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Grande Prairie Legal Guidance 2nd Annual Legal Advice Blitz

By Tanya Ruigrok

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On January 21, 2017, 9 volunteer lawyers provided a total of 35 hours of free legal advice to Grande Prairie’s low to moderate income population at our 2nd Legal Advice Blitz.   

The blitz was born with one lawyer, Derek Van Tassell of Stringam LLP, volunteering to come in for an entire day to help clean up a backlog of clients that had accumulated.  The GPLG coordinator sent out a request to the other lawyers to come and give him a hand and was delighted to see responses from 5 lawyers immediately volunteering to help out.  We quickly gave it a name – “The Legal Advice Blitz” (thanks to Nathan Fry of Hayes & Fry) and decided to open the day up to the community.  It went very well with 30 clients booked and seen in a 5 hour period.  The feedback from the lawyers and the clients was extremely positive so the decision was made to make it an annual event.

The 2nd Legal Advice Blitz was advertised on a larger scale as it was opened up to more areas of law then the first.  When we sent out a request to the volunteers asking them to come in the response was even bigger than before.  Within a day we had 9 volunteers that wanted to participate, within a week there was 12.  “Unfortunately, we only had 9 offices to accommodate volunteers and had to decline a few offers.  “I hated saying no thank you –  having lawyers available and ready to give advice and to have to turn them away due to lack of space was painful” says Tanya Ruigrok, Program Coordinator.

 The legal problems presented were landlord and tenant, family (separation & divorce, parenting, child & spousal support), employment & small claims issues.  GPLG coordinators did an intake on each client; gathering the pertinent details of the case and sending those details to the lawyers to review before the appointments so they have a good idea of what they needed to prepare to advise the client comprehensively.  “Our job is to listen to people’s stories, pull out the relevant facts and match those facts up to be advised by the appropriate lawyer.” – Tanya Ruigrok, Program Coordinator.

The day started out with a pizza lunch for the volunteers and then we hit the ground running with appointments booked back to back in 30 and 45 minute increments.  48 clients were booked to receive legal advice and 45 attended their appointments. Although our initial target was to book 55 clients in for the day, after evaluating some of the cases that were booked we quickly realized that some clients would require additional time with their lawyer.  “We wanted to see as many people as we possibly could for the blitz, but we also want to make sure that each person registered had a sufficient amount of time to discuss their problem with their assigned volunteer.” – Tanya Ruigrok, Program Coordinator.


Front to back Derek Van Tassell at Stringam LLP, Joe Canavan at Dobko & Wheaton, Jocelyn Innes at Lewis & Chrenek, Chad Sawatzky at Taylor & Company and Erik Compton at KMSC Law LLP Missing: Cameron Smith at KMSC Law LLP, Julia Rees at Dobko & Wheaton, Denis Sawyer at Stringam LLP and Nathan Fry from Hayes & Fry.

Front to back Derek Van Tassell at Stringam LLP, Joe Canavan at Dobko & Wheaton, Jocelyn Innes at Lewis & Chrenek, Chad Sawatzky at Taylor & Company and Erik Compton at KMSC Law LLP Missing: Cameron Smith at KMSC Law LLP, Julia Rees at Dobko & Wheaton, Denis Sawyer at Stringam LLP and Nathan Fry from Hayes & Fry.

Grande Prairie Legal Guidance focuses on obtaining advice for people who are of low to moderate income.  GPLG’s guidelines are a little more flexible than Legal Aid’s, but the target population is persons who cannot afford to pay to speak with a lawyer, and who have been rejected from legal aid – either due to their financial guidelines or because their issue is not an area of law covered.  The services are delivered via legal clinics and information sessions staffed by volunteer lawyers.  27 volunteer lawyers from Dobko & Wheaton, KMSC Law LLP, Stringam LLP, Hayes & Fry, Banks Criminal Law, Lewis & Chrenek, Gurevitch & Burnham volunteer their time on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis to provide free legal advice to persons who fit within Grande Prairie Legal Guidance’s income guidelines. 

 “There were many complex issues that came in for our 2nd Blitz – clients had multiple problems and each one of those had to be addressed – in a couple of cases by multiple lawyers.  I really feel like our volunteers did a fantastic job of setting people on the right paths and giving the clients some peace of mind.” – Tanya Ruigrok, GPLG Coordinator. 

These claims can be backed up by statistics – “We have our clients fill out surveys before they leave and only 3 people out of 45 felt that they were still unsure of what to do about their legal problem, the rest either agreed or strongly agreed that they felt they understood the advice provided to them and knew what to do next.”

The volunteers for the 2nd Legal Advice Blitz were Julia Rees & Joe Canavan from Dobko & Wheaton, Cam Smith & Erik Compton from KMSC Law LLP, Derek Van Tassell & Denis Sawyer from Stringam LLP, Nathan Fry from Hayes & Fry, Jocelyn Innes from Lewis & Chrenek, and Chad Sawatzky from Taylor & Company.  The lawyers enjoy participating in the Legal Advice Blitz.  Nathan Fry from Hayes and Fry had the following thoughts on the day “I like participating in the Legal Blitz because it feels like my efforts and time are going to people with few options who very much need and appreciate the help and advice.”    Another volunteer remarked that “the best part of pro bono law is helping.  The thank you at the end is the best form of payment”.  Jocelyn Innes from Lewis & Chrenek stated “I really enjoyed the experience, I found it really rewarding.  There were a lot of individuals with complicated questions and I really hope we were able to provide them wit

h some guidance to move forward.”   Chad Sawatzky of Taylor and Company commented “I found that it was an excellent opportunity to give back to the community.  All of the people that I met with were gracious and appreciative of the time that we spent with them.”

Clients who attended the blitz left comments for the lawyers as well.   “Thank god you guys are here, I seriously would have been screwed without this advice”.  Another client said “It was super good.  I’ve never been in any kind of legal trouble before or needed any kind of legal advice and it was really, really, really helpful.  In my position, I never would have been able to able to afford this kind of advice.”

“We have an amazing group of volunteers at Grande Prairie Legal Guidance. They come in on their lunch hours, on weekends, during weeknights and are on call to give advice over the phone– they’re always willing and ready to jump in and help.  Some of our lawyers have been volunteering since the clinic’s inception in 2008, we also have many more who have been coming here for over 5 years.  Their dedication to the program says volumes about how there is pride taken in the work done here and how they enjoy helping out the community.” Tanya Ruigrok.

You can learn more about Grande Prairie Legal Guidance at www.gplg.ca or by calling (780)883-0036.

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