When the TRU Community Legal Clinic opened its doors in February of 2016, there were three students and one supervising lawyer to provide services, mostly around landlord-tenant disputes.
Today, between eight and 12 students work out of the clinic. They are supervised by three lawyers, two full-time and one part-time, and they are accompanied by a social worker and practicum students from TRU’s social work program.
Along with an increase in students and staff, the clinic has expanded its services. Odette Dempsey-Caputo, one of the clinic’s supervising lawyers, said the number of cases continues to grow. In fact, the clinic just celebrated reaching the 1,000-file mark.
“We had a 41 percent increase in files from the winter semester (of 2018),” she said.
Most of those files represent clients in Kamloops or the immediate area. And most of them still represent residential tenancy issues, which can be particularly difficult for clients as the vacancy rate is less than one percent.
“It is huge. We do full representation. We go right to the hearings,” Dempsey-Caputo said, noting the clinic doesn’t replace or do the work provided by legal aid, but instead fills gaps in services.
Often clinic cases involve landlords violating tenants’ rights by not making repairs, not removing mold or keeping deposits by making false damage claims.
The clinic also does some simple wills, representation agreements and powers of attorney. Desk-ordered divorces are also becoming a common service; these are cases where two people got married, separated and there are no outstanding issues with property division or support issues.
There is a financial threshold for eligibility for clients to use the clinic services.
Dempsey-Caputo said the clinic is expanding its services. Clients can now get help filling out financial statements for family matters that are required by the courts. Satellite clinics begin this summer in Ashcroft, Merritt, Salmon Arm and Barriere, opening the doors to more clients and more experience for TRU Law students.