“There is no justice without access to justice.”
Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Canada, 2000-2017
Rise Women’s Legal Centre is a pro bono community legal clinic and teaching facility, based in Vancouver but serving women all over BC. Rise provides unbundled legal services to self-identified women and gender-diverse individuals, primarily in the area of family law.
We also provide assistance with immigration applications on humanitarian and compassionate (H&C) grounds, and legal support to advocates, transition house workers, settlement and community workers all over the province.
Our clients are women who would not otherwise be able to access legal services, including women who are economically disadvantaged, members of marginalized groups, and those seeking protection from family violence. Many of these women are further marginalized by lack of education, literacy challenges, or language barriers.
Due to drastic cuts to the provincial Legal Aid budget stretching back 19 years, Legal Aid coverage in BC remains restricted to the poorest women in the worst of circumstances. Even a woman facing extreme violence from her spouse will receive zero assistance if her income and assets exceed $26,520 – an amount lower than the earnings of someone working full-time at minimum wage.
Some Rise clients have been forced to consider selling their car or quitting a part-time job that was already bringing in very little money, so that they might qualify for a Legal Aid lawyer to help them fight for custody of their children. These women can easily find themselves sacrificing their own safety and abandoning their legal rights, simply because they cannot afford to claim them.
That’s where Rise comes in.
Established in May 2016, the first of Rise’s programs was a full-term Clinical Externship for up to six upper-year law students from UBC’s Peter A. Allard School of Law, who are carefully trained and closely supervised by Rise’s staff lawyers. They begin with an intense 3-week training period, after which they work fulltime at Rise for one semester, providing unbundled family law services.
Rise launched a Triage Program in 2018 to help us manage the huge demand for our services. We hired a full-time experienced Case Manager with a social work background to direct our intake process in a thorough yet sensitive manner, providing many direct services herself and triaging other files into Rise’s programs and/or appropriate outside providers.
We have developed a Virtual Legal Clinic that partners with volunteer lawyers and frontline organizations in smaller communities to provide direct legal services to women around the province using telephone and videoconferencing.
Last year, Rise added the Family Advocates Support Line, a dedicated telephone support line that provides family advocates and support workers with legal information and advice about family law – mostly involving divorce, separation agreements, child and spousal support, and relocation – so that frontline workers may provide better service to their clients.
Rise’s Incubator Program creates a pathway from our student clinical program to private practice. Students who complete Rise’s externship may apply for our full-time articling position, after which they become Rise’s new ‘incubator’ lawyer – we provide office space & resources, client referrals, insurance and practice fees, plus ongoing support from staff lawyers so that the new lawyer may build up their clientele and law practice for one full year, achieving professional independence while providing accessible & affordable family law services.
Rise is also engaged in special legal research projects to improve the delivery of legal services for women leaving abuse, both by creating materials to help lawyers develop their practices with the needs of women who are experiencing family violence in mind, and by investigating and recommending how court services in smaller communities might be more sensitive to the safety and security of marginalized users.
Without Rise, women in BC who can’t afford a private lawyer and who are not eligible for provincial Legal Aid are faced with the choice of trying to navigate the legal system by themselves, or to abandon their rights and entitlements -- and possibly those of their children -- altogether.
Rise is a registered charity and a private unaffiliated organization. We rely on grants and donations to keep us operational and assisting the women in BC who can’t get help anywhere else. Family law is the most significant unmet legal need in BC, but with the generous support of foundations, individual donors, and good corporate citizens who give back, Rise is helping to change that.