Pursuing law in the public interest


Hanvelt, left, and Skeels

By Patty Pitts

Both Jonathan Hanvelt and Melinda Skeels entered law school determined to learn how to address social justice issues—and they didn’t have to wait until graduation to achieve their goals. While serving as student coordinators for the UVic chapter of Pro Bono Students Canada (PBSC), they matched dozens of student volunteers with supervising lawyers to provide law-related services to communities in need.

Hanvelt and Skeels were friends with Andrew Luey who founded UVic’s PBSC chapter three years ago and who recruited her fellow students to head the organization after she graduated.  

“I came to UVic L aw seeking tools for social change,” says Skeels. “Through PBSC-UVic, I was able not only develop those skills before I left law school, but to also put them to good use.”

Skeels assisted the BC Civil Liberties Association and the Native Courtworkers and Counselling Association of BC as a PBSC volunteer before taking over the lead from Luey last year. She’s particularly proud that over one third of UVic’s law students are PBSC volunteers , saying their commitment to public interest law is emblematic of “the UVic difference.”

A native of Bowen Island and a previous UVic grad in anthropology and writing, she ran a web development business with her husband before enrolling in law school.
 S he’ll continue her education in public interest law by splitting her articling with the faculty’s Environmental Law Centre and Ratcliff and Company, a Vancouver firm specializing in Aboriginal law.

Hanv elt graduated from UBC with BA in Canadian studies and an MA in sociology, but wanted something “a little more grounded; a place where the academic interest in social justice actually hits the pavement.” He found it with UVic Law and PBSC.

He’s spending his summer with the Victoria Aboriginal law firm of Devlin Gailus before heading to Vancouver in the fall to clerk at the BC Supreme Court.

“I had a really positive experience at the faculty of law and at UVic in general,” he says, finding the faculty and student body live up to their reputation for being collegial and supportive. “The faculty is really amazing. Their ‘open door policy’ is unfailingly maintained.”

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