REAL Initiative celebrates a birthday.
By Michael Litchfield
In March of 2010, the Rural Education and Access to Lawyers (REAL) Initiative celebrated a successful year of linking students and lawyers in small communities and rural areas in British Columbia.
In March of 2009, the British Columbia Branch of the Canadian Bar Association, equipped with three years of funding from the Law Foundation of British Columbia, set out to establish a coordinated set of programs to address the current and projected shortage of lawyers practising in small communities and rural areas of the province. This coordinated set of programs, dubbed the Rural Education and Access to Lawyers Initiative or REAL Initiative for short, set out immediately to execute a work plan focused on ensuring that all regions of British Columbia continued to enjoy access to legal services at a time when large numbers of senior lawyers in the province are approaching retirement age. One year after its inception, it is apparent that the REAL Initiative has begun to have a significant impact.
The work for which the REAL Initiative is best known is the summer student program. This program provides funding and support for law firms and practitioners in small communities and rural areas throughout the province to facilitate the hiring of a second-year summer student. In 2009, the REAL Initiative was instrumental in placing students in 12 locations throughout the province, including communities on the Island, the Coast, the North, the Okanagan and the Kootenay regions.
Positive reports from the students who participated in the 2009 summer student program abound. When asked to describe his summer experience, Sean van der Lee, a student from the University of Alberta who was posted in Cranbrook described his time as follows:
“My summer was marked with a variety of legal work and also plenty of time to go mountain biking with my fellow lawyers and fly-fishing when the water was right. The summer placement has helped focus my law school experience and has clarified my ideas of what both a career and a meaningful life can be.”
Recruitment for the 2010 summer student program began in the fall of 2009 and this year that REAL Initiative has created 21 positions throughout British Columbia that are now fully staffed and underway.
In addition to the summer student program, in its first year, the REAL Initiative has garnered considerable coverage in the media and trade publications and has used this opportunity to raise the profile of the current and projected practice issues facing lawyers in small communities. The REAL Initiative has been featured in
The Lawyers Weekly and Canadian Lawyer Magazine on five separate occasions and the CBABC Regional Legal Careers Officer Michael Litchfield has appeared on local and regional radio programs discussing regional practice issues.
Most exciting for those involved with the REAL Initiative however, has been the opportunity to witness and to play a role in the beginnings of a culture shift over the past twelve months in regards to attitudes toward rural practice. This shift is evident in planned new rural-focused initiatives in other provinces, increased interest from media outlets regarding the challenges of rural practitioners and a changing of attitudes in students at the university level.
The success of the REAL Initiative to date would not have been possible without the support and assistance from all of the organizations and individuals involved and it is with this support that the REAL Initiative can look forward to two more years of making an impact for lawyers and communities across British Columbia.
Michael Litchfield, CBABC Regional Legal Careers Officer, Rural Education and Access to Lawyers. Email:
This article was published in the August 2010 issue of BarTalk. © 2010 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.