Introducing a new generation of equal justice warriors
[The following article was authored by Access Pro Bono's Executive Director Jamie Maclaren KC, and published in the October 2023 edition of CBA BC Branch's BarTalk magazine.]
Sixteen months ago, Access Pro Bono’s Everyone Legal Clinic set out to do something new and different by way of the Law Society of B.C.’s Innovation Sandbox. It engaged 14 supervising lawyers and 25 articling students in launching a first-of-its-kind public interest law training clinic and incubator across 17 different B.C. cities and towns. Its mission was (and remains) to increase access to justice for all British Columbians, regardless of their identity, income or location, and to increase the diversity and legal aid capacity of B.C.’s legal profession.
The Clinic’s first-year cohort of articling students was 72% BIPOC and 20% Indigenous, which helped it to deliver free and low-cost legal services in culturally safe ways to hundreds of clients from underserved communities. Still, as a start-up with a novel revenue structure and little institutional backing, the Clinic struggled at times to guarantee income security for each of its students. Thankfully, supportive law firms and organizations stepped up to provide scholarship and bursary funds to students in need. The CBABC Aboriginal Lawyers Forum (ALF) was particularly supportive, as its Warrior Project funded scholarships for four of the Clinic’s first-year Indigenous students.
The Warrior Project beneficiaries include Carolyn Belleau, who articled in her hometown of Williams Lake and who is now Legal Counsel, Self-Government and Treaty for Williams Lake First Nation. In her new role, Carolyn assists the T’exelcemc to negotiate treaties with the provincial and federal governments. She also finds time to provide pro bono workshops on wills and estate matters for band members living on reserve. She credits her articling experience with reinforcing her strong pro bono ethic, and with showing her the importance of giving back to her community.
Lincoln Hallgren is a Warrior Project beneficiary who was born and raised in Burns Lake and who returned to his community of Lake Babine Nation to article with the Clinic. Now, as a freshly minted lawyer, Lincoln is working with Carrier Sekani Family Services to develop and deliver health, social and legal services in accordance with the needs and values of the Carrier Sekani Nations in north central B.C.
Lincoln had this to say about his Clinic experience, and the support he received from ALF: “Working at the Clinic showed me the immense gratitude people feel when they are genuinely heard and cared for, not just as paying clients, but as fellow human beings. I eagerly anticipate a brighter future, thanks to the support of ALF, my time in law school, and the invaluable guidance of the Clinic’s supervising lawyers.”
Ashley Linttell is a Warrior Project beneficiary who, along with another Clinic alumnae, is starting a small family law firm that will serve legal aid clients in rural and northern B.C., particularly in Haida Gwaii. Her goal is to help families navigate complex legal issues with compassion and an appreciation for the systemic barriers they often encounter as they promote their interests in the legal system. Ashley views her ALF scholarship as having been crucial in supporting her legal journey, and her time at the Clinic as having bolstered her commitment to promoting access to justice for equity-denied British Columbians.
Other first-year Clinic alumni have opened solo and small firm practices providing legal aid and low-cost legal services in underserved communities like Ucluelet, Golden and Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. As each new lawyer commits to serving unmet legal needs in the name of equal justice, the light of ALF’s Warrior Project shines a little bit brighter.