- BC Games
Lawyers help out for free at Hyack Square
In William Shakespeare's Henry the Sixth, Dick suggested they kill them all.
Public opinion says they can't be trusted.
On Wednesday, 14 lawyers rotated through four stations over four hours at Hyack Square dispensing free legal advice to anyone who needed it. And maybe changed a few minds about the value of the work they do.
More than a dozen pre-registered clients, plus another 10 or 12 drop-ins an hour took advantage of the second Advice-a-thon to be held in New Westminster. It was part of a province-wide initiative to raise awareness and funds to support pro-bono programs that make legal advice accessible to those who might not be able to afford it. Other Advice-a-thons are scheduled for Vancouver, Surrey, Victoria and Kamloops.
"A lot of people go into law because it's a helpful profession," said Annie Baric, the operations coordinator for Access Pro Bono, an organization of lawyers and non-lawyers that works to keep legal representation accessible to everyone. Last year the group's 1,000 lawyers provided about $2.3 million of free legal advice to almost 7,000 clients, and legal information and guidance to another 14,000.
Baric said much of the perception of lawyers as shifty opportunists who fill their pockets at the considerable expense of their clients comes from Hollywood films and TV shows, as well as the kind of aggressive advertising that lawyers are allowed to do in the United States. The reality is quite often the opposite.
"A lot of lawyers come from small firms and don't make a lot of money," said Jamie Maclaren, the executive director of Access Pro Bono. But they feel an obligation to carry on a tradition of offering their services and knowledge for free that dates back to Roman times.
"It's a noble tradition," said Maclaren. "You don't see this in other professions."
In fact it's that ability to help people navigate the complex and sometimes intimidating legal system that caused Priyan Samarakoone to shift his career course from medicine to law.
"I've always been interested in solving problems," said Samarakoone, who was recently called to the bar. "You can speak to someone for 30 minutes and you can solve a huge problem for them, ease their mind."
Much of the work accomplished Wednesday was just that, listening with an empathetic ear, said Dale Darychuk, a New Westminster lawyer who was volunteering his time.
"What people really need is someone to listen to them," said Darychuk, who practices for a firm in Port Coquitlam. "They feel beat down and they need someone on their side."
The legal advice dispensed Wednesday ranged from family and employment law, to wills to landlord-tenant disputes, immigration issues and even criminal cases. Complex situations that couldn't be solved over the white linen-draped folding tables were referred to one of the 110 summary legal advice clinics Access Pro Bono runs across British Columbia.
Participating lawyers also raised money by soliciting pledges for the billable hours they were volunteering. Last year's event raised $60,000.
More importantly, said Darychuk, it leaves everyone involved with a sense that justice can be done, regardless of their income or station.
"You get closer to the problem of limited access to justice," said Darychuk. "If the public isn't happy with the way the justice system works, that's bad for the justice system."