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Guest A2J Blog: Law Students Tackle Access to Justice Crisis from Small Business Perspective

Jeremy Maddock

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Law Society of British Columbia, the Canadian Bar Association, and the Chief Justice of Canada all agree – there are serious deficiencies with access to justice in this country. Nearly 12-million Canadians will experience a legal issue within the next three years, and approximately half of them will attempt to solve these problems on their own, with little or no legal assistance.

The implications of this for Canadians form the basis of studies like the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice’s Cost of Justice Project. Nonetheless, in the national conversation about access to justice, we tend to focus on the limited availability of legal aid for criminal and family litigants. This is indeed a serious problem, but it is surprising how little attention is focused on business law, an area where (at least in British Columbia) there is no legal aid at all.

Small businesses will, almost by definition, experience some legal issues in getting off the ground. Business owners, however, tend to get less sympathy than other individuals. Those who are in business, we assume, will have sufficient income to cover their legal expenses. Sadly, this assumption is often incorrect. Many aspiring businesspeople are living in poverty, and the complex web of rules and regulations imposed upon new startups can prevent talented people from going into business in the first place.

Fortunately, there is an opening for law students to become part of the solution.

“There is no question that now is the time to look to Canada’s law students to help meet the growing gaps in access to legal services,” wrote Nikki Gershbain, the national director of Pro Bono Students Canada. “Law student pro bono not only helps ordinary Canadians access the legal system, it trains law students to be more sensitive, compassionate lawyers and creates a generation of lawyers primed to using their legal skills to make a difference in their community.”

At the University of Victoria, the Business Law Clinic provides a legal assistance program specifically for small businesses. Although the students themselves are located in Victoria, the Clinic accepts inquiries from around British Columbia. In many cases, the inquiries are simple yet crucial, and a few hours of general research by a law student can mean the difference between success and failure for a new business.

Law students and prospective law students who are interested in being part of the solution can visit the Business Law Clinic’s website, or contact its director, Michael Litchfield, by email at thinklab@uvic.ca.

Jeremy Maddock is a law student at the University of Victoria, and publisher of CharterCases.com, a legal information resource. He can be reached by email at jeremymaddock@hotmail.com.