Vancouver North Shore Pro Bono Society

Access to justice means enabling people to avoid, manage, and resolve civil and family legal problems and disputes.[1]  Justice is the cornerstone of a society based on the rule of law. Much has been written about our serious access to justice challenges – an overly complex justice system, long delays, lack of access to affordable and timely legal advice and representation and the lack of adequately funded legal aid.  Report after report has described a justice system that is inaccessible and not responsive to the needs of the people it is intended to serve. Many of these same reports made recommendations for action that were never implemented.  The access to justice challenge has proven to be a complex and frustratingly intractable problem. 

Despite these challenges, many organizations and leaders in our profession continue to work tirelessly to improve access to justice for British Columbians, including, but certainly not limited to:

To truly improve access to justice outcomes, these leaders, organizations, the legal profession and court users will need to work together to effect fundamental systemic and cultural change.  In concrete terms, this will likely look like a simplified, user focussed system, adequate public funding and a multi-disciplinary rather than a purely legal approach.  A system at its essence is a network of interdependent components that work together to try to accomplish the aim of the system.[2] One of the hallmarks of all systems, including our justice system, is that they seek homeostasis: trying to keep things stable or the same.  The path to change faces strong headwinds.

Where does this leave the nascent North Shore Pro Bono Society?  Certainly with a humility that one more pro bono legal clinic is but one spoke in a larger wheel.  Lawyers in BC contribute thousands of hours of volunteer time towards pro bono and many other worthy community initiatives.  North Shore Pro Bono Society seeks continue this tradition by serving as a hub to offer North Shore residents of limited means pro bono family mediation and estate planning legal services.   We also plan to offer free public education in the areas of estate administration and representing oneself in court.

Of interest to the dispute resolution community, we seek to at least partially reinstate the worthy example of the Mediate BC practicum programs.  I was lucky to have been able to participate in both the Court Mediation Practicum Program and the Family Mediation Practicum Program, which were key initiatives in enabling me to build foundational mediation skills and obtain the requisite experience to be admitted to the Mediate BC Civil and Family Rosters.  In the current absence of these programs, there is a dearth of opportunities for new mediators to develop real life skills, mentorship from senior mediators and the experience required to be admitted to the Mediate BC Rosters.

North Shore Pro Bono Society’s Co-Mediation Practicum Project seeks to offer training opportunities for newer mediators seeking to obtain the requisite experience to qualify for the Mediate BC Family Roster.  These “Associate Mediators” must commit to at least one, two hour low bono mediation a month, to occur at our premises.  Established mediators are encouraged to apply –  to offer desperately needed family dispute resolution services in our community and to share their valuable wisdom and skills with the next generation of dispute resolution professionals.  Established mediators should already be on the Mediate BC Family Roster and must commit to at least one two hour low bono mediation a month, to occur at our premises. Further information and an application form can be found here:


About the Author


North Shore Pro Bono Society

Nicole L. Garton, B.A., LL.B., C.Med, TEP, is the Principal of Heritage Law and President of Heritage Trust. View her LinkedIn Profile here:    


[1] Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters, Access to Civil & Family Justice: A Roadmap for Change (Ottawa, ON, 2013).

[2] William Edwards Deming, The New Economics: For Industry, Government, Education (MIT Press, 2000) at 50.