Pro Bono Students Canada @ 20

From the Spring/Summer 2016 issue of Nexus.

At the time it was established at the U of T Faculty of Law in 1996 by then-Dean Ron Daniels and the Law Foundation of Ontario, Pro Bono Students Canada (PBSC) was the first and only pro bono organization in Canada. Twenty years later, PBSC has expanded to 21 chapters across the country. Here are some alumni reflections on PBSC’s milestone year:

LLB 1970

Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella

Supreme Court of Canada

Pro Bono Students Canada is one of the most important undertakings I have seen in my years at the bar. Today, because of the efforts of the PBSC students, thousands of Canadians are better off, and believe in justice.

 

LLB 1979

Kirby Chown

Former Managing Partner, McCarthy Tetrault LLP

Law students have endless energy; they’re very smart and they’re eager to apply the theory and knowledge they learn in law school to real life issues. Through their work, they have helped many people who otherwise would have been denied access to the justice system. For the lawyers who work with these students, it is profoundly energizing to see what some of the best and brightest students across the country can achieve.

 

JD 1986

Ron Daniels

President, John Hopkins University and Founder, PBSC

We started PBSC because, at that time, there was no formal organization in Canada to champion the profession’s commitment to pro bono service. I’m proud that PBSC became one of the key galvanizing organizations for pro bono practice in Canada.

 

LLB 1995

Joanna Birenbaum

Lawyer, Ursel Phillips Fellows Hopkinson LLP and Inaugural Director, PBSC

As PBSC’s first national director, one of the things I’m proud of is the reciprocal opportunity for learning the program offers. Through PBSC, law students learn that clients are experts in their own experience. Legal solutions are often limited at best. In exposing law students to the systemic barriers faced by clients, PBSC helps build the competence of students to serve underrepresented populations. This skill simply can’t be taught in a classroom.

 

LLB 1996

Edward Iacobucci

Dean, Faculty of Law

Each year, PBSC trains a small army of law students to provide thousands of vulnerable Canadians with vital legal assistance in almost every area of law. There is no other student organization in the world of this size, and with this kind of impact on access to justice. The Faculty of Law is proud to have founded this unique program, to continue to offer it a home at our law school, and to work with PBSC to help meet the challenges and potential of the next 20 years.

 

LLB 2000

Nikki Gershbain

National Director, PBSC

A number of reports have called for the expansion of student pro bono programs, yet last year PBSC turned away 900 students, for no other reason than lack of capacity to run more placements. Leveraging the skills and talents of the next generation of lawyers, placing pro bono at the core of the legal profession—these things require more than reports and good intentions. They require resources. As we mark PBSC’s 20th anniversary, let us all come together—governments, the bar, law schools—and commit to making a plan for moving this remarkable and vital organization forward.

 

JD 2014

Ashvin Singh

Associate, Dentons and Former PBSC Coordinator, Tax Advocacy Project

PBSC’s Tax Advocacy Project has shown me that pro bono can be part of a mainstream legal practice. Even though my skills may seem rather niche, I can help vulnerable taxpayers who don’t have the means to pay for counsel. Thanks to PBSC, I know I have something to give back.