Queen’s University Faculty of Law has brought all five of its legal clinics together in the heart of downtown Kingston, Ont.
Law students, lawyers, and clients can easily travel between Queen’s legal aid, business law, elder law, family law, and prison law clinics in the LaSalle Mews building. The university is known for being the only one in the country to have a prison law clinic and the first open one catering to elder law.
Ainsley Hunter, a second-year Queen’s law student who is currently a caseworker at the family clinic, is very happy about the new facilities.
“We have this great workspace; Queen’s is really investing in their clinics. It makes it easier, facilitates the transfer for files for example, if legal aid ends up having family issues we are right in the same building so they can send them over.”
Hunter says it has been a positive experience and the added convenience of having five law clinics in one place has made learning much easier.
“We get to see how the law is applied in the real world, which is something that you really don’t get in a classroom, and we are really able to provide a valuable resource to the Kingston community.”
Christian Hurley, the director of the business law and elder law clinics, says the other added benefit is, “[i]t works because oftentimes the client will come to one of the clinics with a particular legal issue, however the particular issue and the legal help they require, it may encompass many different practices.”
The family law clinic was just added last year, and prior to that the business and elder law clinics were added to the already existing legal aid and prison ones. The addition of the new clinics is what got the ball rolling on bringing all the clinics together in Kingston’s downtown.
Queen’s law dean Bill Flanagan says while some students complain about the commute between the university and the clinics, the clients are benefitting from the location and the proximity of the clinics.
“There are about 90 students who are taking the clinics for course credit and another 80 or 90 who volunteer in the clinics, so a very large proportion of our students are involved in our clinical programs, so they all have a common workspace there.”
With an entering class of 200, you can find almost all of the students at one or more of the five clinics.
Hunter sees the benefit of the practical experience and doesn’t mind the commute.
“It is off campus, it is about a 20-25 minute walk, however Kingston has a bus system and we get to ride the bus for free with our student cards, so it ends up being not that far.”
Helping local residents while learning is the real reward for Queen`s University law students.
Kingston is a very popular place to retire so the city has a large senior population who can be vulnerable in a variety of ways, says Flanagan. Families often put a lot of pressure on seniors when it comes to their will and similar matters. Many of them also face financial problems.
“The elder law clinic is very much devoted to assisting seniors,” says Flanagan.
The family law clinic is particularly important in providing legal counsel to individuals in an area of law where people often end up representing themselves in court.
“The addition of the family law clinic is particularly important because that is really where [the lack of] access to justice is acutely felt,” says Flanagan. “There are many self-represented parties in family law matters. Having the assistance of students and counsel is of great help,” says Flanagan.
Karla McGrath, the clinic’s director emphasizes that many of these individuals generally don’t qualify for legal aid because their legal issue does not fit a certain criteria or they are just above the financial cut-off line.
“What often happens is a lot of self-representing litigants end up printing forms of off the Internet and trying to fill them in by hand and they do not understand the question, they try to get the assistance of duty council and as great as duty counsel is and tries to be they are oftentimes dealing with a number of people all at once, so they are more limited in the amount of time that they can give to somebody.
“The person goes away with a bit more information but they are still struggling with those documents,” says McGrath.
At the clinic, those litigants can work with students, under the supervision of a lawyer. In turn, the students get to learn about interview skills, different documents, which documents are required for which court, what type of information or approaches are required for different documents, how to do financial statements, and differences between sworn and unsworn documents.
The students “certainly seem to be enthusiastic about the opportunity, and they are excited . . . each of the time they do something that is a first,” says McGrath.