Peter A. Allard School of Law


By Geoff Golda, 3L

This morning for me began like any other Thursday morning. Because I don’t have class on Thursdays, I allow myself to get up a little later than usual. I putz around the apartment for a while, turn on the kettle and grind some coffee for the French press. I have a number of readings to catch up on today, but they can wait until after my morning coffee and cigarette. Indeed, they can wait until after I play a few songs on the guitar. Maybe I’ll get breakfast before delving into them. Or read some of my novel.

In truth, I’m no stranger to procrastination. That jolt of motivation in the eleventh hour has been the backbone of a good many of my scholarly achievements. This semester has been generally different thus far, though. This semester I’ve been doing my readings before classes. This semester I’ve been attending my classes. This semester is my last, and out of some sense of needing to prove something to myself or just wanting to be the best me I can be while still officially connected to Allard Hall, I’ve been doing things right for a change. No, please reserve your accolades. I really haven’t done anything yet.

For whatever reason, I’m putting as many things between myself and getting onto my readings as possible this morning. I’m procrastinating in a way which is not unfamiliar, but which is uncharacteristic of my year thus far. New Years resolutions have a way of fading as January wears on, but in fact I’d never resolved to be a better student this semester. I just started doing it. As I look out onto the wet streets and bobbing umbrellas below, I realize that there is something else which has caused me to hesitate with respect to my routine. There is somewhere else that I should be.

Yesterday, our noble LSS President Andrea Fraser alerted me to the fact that she would be giving a speech at the surprise announcement in the Franklin Lew forum today. She wouldn’t tell me what the announcement was. This frustrated me. A law school is no place for surprise announcements. We require notice, so that we can adequately respond. Notice of “a surprise” in my eyes is akin to no notice at all. I realize after placing my guitar down this morning that I’m unreasonably irked by the whole thing. Not only that, but I’m irked by the fact that others don’t seem to be similarly irked. “Free lunch,” they assure me, dismissive of my indignance. As if the virtue of a free lunch could overwhelm the most egregious injustices.

No. Today I will not sit idly by in my apartment catching up with readings while whatever surprise announcement is made. Today I will be heard. Justice be done, though free lunch be served. I dress myself, step out into the rain, board the 44, plug in my headphones, and turn on some meditative sounds so I can calmly measure my approach.

I walk into Allard Hall on a mission. It’s 11:25. That gives me 35 minutes to determine what on earth is going on here before the official announcement ceremony begins. I begin by asking a few students, none of whom seem to know for sure what is going on. There is a rumour going around that Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin might be giving a speech – a most unlikely occurrence given that the Supreme Court is in session and moreover because there would be a number of people, including myself, who would have been exceptionally angry to have missed out on such an event. The more likely candidate regards a certain $30 million endowment to the law school by Peter A. Allard, and news that the law school would be renamed “Peter A. Allard School of Law”.

The gall! A surprise announcement that this man is able to throw incredible sums of money around and stick his name on whatever he likes? And we’re supposed to celebrate and be happy about this somehow? How perverse! Satisfied that this is indeed what is going on, I set about talking with students about what is about to take place. I throw a lot of choice words around, narcissist among them. One can’t just go throwing money about and expect the world to love him for it. Indeed, I will be taking my free lunch (I can’t speak to the chilli, but the pulled pork sandwiches were fantastic) and listening to what is to be said, but no, I’m not buying any of this, and no, I’m not happy about it.

Shortly before the actual speech portion of the announcement was underway, I got a moment to speak with Andrea Fraser about the whole thing. I made a number of the same comments that I had made to others that morning and managed to get in a little dig about how she, the strong minded and sceptical force of nature that she is, still somehow managed to be sucked into the whole thing. I wasn’t speaking as such in order to offend her, so much as to convey the general sense of losing faith in humanity that was welling up in my gut. If even the best of us are happy to live on our knees, well…

In any event, Ms. Fraser set to setting me straight. She told me that I had it wrong, that I shouldn’t be running my mouth as I had been, and that she’d hoped I hadn’t been spewing such non-sense around to others. I suggested she not be so hard on me, that indeed there were few among us willing to resist such gratuitous displays of extravagance, and that she might do well to take a page out of my book. That said, I agreed to hold my tongue until I heard what the Dean, herself, and Mr. Allard had to say.

