New student legal aid clinic opening in Thunder Bay

New student legal aid clinic opening in Thunder Bay
Lakehead law school
Lakehead Legal Services is the first legal aid clinic to open its doors at the law school in Thunder Bay, Ont.

Lakehead University’s Bora Laskin Faculty of Law is just two years old and adding a clinic seems like a natural progression, says Kimberley Gagan, the director of Lakehead Legal Services.

This small law school only has 58 students in the 2L stream who have been waiting for the clinic to open since day one.

“They are very excited and enthusiastic and they are looking forward, I think to the opportunity, for the chance to get their hands on real life files and come to court and represent real people,” says Gagan

Second-year law student Ryan Green, who has a summer job at the clinic is grateful to start getting hands on experience as early as mid-May.

“I just wanted to go to school here, I could think of no better place in the world to study,” says Green.

For the students, it’s both “experience and money in the summer,” says Gagan.

Four students were selected to work full-time in the law clinic as soon as it opens. Two first-year and two second-year law students were chosen out of approximately 25 applicants.

“I was certainly interested in applying because for me it was kind of following through on the whole purpose of why I went to law school. Even when I applied I had that clinic kind of in my mind, I had been waiting for it to open, so a lot of us were excited,” says Green.

Although not all the students will get hands-on experience in the summer. Starting in September, clinical work will be implemented as part of the law school curriculum.

The new program will be available for the full school year to second-year law students and for half a year to third-year law students. Third-years will be out on placement programs for a full semester as part of a mandatory final-year curriculum.

At first, the clinic, located in the same building as the law school, will mainly deal with re-offences, individuals facing some jail time, and will eventually branch out to deal with tribunal human rights, tenancy, and residency laws. Low-income residents of Thunder Bay will now have more opportunities for legal representation.

“Thunder Bay does have a large First Nations population that I believe definitely will benefit from legal services that are provided without cost,” says Green.

There is another clinic in the community but there are some serious gaps to fill according to Gagan.

“They provide service around evictions, but they don’t have the manpower to provide assistance around tenant rights,” says Gagan.

While issues around criminal law and more serious offences will be the initial focus of the clinic, help with tenancy laws is certainly its projected direction, due to the dire need in the community.

However, the services offered at the law clinic will depend on the type of expertise of the review council to be hired in the next few weeks, notes Gagan.

“There is a need in the community it is also the mandate from our funder, which is Legal Aid Ontario,” says Gagan.

There is a lot of excitement in the community and students are willing to work very hard to make the clinic a real success.

“As students I think we are all prepared to work much longer hours; for the past two years I know I have been putting in very long days,” says Green.

The opportunity to give back isn’t made available to everyone.

“When I started contemplating ‘should I go to law school?’ you know it is a privilege to go in the first place so how can I make sure I pay that back, how I contribute locally that has always been a focus of mine,” says Green.

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