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Sunday, April 19th marked the exciting start of National Volunteer Week 2020!

As an organization whose mission is tightly interwoven with volunteerism, Pro Bono Law Alberta (PBLA) spent the last few days shouting out and thanking our volunteers. We know first hand how hard volunteer lawyers, articling students, law students, internationally trained lawyers and others who volunteer in the legal services sector work to enhance access to justice for all Albertans. Volunteers do great work and now, more than ever, it’s time to applaud them.

Why Volunteer?

We wanted to learn more about why volunteers do what they do, so we reached out to a few of our volunteers.

Below are some of their answers:

It is clear that volunteering has many advantages for volunteers—from helping others to professional development to practical experience—and for those they assist!

Volunteers as an Integral Part of the Legal Community

Between April 2019 and March 2020, nearly 1,200 PBLA volunteers at our court-based programs put in 4,425 volunteer hours and assisted nearly 5,900 individuals. Those numbers aren’t just numbers; they represent individuals desperately needing legal advice on bankruptcy issues, worried about how to deal with housing concerns, unsure of how to file civil claims. Volunteer lawyers play a huge part in assuaging these concerns; over 90% of program clients agreed “the assistance they received was helpful in dealing with their legal situation.”

Across our province, pro bono service has touched numerous lives through various programs, legal clinics, and initiatives. It is well known that volunteers play a special role in the legal community. Here is a snapshot of some of the many ways that members of the legal profession are contributing to access to justice initiatives across Alberta:

At the Edmonton Community Legal Clinic (ECLC), 488 volunteers—including 308 volunteer lawyers, 91 community volunteers, and 89 law students—all contribute to its service to low income people.

ECLC created a special Thank You video that highlights just how important volunteerism is in the access to justice sector.

Calgary Legal Guidance (CLG) knows that volunteers are “the heart of the legal community.” CLG’s over 300 volunteers—from lawyers, to students to legal assistants—all play an important role in Empowering Lives Through Law. During this pandemic, their volunteers have stepped up to support their phone legal advice clinic and, since the first day they closed their office in March, some of their advising volunteer lawyers have not taken a break.  

“Pro Bono” comes from the Latin “pro bono publico,” meaning “for the public good.” Volunteers play an integral role in the legal sector because their work strengthens and uplifts our community.

Supporting Program Development and Assistance

Many of the pro bono programs and initiatives in our province are only made possible with volunteers. The unique skillsets of members of the legal profession are incredibly beneficial in pro bono program development and assistance.

The Central Alberta Community Legal Clinic (CACLC) recently created 2 programs in consultation with some of their amazing volunteers! Their Immigration Law Program, which is new as of April 2020, is designed to assist newcomers with some of the challenges they face around the immigration process. It was developed in consultation with one of their amazing volunteer lawyers, Karen Howley, of CRT Legal. With the help of a dedicated staff lawyer, the Clinic has also been able to offer remote assistance to those in rural and remote communities, including Lloydminster, Medicine Hat, and Fort McMurray through their Alberta Rural Legal Assistance Initiative (ARLAI). This program allows those who would otherwise have difficulty accessing justice and other pro bono services due to their distance from larger centres connect with a lawyer who is able to assist by providing legal advice, court coaching, agency referrals, document drafting, negotiations, and more.  

Going Above and Beyond

Lethbridge Legal Guidance (LLG) values its dedicated volunteers, and their commitment to access to justice. Of particular note are volunteers who consistently go the extra mile to help others.  They are shouting out Sebastian Koppe, the recipient of LLG’s 2019 Volunteer of the Year Award.  Sebastian began volunteering at LLG in 2016, quickly becoming an asset to the volunteer roster. All of LLG’s volunteers are amazing and truly valued, and each one deserves accolades.

Every day, volunteers—expecting nothing in return—choose to show up, and make a difference. The very act of volunteering denotes going above and beyond what is expected. From coast-to-coast-to-coast, we are inspired and honoured by acts of kindness in every sector and every city and town.

Cheers to Volunteers!

This year’s National Volunteer Week theme is “It’s time to applaud this country’s volunteers. Let’s all cheer for Canada’s volunteers!” and we know how important it is to do just that, all year round. Nearly 13 million Canadian volunteers deserve our cheers for their dedication and generosity.

To those doing pro bono work, please know that your volunteerism makes a world of difference to access to justice in Alberta. Your unique skills are highly valued and your meaningful contributions tilt the arc of the moral universe towards justice. It cannot be said enough: thank you so much for all that you do.

Interested in volunteering? Click here to learn more about joining the amazing pro bono work happening across our province.