Dean Mary Anne Bobinski stepped up to the lectern and encouraged the students, faculty, alumni, and others in attendance to begin filling the forum. Still skeptical, and eager to hear was was going to be said, I took a position in the front row near the center of the room. After a brief recap of the law school’s history and a warm introduction, with many a pause for applause, Peter Allard was given the floor.

To my surprise (!) and shame, the man humbly delivered a 12 page speech with hardly a word about himself or his achievements. Peter spoke about some of his inspirations, in particular U.S. Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Harry S. Truman, who he described as people who strove for causes which were beyond themselves as mere mortals. He talked about our mortality. He talked about some of the good things that had come out of our law school. He spoke of a hope for the future, of the courage that would be required of each of us to move this world on toward better things – in spite of the corruption and growing disenfranchised, which he also spoke of. He expressed lament over the sense of powerlessness that seems to have taken hold in the youth of today, but, with humility, he reiterated his sentiments about the power and the spirit in each of us to motivate change. To take care of each other. To live by the golden rule.

Andrea Fraser got up after him and, without having much advance notice of what would be taking place that day, was able to express from a students point of view what Peter A. Allard meant to us, and what the endowment would mean going forward. When she finished speaking, the forum was opened up, and guests were invited to champagne and sparkling water to celebrate the event. I stood in place dumbfounded for a moment, piecing back together the fragments of this unexpected day.

I decided, not being able to find each and every person I’d ranted to before the announcement in the ensuing chaos, that the best I might be able to do would be to apologize to Mr. Allard in person. I shook his hand, and he introduced himself (“Peter”) before I had a chance to do the same. I explained to him what I had done before the announcement, about the disparaging comments that I’d canvased the student body with. I told him that I now felt quite bad about the whole thing, and that I’d wished I’d heard him out before casting judgement on his actions. His response was as humbling as the speech he’d given before – he laughed, and told me that someone was bound to take such a shot at him. His magnanimity left me, as Andrea Fraser had described the effect of his gift in her speech moments before, breathless. He told me I wasn’t the only one to have had the thoughts that I did, and we started into another conversation, before we were all too quickly cut off by another group of students eager to make his acquaintance. I shook his hand once more, told him I was glad to have met him, and walked away with no more animus toward him or the school than that a detached autumn leaf might have for the tree that once bore it.

Solution: Law Students

Pro Bono


Executive Director of Access Pro Bono Jamie Maclaren held a talk on August 30, 2013, about the value of pro bono work, at the Pro Bono Students Canada annual Lunch Launch. Importantly, he highlighted the access to justice crisis in Canada, and in our province. With fixed annual contributions from the Law Foundation, there are ever-increasing tradeoffs to budget allocations that inevitably limit access to lawyers for low and middle-income individuals with legal issues. Law students represent an invaluable resource and a partial solution, in my opinion, as they themselves have access to tools that can help some of those that fall outside of the current pro bono net. Not only do law students give, in return they receive invaluable experience to develop themselves in their legal careers even before they start working for a firm. I greatly enjoyed Andrew’s post here in the Legal Eye last year on this topic.

While law students like getting involved, there is often a dilemma. I once heard the remark that law school itself is a huge commitment, and any additional commitments become over-commitments. It is not surprising that law students hesitate to commit more time to legal endeavors when faced with so many additional commitments and a desire to maintain a life outside of law school. Volunteering as a law student is a commitment, but it is often as much of a commitment as you make it to be. Programs like Pro Bono Students Canada (PBSC) have a limited commitment of 3-5 hours per week, and the Law Students’ Legal Advice Program (LSLAP) is infamously flexible (you can take as many [or as few] files as you want, pretty much!).

Now is the time of year when law students are applying for programs such as those I have mentioned above (the PBSC deadline is September 19, 2013, and although the LSLAP application deadline of September 9, 2013, has just past, an email to one of the LSLAP execs may still be able to find you a spot). If you are a law student at UBC (or elsewhere), I encourage you to take the plunge and get involved with one or both of these programs, whether you are motivated by the access to justice crisis or the prospect of adding more to your resume. Do not discount the value of the assistance offered by a law student to client and public interest organizations.

What does Access to Justice mean to you?


