When looked at simply in terms of monetary value, the math makes little, if any, sense.
About 100 lawyers offering their work for free over a six-hour span represents a loss that likely stretches into the millions.
Making that money, however, is of no concern to the dozens of lawyers participating in a pair of free “advice-a-thons” scheduled for Sept. 6 and 13 in downtown Vancouver.
Organized by the Access Pro Bono Society of B.C., the fairs are meant to bridge the gap between expensive legal aid and low-income Vancouverites.
“Lawyers are expensive, absurdly expensive,” said Rajit Mittal, one of 96 lawyers participating in the fairs. “The common refrain is, ‘I couldn’t afford myself if I was in trouble.’”
The two fairs are scheduled from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Victory Square (Sept. 6) and the Vancouver Art Gallery (Sept. 13). Lawyers will rotate in hour-long shifts and are expected to see two to three clients in that span. All areas of law are fair game and some clients are pre-screened to give the lawyers some prep time before the face time starts. Walk-ups are also welcomed.
Priyan Samarakoone has taken part in nine previous fairs, though no two appointments are the same. Some interactions are more like a visit to a therapist, others entail simply directing people towards specific information.
A half hour isn’t enough time in some cases, and those people are referred to other forms of help — namely the Pro Bono society’s legal aid phone line.
“You get dumped on quite a bit, but you have to understand it’s not coming from a personal anger point of view,” Samarakoone said. “I get it, I understand it, I empathize and then I offer what I can do to alleviate it. Talking it out is usually cathartic for most people.”
Not surprisingly, housing tends to dominate most conversations and every manner of complication comes up: disputes with landlords and roommates, renovictions, repairs and displacement.
“There’s a lot of residential tenancy stuff, so much so that usually Access Pro Bono has an [residential tenancy branch] handbook laid out or multiple copies of it because lawyers have to call upon it quite a bit,” Mittal said. “Housing is a big one.”
Outside of providing advice to those who need it, the two fairs are also serving as a fundraiser for the Access Pro Bono society. The small non-profit employs nine people who provide legal services and advice across B.C.
Those interested in a pre-screening interview prior to either fair are asked to call 1-877-762-6664. More info is available online at advice-a-thon.ca.