young lawyers and law students to practice in the area," said Litchfield.
The next step would be for the community to embrace the young lawyers. Litchfield said that could be in the form of the Chamber of Commerce engaging and integrating them into the business community.
© 2009 The Daily News (Prince Rupert)
Wed 18 Mar 2009
Page: 2; Section: Local News
Byline: George T. Baker
[posted March 19, 2009]