Law foundations and PLE

May 25, 2007

In the aggregate, law foundations are probably the largest funders of PLE organizations in Canada. Along with Justice Canada, the provincial law foundations are the primary entities funding to sole-purpose PLE organizations in Canada. In more than a few cases—especially in the west—law foundations are the source of 50% or more of a sole-purpose organization’s revenue.

And because Justice Canada’s core funding commitment for sole-purpose PLE ($70,000 a year to each provincially designated organization, in most cases) has not increased since the late 1980s, law foundations become a more important influence on Canadian PLE with each passing year.

Although PLE organizations benefit tremendously from the law foundations—nearly all of which have “legal education” of some kind explicitly in their legislative funding mandate—there are two glaring difficulties with PLE and law foundations:

  1. Law foundations’ revenue, coming primarily from interest on lawyers’ trust accounts, is tied extremely closely to interest rates and provincial economic conditions.
  2. Although law foundations talk to each other, as funders they are often islands and do not collaborate with Justice Canada or other funders on PLE issues.

Difficulty #1 has proved all too real a drawback for several PLE organizations, who have seen their core funding plummet in leaner economic years. Difficulty #2 has been a matter of concern in several PLE reports, including Marie Moliner’s 1997 Public Legal Education and Information (PLEI) Review for Justice Canada [311 KB PDF]. Moliner noted that contact between the law foundations and Justice Canada was “sporadic” and recommended that Justice Canada do something about that.

Has Canadian sole-purpose PLE come to rely too heavily on law foundations for core financial support? If so, is there any realistic alternative for organizations who want to adjust their funding picture? And even if the heavy reliance is inevitable, should PLEAC or PLE organizations individually push law foundations to interact more with Justice Canada and other major PLE funders?

And one bonus question: do law foundations need to clarify—for themselves, if no one else—exactly what “legal education” means in their mandates?

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