Thompson Rivers University officially opened the doors to the first community legal clinic in the BC Interior.
Addressing the need for increased access to justice and legal services for low-income populations, the part-time clinic will also enable TRU Law students to earn credits and learn to apply practical legal skills.
Extensive research over the last four years led to the development of a clinical service for law students and the community that is currently located in the Centre for Senior’s Information (CSI). The Brocklehurst location offers a wide range of resources and programs for seniors and others.
The operation of the clinic is made possible by a grant from the Law Foundation of BC, and will enable the part-time clinic to operate for about a year. Plans for funding ongoing operations include applying for additional grant money from the Law Foundation of BC, as well as potentially exploring other funding sources.
Six students will staff the clinic in any given semester, interviewing clients and providing advice under the supervision of a lawyer, provided they have taken Community Lawyering, the prerequisite course.
“Community lawyering and poverty law—community outreach and working to increase access to justice —is my passion,” said Professor Ruby Dhand, TRU Faculty of Law who researched and developed the Clinical Legal Education Program. “The ability to develop the TRU Community Legal Clinic and teach Community Lawyering is one of the main reasons I chose to teach at TRU.
“The program enables students to use the law as a tool for social justice by working with community agencies and local non-profit organizations to increase access to justice.”
The service at the clinic is free and clients must meet financial eligibility requirements. The initial focus of the clinic is on residential tenancy and housing issues—issues arising from individuals living in condos, mobile homes, senior residences, assisted living homes, trailer parks or for those with questions regarding elder abuse.
“If clients meet the financial eligibility requirements, and their issue falls within an area of law the clinic is allowed to operate in and is not too complex, then we can review their file and offer summary advice,” said Ted Murray, the clinic’s supervising lawyer. The clinic cannot assist with certain legal matters such as family law, personal injury and corporate matters.
The clinic’s eligibility requirements preclude other lawyers and firms from losing business, as the cases taken by the legal clinic are not eligible for legal aid.
Murray notes the scope will ultimately be broader as the clinic develops, and hopes that within one year, the students will be appearing in front of various tribunals and courts—such as the Employment Standards Tribunal and the Provincial Court of British Columbia in small claims and minor criminal matters.
Since the doors opened in late February, twenty-three clients have already accessed services. Murray estimates the clinic will eventually be able to handle up to 500 referrals annually—from CSI and non-profit organizations such as the United Way or Elizabeth Fry Society—with students being able to provide significant advice and representation on as many as one-third of those cases after initial eligibility interviews.
The TRU Community Legal Clinic enhances the Clinical Legal Education program, which already includes the Legal Information Service (LIS) program operating at the TRU Faculty of Law and the Public Legal Information Project operating at CSI. The LIS programs offer legal information and resources while the clinic is mandated to provide legal advice.
For more information:
Ted Murray, Supervising Lawyer
Professor Dr. Ruby Dhand
TRU Faculty of Law