The Western University chapter of Pro Bono Students Canada (PBSC) says it’s seeing an “overwhelming” response this year as more and more law students are deciding to volunteer.
Co-ordinators say the COVID-19 pandemic is making it more difficult to navigate the legal system, while more and more services are being moved online.
“We believe that access to justice is a right. And unfortunately, the modern system of justice does not always allow everyone to access that right,” says second-year student James Hutchinson, who co-ordinates the Western chapter along with third-year law student Sarah Hagarty.
“At the same time, law students are such an underutilized resource when it comes to addressing Canada’s access to justice crisis and that experiential learning opportunity that the students are provided with really enriches their legal education beyond just the substantive classes that we all have to go through.”
PBSC is a national organization and the Western chapter serves London, Ont., and Middlesex County. The group provides free legal support to people and communities facing barriers.
“We recruit student volunteers and lawyer-supervisors who team up to work for a community organization or partner, including clinics in the area such as Neighbourhood Legal Services,” Hutchinson explained.
“For the 55 positions that we have for student volunteers (this year), we had 170 student applications. So it goes to show students in the Western community are ready to assist when they have the skills and the opportunity.”
The students are running 23 projects providing free legal services in the broader London area.
Hutchinson also stressed that the students are unable to offer legal advice, but instead are offering legal information, providing information on various areas and legal topics.
“For example, Community Living London is an organization we’ll be working with. And what we’re going to do is provide training materials to their staff on the various legislation pertaining to employment standards and accessibility in order to better equip their staff. So these are situations where law students can come in handy.”
Other projects include partnerships with the Nokee Kwe No-Fee Cannabis Pardon Clinics, the London Poverty Research Centre, Northwest London Resource Centre, Urban Haven and the PHSS Community Project.