October 15, 2009

Merger of Pro Bono BC + Access Justice = Good News for Low-Income British Columbians

There are three organizations providing the bulk of free legal services for low-income British Columbians who do not qualify for legal aid; Pro Bono BC, Western Canada Society to Access Justice and the Salvation Army Pro Bono Program.

Fuelled by volunteer lawyers, these organizations operate a variety of programs and clinics to meet the ever-increasing demand for access to legal services in British Columbia. However, as someone who has volunteered for all three, I can tell you that while each organization is effective and well-run, there is a significant amount of overlap between the mandates of the three bodies. This leads to duplication of services in some areas and a complete vacuum in other areas.

Also, because of the limited sources of funding for the organizations, there has been inevitable competition for financing from government, foundations, law firms and individuals.

Finally, both the legal community and low-income clients are often confused about the differences between the three bodies, and do not know how to properly refer or get referred to the organization that can best serve the needs of the client.

For all of these reasons, it is very good news that Pro Bono BC and Access Justice have announced a merger, to become effective in December of this year. This move will allow the new, stronger organization to more efficiently use funding and volunteers to expend the scope and level of service it provides.

The executive directors of Pro Bono BC and Access Justice, Jamie Maclaren and Allan Parker, should be congratulated for their vision and hard work in making this merger a reality.

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