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These Vancouver lawyers are offering FREE legal advice over two days

The two 'advice-a-thon' days are meant to bridge the gap between expensive legal aid and low-income Vancouverites, with lawyers giving their time to offer free advice to locals.

 Vancouver lawyers Priyan Samarakoone (right) and Rajit Mittal are taking part in pair of free legal advice fairs coming to Vancouver on Sept. 6 and Sept. 13. Photo by Dan Toulgoet/Vancouver CourierVancouver lawyers Priyan Samarakoone (right) and Rajit Mittal are taking part in pair of free legal advice fairs coming to Vancouver on Sept. 6 and Sept. 13. Photo by Dan Toulgoet/Vancouver Courier

When looked at simply in terms of monetary value, the math makes little, if any, sense.

About 100 lawyers offering their work for free over a six-hour span represents a loss that likely stretches into the millions.

Making that money, however, is of no concern to the dozens of lawyers participating in a pair of free “advice-a-thons” scheduled for Sept. 6 and 13 in downtown Vancouver.

Organized by the Access Pro Bono Society of B.C., the fairs are meant to bridge the gap between expensive legal aid and low-income Vancouverites.

“Lawyers are expensive, absurdly expensive,” said Rajit Mittal, one of 96 lawyers participating in the fairs. “The common refrain is, ‘I couldn’t afford myself if I was in trouble.’”

The two fairs are scheduled from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Victory Square (Sept. 6) and the Vancouver Art Gallery (Sept. 13). Lawyers will rotate in hour-long shifts and are expected to see two to three clients in that span. All areas of law are fair game and some clients are pre-screened to give the lawyers some prep time before the face time starts. Walk-ups are also welcomed.

Priyan Samarakoone has taken part in nine previous fairs, though no two appointments are the same. Some interactions are more like a visit to a therapist, others entail simply directing people towards specific information.

A half hour isn’t enough time in some cases, and those people are referred to other forms of help — namely the Pro Bono society’s legal aid phone line.

“You get dumped on quite a bit, but you have to understand it’s not coming from a personal anger point of view,” Samarakoone said. “I get it, I understand it, I empathize and then I offer what I can do to alleviate it. Talking it out is usually cathartic for most people.”

Not surprisingly, housing tends to dominate most conversations and every manner of complication comes up: disputes with landlords and roommates, renovictions, repairs and displacement.

“There’s a lot of residential tenancy stuff, so much so that usually Access Pro Bono has an [residential tenancy branch] handbook laid out or multiple copies of it because lawyers have to call upon it quite a bit,” Mittal said. “Housing is a big one.”

Outside of providing advice to those who need it, the two fairs are also serving as a fundraiser for the Access Pro Bono society. The small non-profit employs nine people who provide legal services and advice across B.C.

Those interested in a pre-screening interview prior to either fair are asked to call 1-877-762-6664. More info is available online at advice-a-thon.ca.

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