Pro Bono Law Alberta Looks to the Future

July 27, 2021

After a challenging 2020 altered the pro bono landscape in Alberta, the past few months have seen the slow return of more traditional practice, with the opening of courts, clinics and some firms returning to the office. It would be tempting to think that this return to “normal” would be a relief for the pro bono community and a chance to return to traditional models, but for Pro Bono Law Alberta (PBLA), this is not the case.

For Nonye Opara, Executive Director of PBLA, the changes wrought by the pandemic brought into sharp focus the mission and mandate of PBLA and its crucial role in facilitating pro bono engagement by members of the legal profession, no matter the circumstance. Armed with key learnings and new momentum, PBLA’s Board developed a new Strategic Plan to guide the organization through the next phase of its development.

PBLA is a non-profit charitable organization that promotes access to justice in Alberta by creating and promoting opportunities for lawyers to provide pro bono legal services to persons of limited means. Their mission is to engage the legal community and leverage their skills and resources in pro bono services that facilitate access to justice for Alberta.

“PBLA works to promote access to justice by developing, supporting and administering pro bono initiatives for Alberta lawyers to meet their ethical obligations to give back. Whether it is working with law firms to develop pro bono policies and projects, collaborating with other pro bono organizations in the community or fostering a pro bono culture in the legal profession, we are constantly finding ways to make pro bono work easier for lawyers, articling and law students,” says Opara. “Every one of these facets of our work was impacted by COVID-19, and we had to make a number of decisions and learn a great deal in the past year to continue to action our mandate.”

Taking those lessons and experience into 2021, PBLA’s leadership undertook a four-month strategic planning process to identify how they could drive change through their organization and action their mandate for the coming years. Three key takeaways from their planning sessions are:

      • expanding the frontiers of pro bono engagement,
      • data-driven pro bono research to inform evidence-based practices, and
      • a renewed focus on telling the stories of key players in the pro bono community.

“PBLA has engagement at the heart of its mandate,” says Opara. “Our role connects us to every segment of the legal profession and community, and we continuously strive to find new ways to support and partner with them in their work. Developments in the justice space indicate that data-driven research and analysis is a necessary and important tool for both pro bono organizations and the organizations that support them, and we believe that PBLA is in a unique position to deliver considerable value in this space.”

PBLA is beginning an environmental scan of the pro bono sector, focusing on opportunities to collaborate on data collection and analysis. The resulting scan will help identify gap areas and opportunities for synergies that will inform the development of initiatives that contribute to the body of pro bono knowledge in Alberta.

While data-driven decision making is key to PBLA’s continued success, the organization is also renewing efforts to amplify the voices of pro bono stakeholders, together with their successes, challenges and needs. While continuing to support their existing communications channels, Opara notes that PBLA plans to launch a podcast featuring the untold stories of the pro bono sector, including perspectives from the legal profession, clients, support staff and access to justice organizations.

“Access to justice issues are not always front and centre in the media, but that doesn’t mean that the work or the people aren’t important. We believe that showcasing pro bono champions and their stories can serve to educate the legal profession and public about the contributions that these individuals and organizations have made in the lives of some of Alberta’s most vulnerable.

“Pro bono work is for everyone – students, first-year associates, new lawyers, internationally-trained lawyers, lawyers with 25 years of experience. PBLA is constantly working to identify, support and deliver flexible opportunities for lawyers to contribute in the manner that best suits their practice.”

For more information on PBLA and to start a conversation, please visit their website. For more information on their latest initiatives, please read their 2020-2021 Annual Report.