It’s been an eventful few months on the access to justice front in BC.  In case you haven’t been keeping up, here are some highlights:

  • August 11: In a speech to the Canadian Bar Association in Vancouver, Chief Justice McLachlin again referred to access to justice as “the most pressing problem our legal system faces”.  But in contrast to previous statements, the Chief Justice sounded a note for some optimism, citing the work of the National Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters.  More on that below.
  • August 12: The CBA announced the launch of its Access to Justice Committee to try to better understand and respond to legal needs of low and middle-income people across the country.
  • August 30: The BC Justice Reform Initiative released “A Criminal Justice System for the 21st Century”, a report by Geoffrey Cowper, QC, on how to reform BC’s criminal justice system.
  • September 5: UBC’s “Access to Justice and the Future of the Legal Profession” class started.  Soon after, the class drew some criticism and media attention, focussing on the fact that one of the course instructors is Geoff Plant, QC, who was BC’s Attorney General in 2002 when significant cuts were made to legal aid funding. (Full disclosure – I am currently auditing this class.)
  • September 6: The National Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters, chaired by Supreme Court Justice Thomas Cromwell, released two reports for consultation: one on simplifying court processes, and another on improving access to legal services.
  • September 21: The Supreme Court of Canada handed down its decision in Canada (AG) v. Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence (“SWUAV”), which broadened the public interest standing for intervenors.
  • October 22: The BC government released the first of two White Papers on reform to the province’s justice system.  This White Paper forms part of the government’s response to the Cowper Report released at the end of August.

You may notice that this list of recent events includes a number of committees, reports and studies.  You may be surprised that, after years of hearing about the access to justice crisis, committees are still being struck to investigate the problem.  You may want to know what is actually happening “on the ground” to improve access to justice.

It’s important to understand that access to justice is a very broad term, and one that can be misleading.  Access to justice is sometimes used as a catch-all phrase to capture civil matters, family matters, and criminal matters.  Sometimes, access to justice is a proxy for “access to legal services”.  Sometimes it is a proxy for “access to the courts”, such as in the SWUAV case.  Often, lawyers have thought of access to justice from the perspective of the legal system – such as thinking about the number of unrepresented people in courts, and how this may contribute to court delays.  In recent years, there has been a shift to try to understand access to justice more fundamentally – from the perspective of the individuals who experience legal problems.  This conceptual confusion may help explain why we are still trying to understand how to respond to the problems of access to justice.

But we have learned some things about access to justice.  Over the past 15 years, research around the world has improved our understanding of how often people experience legal problems.  The most recent Canada-wide research suggests that – excluding criminal matters – almost 45% of adult Canadians have experienced a legal problem over the past three years.  This research also suggests that only around 12% of those individuals sought legal assistance to deal with their legal problem.  Most dealt with it themselves, sought help from a friend, or chose to ignore the problem.

As people involved in the legal system, this should give us all reason to pause.  In the words of Chief Justice McLachlin, inscribed in front of Allard Hall: “The most advanced justice system in the world is a failure if it does not provide justice to the people it is meant to serve.”

So what can we do?  I have been hugely impressed by the discussion, the ideas, and the energy generated by the students in the Access to Justice course.  There seems to be recognition within that class that this is not a problem which will be solved by someone else, but a problem that calls on all of us as lawyers or future lawyers to find ways to meaningfully improve access to justice.

Those who work in the access to justice field note that there is no “silver bullet” to improve access.  As such, there are many opportunities for creative thinking and doing things differently.  The problems of access to justice pose challenges which calls on us all to find solutions.

This could mean doing work through LSLAP, and thinking about how to continue a commitment to pro bono work throughout your career.  It could mean seeking out job opportunities that explicitly seek to improve access to legal services in some way.  It could mean setting up an innovative legal practice to provide unbundled legal services at a reduced cost.  With the number of committees, reports, and studies available, there is no shortage of information about access to justice.

Above all, there is space for each of us to consider what access to justice means, and how it is relevant to us as future lawyers.  I urge you to think of ways to ensure that, when you start to practice, you make a commitment to improving access a meaningful part of your professional identity.  When you look back on your career years from now, wouldn’t you like to be able to say that you did something to address the most pressing problem faced by our legal system?

Andrew Pilliar recently completed his LLM, and is now a first year PhD student at the Faculty of Law, working on access to justice issues.  He previously worked as a litigation lawyer in downtown Vancouver.