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Estates & Wills & Trusts

Pro bono helps lawyers stay focused on what matters

It is easy for private practice lawyers to get caught up in the business of law — but providing pro bono access to legal services is a great way to regain perspective, Toronto trusts and estates lawyer Mary Wahbi says in an article highlighting this year’s Flip Your Wig for Justice fundraiser.

Wahbi, partner with Fogler Rubinoff LLP, participated in this year’s event — a campaign in support of five Ontario non-profit, access to justice-serving organizations — the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO), METRAC – Action on Violence, Ontario Justice Education Network (OJEN) and Pro Bono Students Canada (PBSC).

Participants collected pledges from friends and colleagues, and in return, wore a wacky wig all day on Feb.25.

In an insert in a recent issue of Canadian Lawyer to promote the fundraiser, Wahbi explains that she fell into law for altruistic reasons. Although she found her private practice work challenging, Wahbi says it was not deeply fulfilling, and she needed more.

More than two decades ago, Wahbi brought her high-net-worth estate planning expertise to the 519 Clinic, run by Osgoode Hall Law School for HIV-positive people of low income.

“Often these clients were disowned by their families because of their sexual orientation,” Wahbi says in the article. “Intestacy law would have seen what little they owned go to those family members, instead of to their actual life partner.”

Now, Wahbi is the lead law partner and one of the supervising lawyers of The Wills Project, run by Pro Bono Students Canada in Toronto. The program brings volunteer students from Osgoode and the University of Toronto law schools together with law firm partners, who provide students with legal training and supervision in order to offer estate planning services to clients who can’t otherwise afford it. The initial training portion of the program is provided exclusively by Wahbi and Basman Smith LLP.

Wahbi says in the article that she enjoys both "helping clients who really need it and can’t afford a lawyer and working with and training the law students.

"The project encourages young lawyers to go into what I think is a really important area of the law," she adds.

Wahbi also works with Wellspring, drafting wills for low-income terminally ill cancer patients.

“As private practice lawyers, we can often get caught up in the business of law and lose sight of what we’re meant to be doing,” she says.

“This keeps me a bit more grounded. True, these clients may not have a lot of money. But they all have the desire to organize their affairs and make their final wishes known to their loved ones. They need access to legal services to help them do that,” Wahbi says in the article.

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