UNB Law PBSC | Faculty News | Spring 2020 | NEXUS Magazine | The Faculty of Law | UNB

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UNB Fredericton

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PBSC UNB continues to promote access to justice

The COVID-19 pandemic has not slowed down the UNB Law chapter of Pro Bono Students Canada (PBSC). For the 2020/2021 school year, 42 law students have secured placements on 20 projects with community partners such as Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Canadian Civil Liberties Association, PEI Fisherman’s Association, Dyslexia Canada, NB SPCA, NB Nature Trust, and Gignoo Transition house.

Third-year student Abbey Smith is the Project Coordinator for PBSC at UNB. Nexus sat down with Abbey to discuss her role with PBSC and what the year holds for the UNB chapter.

Can you describe your role as PBSC project coordinator?

My job is to create pro bono legal projects with local partners, monitor the projects throughout the year, and troubleshoot any issues that may arise. One of my major responsibilities is to match the students to the placements. Throughout the summer, I network with local partners and work with them to develop projects for the students to complete—this allows me to understand what it is they are looking for in their students. Based on their requirements and the students’ interest, I pair all the placements. I also work with national partners, train students on how to do research, and educate the student body on what PBSC is and what the core values of PBSC are.

What do these student placements look like?

We send students out to placements for the full year where they work 3-5 hours every week, gaining hands-on learning experience. Our partners, who all have the aim of increasing access to justice, get the opportunity to expand their mandate and essentially are getting free legal work through the students. It is a collaborative partnership through which the organizations and the students benefit.

What new projects does PBCS have planned for this year?

One of the new projects we have this year is a partnership with the Capital Region Mental Health and Addictions Association (CRMHAA). They have a student intern who is working to establish a mental health court here in Fredericton, based on the model in Saint John.

This student will be working closely with the CRMHAA’s advocacy subcommittee, lawyers, and the Fredericton judiciary to bring this model to the Fredericton courts. Mental Health Courts can result in improved outcomes for those experiencing mental health issues when compared to traditional streams of justice by diverting these individuals to treatment instead of incarceration.

Another new partnership is with the New Brunswick African Association (NBAA). We are working with them in two roles. The first is to do a privacy seminar with new immigrants to Canada. We will explain Canadian privacy laws and how they relate to creating and managing an online presence for things like banking, social media, online shopping. We are also working with the NBAA on a research project to expand its mandate to include international students. Given the COVID-19 pandemic, international students are in a situation much in flux. We are working with the NBAA to find ways that they can support these students, educating them on their rights, their best choices moving forward, and ensuring that they get support and feel connected to their community.

Are there any ongoing projects which have been around for a few years?

Yes, two of our other big projects, the wills project and ID clinic, have been around for a few years. The Wills project is in its third year and is run in partnership with Stewart McKelvey. Essentially, the students provide wills for those who are unable to obtain those legal services for themselves. Normally, the students seek out the clients, however this year, the hospital’s palliative care unit reached out to us and we created a partnership with them. They have a lot of individuals looking for wills but cannot afford full legal services. Our students are paired with clients with whom they meet to discuss what a will is and go over any items the client would like to see in their will. The students draft a will and power of attorney, which is then reviewed by Stewart McKelvey. The students provide the client with the will, walk the client through it, and are there for the signing of the will. For a lot of our students this their first taste of actual legal services.

The Trans ID clinic is a partnership with Imprint, an organization that focuses primarily on LGBTQ2S+ youth, but also provides services to the LGBTQ2S+ community at large. Our students provide legal information to clients requiring a name change or a gender change marker on their official documentation. Students help clients fill out the paperwork with lawyers available to help with any questions. This partnership is in its second year and supervised by lawyers from McInnes Cooper.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way PBSC operates?

COVID-19 forced us to reimagine how PBSC works. Almost all of our work is done in person, onsite—this is no longer possible. Many of our students did not return to Fredericton this school year. We needed to find a way to involve them in programming and allow them to do it from across the country. Fortunately, we have really great community partners who are flexible and dedicated. We were able to continue the placements virtually.

Part of our strategy this year was not to focus on replicating the onsite experience but finding new opportunities afforded by moving online. This thinking was especially helpful for the Trans ID clinic. By moving the clinic online, we were able to broadly expand our client base. We are now able to serve the entire Atlantic region. As the only ID clinic on the east coast, we are very excited at the prospect of helping our broader Atlantic community.

The pandemic also forced us to improve our marketing and communications. As a small law school, we relied on word-of-mouth advertising for recruitment, poster campaigns, and students sharing their stories with friends. This year we have created social media accounts (@PBSCUNB on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook) and a new website to allow students to share their experience, promote our work, and recruit new partners.

How does participation in PBSC help students in their future careers?

PBSC prepares law students for practice by offering the chance to develop practical skills, such as communicating with clients and drafting documents, that are not taught in most law classes. In many cases, our partner organizations hire students for summer and articling positions, so working as a pro bono student provides the opportunity to develop a working relationship with potential employers.

How can students become involved with PBSC?

PBSC recruits from August into September, with the program officially launching the second week of September. For those interested in joining PBSC next year, I would recommend familiarizing yourself with the projects and the requirements and use that information to help tailor your resume. Specifically, PBSC looks for experience with access to justice initiatives and other volunteer work. There are so many amazing ways to get involved in leadership and access to justice programs at UNB, experience in any one of these roles can help show the PBSC coordinator that you are dedicated to the local legal community and able to balance law school with outside responsibilities.

I am also always happy to chat with anyone looking to get involved! So, feel free to reach out with questions (probono@unb.ca).

Do you have any final thoughts you would like to share?

This year has been challenging in new and unforeseen ways, and PBSC at UNB would like to thank everyone from the Law Foundation of NB, UNB Law, our national partners, and the national team for their incredible support and flexibility in adapting our 2020-2021 program. We would also like to thank our partners and student volunteers for all the impactful work they do and their ongoing dedication to improving access to justice within Atlantic Canada.

About PBSC

PBSC was founded in 1996 at U of T with the UNB Law chapter opening in 1999. The mission has always been providing access to justice within the local community. Across the country there are chapters in 22 of the 23 law schools.

For a full list of UNB Law’s pro bono projects and more information on our PBSC chapter, please visit their website.

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