Schulich School of Law continues to uphold what has long been known as the Weldon Tradition of Unselfish Public Service. “This ongoing commitment to public service hearkens back to the first Dean, Richard Chapman Weldon, who believed that all law students and lawyers had an obligation to give back to their community,” says current Dean Kim Brooks.
Dean Weldon served from 1883 to 1914. At the Law School’s opening ceremonies on Oct. 30, 1883, he said: “ In drawing up our curriculum we have not forgotten the duty which every university owes to the state, the duty which Aristotle saw and emphasized so long ago—of teaching young men the science of government. In our free government we all have political duties, some higher, some humbler, and these duties will be best performed by those who have given them most thought. We may fairly hope that some of our students will, in their riper years, be called upon to discharge public duties. We aim to help these to act with fidelity and wisdom.”
In this century, Pro Bono Dalhousie, the Halifax chapter of Pro Bono Students Canada (PBSC), is the organization through which most Schulich students first connect to the broader community. This past year, 194 law student volunteers completed placements with more than 40 organizations in the Halifax Regional Municipality between September and March, making Pro Bono Dal one of the largest PBSC chapters.
This past year, 194 law student volunteers completed placements with more than 40 organizations in the Halifax Regional Municipality between September and March, making Pro Bono Dal one of the largest PBSC chapters.
By comparison, the University of Victoria reported 46 pro bono law student volunteers for 2013/14, the University of Alberta 57 and the University of Toronto 168. Pro Bono Dal not only had the highest number of student volunteers but also a record 15,520 student volunteer hours.
Second-year student Jenn Teryn and third-year student Dylan Baker are Pro Bono Dal’s program co-ordinators. “There has been a long tradition at Schulich School of Law to develop a culture of giving back to the community, because legal services are costly for many people,” says Teryn. “Dalhousie is a leader in this area.”
Pro Bono Dal launched in 2000 and offers many benefits to its student volunteers, including a chance to make a significant impact on access to justice in the Halifax area and networking opportunities with members of the legal community, plus valuable experience in client interaction and practical real-world skills. Opportunities exist in various types of law, including criminal, administrative, environmental, family, corporate non-profit, immigration and refugee. There are also specific programs for artists, First Nations peoples, the LGBTQ community, youth and seniors.
The client’s situation was quite complicated, and he kept remembering things after we’d complete a draft,” says Keyes. “There was also an urgency because his health wasn’t good. It was a positive learning experience.
The long-term Schulich School of Law Wills Project caters specifically to seniors who earn less than $25,000 a year and who don’t own real property. Two student volunteers co-ordinate the project for at least one year, overseeing 16 student volunteers who work in pairs under the direct supervision of a lawyer. The students learn how to draft and execute wills, power of attorneys and personal directives. “No student goes into a placement without at least one lawyer involved,” says Teryn.
Third-year law student Peter Keyes had his first Pro Bono Dal experience with the Wills Project last semester, when he helped prepare a will for a man in his late 60s whose health was failing. He met his client, along with his co-volunteer and their supervising lawyer, to ask questions about the man’s assets, possessions and gifts.
“When it comes to preparing a will, I learned that the devil is in the details,” says Keyes, who took detailed notes during the meetings. Although Pro Bono Dal student volunteers are required to spend three to five hours a week on their projects, Keyes devoted more than that during the first two weeks, which were intense with information gathering. When it came time to prepare the document, it took several drafts before the client was ready to sign it.
“The client’s situation was quite complicated, and he kept remembering things after we’d complete a draft,” says Keyes. “There was also an urgency because his health wasn’t good. It was a positive learning experience.” One practical thing he learned was when presenting drafts, was to use a font size larger than 12 points, which is too small for seniors to read.
This fall, the Wills Project is planning to pilot a “will blitz.” Student volunteers will hold an information seminar for seniors in one area of HRM, then follow up with a day-long session to prepare a minimum of 20 wills. “The students and the lawyers will set up in a central community location that has private meeting rooms with technology,” says Teryn. The pilot project is a joint initiative of the Schulich School of Law, the Legal Information Service of Nova Scotia, PBSC and the Canadian Bar Association.
Keyes may take part in the blitz. Thanks to his first experience, he knows that the seniors appreciate the service the law students are providing. “After my client had signed it, he asked how much it would have cost to have had a lawyer prepare it,” he says. “When we told him that it would have been around $1,000, he was very grateful that we did it for free.”