Thompson Rivers University

Hands-on learning at Community Legal Clinic

  Posted on: August 18, 2016

TRU Law Community Legal Clinic summer clinical students.

TRU Law students (from left), Claire Armstrong, Eli Zbar and Kristen Strilchuk spent the summer serving clients at the TRU CLC.

TRU Law student Claire Armstrong has been spending her summer helping Kamloops seniors. Armstrong, along with five other law students, has been gaining practical experience as a student clinician working at the TRU Community Legal Clinic (CLC).

The clinic provides free legal services for low income populations in the Kamloops region and although not limited to the elderly, currently draws about half of its client base from within the Centre for Seniors Information (CSI) where it is located.

Since officially opening its doors April 1 (though serving clients since February), the students, who work part-time, have helped 110 people, and the service is a benefit to both sides—increasing access to justice for clients and providing the students an opportunity to put some of their legal knowledge and skills to practice while earning 3 credits for the clinical practice course.

“I feel so much more competent now—we get to work on files from start to finish and build a relationship with the client,” said Armstrong, a Vancouver native.

Ted Murray, the CLC’s supervising lawyer, says interviewing and client interaction is a primary learning outcome for the students’ clinical experience, along with conducting legal research, providing summary advice and drafting legal documents.

The majority of the files, Murray notes, are for wills/powers of attorney, tenancy issues and civil litigation.

With the help of a receptionist who screens clients and books appointments, the clinic is largely run by the students, with Murray available to oversee files and give the students direction when necessary.

In addition to the process of working on files, the experience has an even greater impact on the law students.

“This was a really eye-opening experience for me,” said Armstrong. “It raises awareness for students about elder and poverty law, in a way that is just not tangible in the classroom.”

Law student Eli Zbar

Law student Eli Zbar at the TRU Community Legal Clinic.

With the clinic only four months into operation and TRU Law keen on continuing to build its capacity, a few of the summer students have been focused on conducting community outreach, spreading the word about the CLC and canvassing local non-profits.

To accommodate the growing client base, Murray says, TRU Law is looking to eventually have the clinic staffed full-time and potentially add a second supervising lawyer (the clinic is currently only open three days per week).

To that end, behind the scenes, TRU Law continues to fundraise for the clinic, to be able to match generous funding from The Law Foundation of British Columbia that first allowed the clinic to open its doors. Murray hopes the clinic could one day serve up to 500 clients annually.

The CLC—the first of its kind in the BC Interior—is the culmination of TRU Law Associate Professor Dr. Ruby Dhand’s research into the development of a Clinical Legal Education Program. Dhand teaches Community Lawyering, which is the prerequisite for the clinical practice course, and oversees the TRU Legal Information Service.

The clinic is now closed until mid-September as the summer winds down, and a new batch of clinical students will be starting back up shortly after fall semester classes get underway.

As for Armstrong, she is excited to be entering her third and final year at TRU Law and looks forward to a new extra-curricular role that will allow her to carry on the spirit of helping people, as treasurer for the TRU Law chapter of Level, an organization that aims to increase access to justice for marginalized populations worldwide. Upon graduation she hopes to article at a small to medium-sized firm that focuses on civil litigation.

Watch: CFJC Midday Show, TRU Community Legal Clinic, October 24, 2016 – Ted Murray and Kristen Strilchuk.