Why we all have a stake in cultivating new “sprouts” in the field
by Caroline Nevin
Like much of the rest of the country, B.C.’s population is largely concentrated in a few urban areas, with the rest strewn across a huge geographic expanse. This affects access to many resources, including lawyers and the courts. With a large number of lawyers set to retire, attracting and retaining young lawyers is the #1 issue of concern to many local Bars.
Two-thirds of B.C.’s lawyers work in the Lower Mainland. Only 3 per cent work anywhere in the Prince Rupert or Cariboo Districts, which cover two-thirds of the province. Victoria, the Okanagan and Nanaimo combined only have 17 per cent, and the rest are spread across the Kootenays, Kamloops, up-Island, or outside B.C.
When I visit lawyers in places like Cranbrook, I hear a familiar refrain: we have lots of business and amazing quality of life, but we just can’t attract new lawyers. Law firms, corporations, the Crown and Legal Services all face the same challenge.
The CBA has a National Working Group looking at the issue of rural access to lawyers across the country. Here in B.C., we’re looking for practical ways to help law firms and employers attract new lawyers outside the Lower Mainland. We expect to partner with local Bars, the Law Foundation and the Law Society, all of which have identified rural access to legal resources as an important priority. The ground for action on this issue is fertile indeed.
In The Milagro Beanfield War, a lone impoverished farmer diverts a forbidden source of water to cultivate a small patch of beans in an otherwise parched land. Eventually, his action is supported by the entire community, and the greater good prevails. Outlying areas are having trouble diverting their own “water source” – young lawyers – to their towns. The burden of large student loans is one reason, but there are others. None are insurmountable; we just haven’t applied the full power of our collective minds and resources to the issue.
Think it’s only “their” problem and not your own? Think again. Notaries were only created in this province in the absence of access to lawyers, and paralegals have been gaining in status and scope of practice elsewhere. Courts and judges have disappeared in places where “demand” is considered low, and the absence of lawyers contributes to that perception. Clients (and taxpayers) have to pay for access to out-of-town counsel or, worse yet, forgo legal advice and representation. This issue affects our entire society, and as leaders we have to step up.
The CBA is serious about bringing the legal community together to solve this problem. We want to hear from you. No idea is too wild. Will $5,000 a year toward articles help? How about funding local students’ legal education in return for time served at home? Or funding rural “tours of duty” through a new type of foundation? A new mentoring program? A staff person to organize shared articles across several law firms or towns? Let us know what you think. And if you’re a young lawyer or law student, let us know what it would take for you to seriously consider moving to a smaller town to practise law.
The CBA is ready to plant the seeds, but it will take the whole community to create real growth. Please take a moment today to write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was published in the April 2008 issue of BarTalk. © 2008 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.
Responses to Call for Input
Glen Ewan, QC
Sean M Kubara
Carli van Maurik