We're a brand new innovation in affordable legal service with almost no history at all. But we've been a long time in the making.
Unequal access to justice
While helping hundreds of thousands of people over the past two decades, our parent organization Access Pro Bono Society of BC (APB) has seen how geographic, socio-economic and racial disparities in access to qualified legal help have prevented too many British Columbians from finding justice.
Many British Columbians from racialized communities are rightly distrustful of a legal system with a history of institutionalized racism and repeated failures to protect individuals and communities. The concentration of law firms in southern BC’s urban areas fuels the frustration of many people in rural, remote and reserve communities where there are few, if any, locally based, “hometown” lawyers.
Worsening these problems, law school graduates with the professional skills and life experiences to serve racialized clients well, often struggle with an outdated and cumbersome articling system. Mature students from remote areas, for example, are often forced to move to BC’s big cities to secure an articling position. Many leave their families and home communities for good.
APB came to see how accessibility of legal services is tied to diversity of legal professionals. The organization conceived of the Everyone Legal Clinic as a way to foster a more inclusive and culturally responsive justice system–– by increasing the diversity of legal professionals, and by serving more people from underserved communities.
An opportunity arises
In late 2020, the Law Society of BC created a regulatory innovation sandbox in which non-traditional service providers could apply to provide a defined scope of legal services to individuals whose needs were unmet or underserved. This coincided with the legal profession's broad acceptance of videoconferencing technologies as necessary ways to deliver legal services and administer justice during the COVID pandemic.
In August 2021, APB applied to the Innovation Sandbox for permission to develop and operate a virtual public interest legal clinic to serve as an experiential learning centre for articling students and new notaries, and as an incubator for legal practitioners who then provide affordable legal services to underserved BC communities. The Law Society accepted APB's proposal, and the way was cleared for the Everyone Legal Clinic.
The Clinic launches
In May 2022, we launched as the world's first virtual public interest law teaching clinic and legal practice incubator, with 25 articling students in 15 different BC communities, 16 supervising lawyers, four staff and dozens of volunteer mentors. With a six-month learning semester curriculum centred on the practical, modern-day aspects of running a socially responsible law practice, we trained our first cohort of 15 articling clinicians in a wide range of areas involving “everyday legal problems”, including family, employment, tenancy, criminal, consumer, wills and estates, corporate, human rights, and mental health law. The first cohort began their six-month service semester in November 2022, two months after our second cohort of 10 articling clinicians embarked on their learning semester.
As the Clinic forges its own history, we're committed to a client-centred approach to service delivery, premised on constant user feedback and continuous refinement.