Lawyers call for increases in legal services funding

Jamie Maclaren became a lawyer because he wanted to make a difference in people’s lives.

Jamie Maclaren became a lawyer because he wanted to make a difference in people’s lives.

With a philosophy degree and spending most of his academic life studying vague and abstract theories, he decided he needed a change.

“I wanted to do something more practical that I could apply and have an effect on people’s lives,” said Maclaren, who provided free legal advice to Victoria residents last week.

“I was a bit tired of thinking about vague concepts and hoping to put some skills to practical use and practical help for people.”

But his desire to help people was short-lived when he discovered early in his law career that many low-income families can’t afford legal help.

“I grew up at a time where you just assumed if people face a legal problem, they would qualify for legal aid and they wouldn’t be in danger of losing their job or child,” he said, adding that he took to pro bono work quickly.

“It was surprising and shocking to understand coming out of law school that there’s a real access to justice problem and people don’t have the help they need when confronted with serious legal problems.”

Maclaren is now the executive director of the Access Pro Bono Society of B.C., a Vancouver-based organization that provides pro bono legal services for people and non-profit organizations with limited means.

The organization, along with roughly 16 local volunteer lawyers, provided free legal advice to some 30 modest-income Victoria residents in Centennial Square last week.

“I think it’s really important to raise awareness of the need for lower cost and pro bono legal services in the community,” said Kirsten McGhee, a Victoria lawyer who participated in last week’s event.

There are a number of free legal advice clinics in Victoria, including the court house and a clinic operated by law students at Our Place.

“As many people as we do help, it doesn’t even come close the number of people who need help,” said Maclaren, adding the government needs to direct more funds to legal aid.