This month’s spotlight is on Michael Blatchford and Martha Rans, the co-chairs of our upcoming Charities and Not-for-Profit Law Conference on October 27, 2016.
How and why did you get involved with CLEBC?
I’ve been providing public legal education directly to nonprofits for over 20 years, and had attended the Charities and Not-for-Profit Law Conference since 2003. I thought I could make a meaningful contribution to the conversation, so I agreed to co-chair the conference in 2014 when I was asked by CLEBC.
What inspired you practise not-for-profit law?
I started in the nonprofit sector 30 years ago on the frontlines as a community development worker working with immigrants, refugees, and adult learners. There, I directly saw the gaps in legal knowledge and the lack of legal resources available to the sector. I went to law school with the express intent of becoming a lawyer who provided services in this sector. After 10 years of practice in government as an employment, labour and human rights lawyer/mediator, I started my own practice in 2003 to focus directly on working with nonprofits and charities.
What are the rewards and challenges of your practice?
In addition to my practice, I founded the Pacific Legal Education and Outreach Society (PLEO) which makes available legal information, education, and advice to the nonprofit sector as well as artists and arts organizations (artistslegaloutreach.ca). It’s challenging to keep that project going, do public legal education sessions about the new Societies Act, run a small practice with clients, and raise my daughter all at the same time. However, my work is very rewarding. I get to meet nonprofit groups that otherwise wouldn’t have access to legal advice, and they tell me that they’ve really benefitted from the education they receive.
Why do you think it is important for nonprofits and charities to have access to legal advice?
This is an access to justice issue. Nonprofits and charities touch every citizen of the province, but are asked to do a great deal with very little, and sometimes end up in court when they need not have. I firmly believe we can prevent legal problems by making as much information, education and advice as accessible as possible.
What advice would you give to newcomers interested in the not-for-profit law area?
I would say: Be open. Be accessible. Be humble. Listen to what the sector tells you because our advice as lawyers ought to reflect the needs of those we serve. Also, get involved with PLEO’s Law for Nonprofits initiative at lawfornonprofits.ca!
What do you hope for this year’s Charities and Not-for-Profit Law Conference to accomplish?
I hope for the conference to keep the conversation going. I look forward to the deputy registrar speaking on what the new system at the registry will look like and I hope there will be a good number of nonprofit attendees, because they really enrich the conversation.
Other than law, what are you passionate about?
Politics, swimming, and the arts. The arts are an important part of why I do what I do.
How and why did you get involved with CLEBC?
CLEBC has been a go-to resource for my own professional development since I began as a lawyer. But my first real involvement was in 2014 when I co-chaired the Charities and Not-for-Profit Law Conference. That was when I realized how much work and effort go into the offerings that I have benefitted from. I’ve developed some specialized knowledge due to my unique practice area, so I’m happy to share that with my colleagues. I think it’s really important that the legal profession continually strives to be better and educate itself, and CLEBC plays a leading role in that regard.
What has been your most memorable CLEBC experience?
Giving a live CLE-TV webinar on the new Societies Act earlier this year was great fun. The CLEBC boardroom was transformed into a studio and we had bright lights in our eyes and multiple cameras rolling. Someone even called out “Action”. I felt like ever so slightly like a TV news anchor. I hope they got my good side!
What’s the most valuable piece of advice you have received?
There are tough times and stress in life (and in legal practice) that try and overwhelm us. The best advice I ever received speaks to both – Be Resilient! Few of today’s crises will matter at all in a month. Just keep working at taking it one problem at a time.
What advice would you give newcomers interested in working in the legal profession?
The practice of law is so varied and interesting. My advice is to seek to do the kind of work that keeps you engaged and enthusiastic, and to be resilient while you’re still looking for what that may be.
What has been the most rewarding part of your career?
I’m blessed to spend my practice helping organizations that exist to better our communities and serve a public good. Helping them achieve their world a better place is a daily inspiration.
ther than law, what are you passionate about?
Family, community, and good governance (in that order!).
Anything you’d like to shamelessly promote? (favourite charity, social cause, etc.)
All of my clients are doing something laudable and are worthy causes for the public to support. The Potluck Café Society is particularly close to because I am privileged to serve on its board of directors. This organization is an innovative charity that also operates as a sustainable social enterprise; it does amazing things to support and lift up vulnerable people in Vancouver’s downtown eastside communities with healthy food and employment training. I encourage everyone to check it out at potluckcatering.org