On March 15, 2010 the Canadian Bar Association BC Branch (CBABC) celebrated the one year anniversary of the Rural Education and Access to Lawyers (REAL) Initiative.
In 2009, the CBABC received three year funding from the Law Foundation of British Columbia to establish a coordinated set of programs that would address the current and projected shortage of lawyers practicing in small communities and rural areas of British Columbia in order to ensure that these communities continued to enjoy access to legal services. Over the past year the REAL Initiative has made a significant impact throughout the province by creating summer opportunities for law students, engaging key stakeholders and raising the profile of rural practice issues in British Columbia and across the country.
The REAL Initiative's primary program provides funding for second year summer students in all regions of British Columbia. In 2009, the program placed students in 11 locations throughout the province including communities on the Island, the Coast, the North, the Okanagan and the Kootenay regions. The 2010 summer program is on track to make an even greater impact with the creation of 21 summer student positions and student recruitment for the positions is underway. A full list of positions including positions still recruiting is available by clicking here.
In its first year, the REAL Initiative has garnered considerable coverage in the media and trade publications and the CBABC has used this opportunity to raise the profile of the current and projected practice issues facing lawyers in small communities. The REAL Initiative has been featured in The Lawyers Weekly and Canadian Lawyer Magazine on five separate occasions and the CBABC Regional Legal Careers Officer Michael Litchfield has appeared on local and regional radio programs discussing regional practice issues. The cover story of CBA National magazine for both their student edition and the regular October edition.
In addition to the summer program and media engagement, considerable progress has been made in raising the profile of the initiative and in engaging the various stakeholder groups including local and county bar associations, universities and the community at large. Additionally, Regional Legal Careers Officer Michael Litchfield has travelled throughout the province and western Canada and has spoken to students and lawyers at their universities and in their home counties. Most exciting for those involved with the REAL Initiative has been the opportunity to witness and to play a role in the beginnings of a culture shift over the past twelve months in regards to attitudes towards rural practice. This shift is evident in planned new rural focused initiatives in other provinces, increased interest from media outlets regarding the challenges of rural practitioners and a changing of attitudes in students at the university level.
It is anticipated that the next six months of the initiative will be focused on ensuring the successful recruitment for all 21 summer 2010 positions and will see the REAL Initiative gain even further traction at the community level with the engagement of local media, local bar associations and local Chambers of Commerce.
[posted March 22, 2010]