The Rise Women’s Legal Centre opened in May, but it is already booked for appointments through to January.
“We’ve been full since the day we opened,” said Kim Hawkins, executive director at Rise, “so we know the need is there.”
Founded by West Coast LEAF and the University of British Columbia’s (UBC’s) Allard School of Law, the Rise Women’s Legal Centre provides legal assistance to BC women in the areas of family and child protection law. It aims to help women facing some of the most stressful legal situations that may threaten what matters most in their lives. These situations can involve divorce, child custody, family support, and abuse—issues that disproportionately affect women.
Kim explained that cuts to legal aid in BC over the past 15 years have hit family law and poverty law much harder than criminal law. Women with lower incomes are more likely to access legal aid for family law issues, so their access to justice has been hit even harder as a result of these cuts.
A 2014 study from West Coast LEAF notes that the Legal Services Society’s budget was cut by almost 40 percent in the three years following 2002, with sweeping consequences. The study states:
The number of family law litigants approved for legal aid decreased from over 15,500 in 2001 to fewer than 4,500 in 2012/13, while poverty law referrals for cases involving housing, welfare, or disability benefits dropped from 40,000 to zero.
The Rise Women’s Legal Centre is looking to make a difference by offering legal services for free or on a sliding scale to women with lower incomes. Kim, together with supervising lawyer Vandana Sood, works with five UBC law students to provide these services.
Kim hopes that more students will consider family law as a career option following their experience at the clinic—in addition to a lack of legal aid funding, there is also a great need in the community for family law lawyers.
The Rise Women’s Legal Centre is supported by its donors. Currently, the clinic is still applying for charitable status, but donations can be made through West Coast LEAF (specify Rise Women’s Legal Centre in the drop down menu).
Clio supports the centre with free access to its practice management system, which helps the staff that operate the centre keep track of the many clients and their individual matters or cases that the clinic handles—even as law students cycle in and out each semester.
Kim said she uses Clio’s Custom Fields to report on various statistics that the clinic needs to track as a non-profit. “That was kind of an important consideration—having the flexibility to be able to track the things that we as a non-profit needed to track as well as the things that we as a law firm needed to track,” she said.
With the centre welcoming around 100 new clients over the summer—and many more expected this fall—there’s plenty to keep track of.
In the future, Kim and Vandana hope to expand the scope of services at the clinic and to shorten the wait list. Kim hopes to add immigration and poverty law services, but those are just two of many ways that both women hope to improve access to justice.
“We really want to be a community clinic and we want to grow in the types of services we offer and how we offer services,” Vandana said. “We don’t just want to offer traditional legal services.”