AuthorHenry, LA

In Canada and throughout the commonwealth countries, access to justice depends upon free legal clinics to fill gaps. While provinces vary in the amount they invest in Legal Aid Services for lower income citizens, it is generally recognized that the majority of lower-middle-class people simply cannot afford to pay the retainer fee for a private lawyer. (1) Legal clinics provide, at bare minimum, summary advice to self-represented litigants, and in some cases full carriage of the file including representation in court. (2) In Canada, almost all university law faculties have legal clinics as part of their curriculum, or are partnered with independent legal clinics that offer students clinical experience. (3) This creates a win-win situation: students receive an invaluable opportunity to do hands-on work under the supervision of clinic lawyers, and clients who cannot afford to hire a lawyer receive legal support.

The University of New Brunswick Faculty of Law (UNB Law) is no exception. In partnership with the Fredericton Legal Advice Clinic (FLAC), volunteer UNB Law students have had the opportunity to do client intake interviews since FLAC's inception in 2009. Since January 2017, UNB Law has enhanced its experiential learning for law students by offering the Community Clinic Course (Law 5210) in its course selection.

COVID restrictions have impacted clinics and legal education across Canada. This paper will outline the "old normal"--pre-COVID practices for FLAC and the Community Clinic Course--and then discuss both innovation and ongoing gaps that have been a response to COVID restrictions. Finally, this paper looks forward to a "new normal" that is more responsive to both student learning and access to justice in New Brunswick.

The "Old Normal"--Pre-COVID

Fredericton Legal Advice Clinic (FLAC)

In 2008, NB Pro Bono Inc. was incorporated under the New Brunswick Companies Act, RSNB 1973, c C-13. Their purpose was "to promote access to justice in New Brunswick by creating and promoting opportunities for lawyers to provide pro bono legal services to persons who lack the means to hire a lawyer." Under the direction of four local lawyers, NB Pro Bono's first project was to re-create the Wilmot (United Church) Legal Advice Clinic. (4) As a response, the Fredericton Legal Advice Clinic (FLAC) was incorporated with the following mandate:

To establish a free, open and accessible venue to provide legal advice, advocacy and representation to the broadest range of people in Fredericton and outlying areas who would otherwise be unable to find or afford these services. Since its incorporation, FLAC has offered Fredericton Southside clinics twice a month at Wilmot United Church, a monthly Fredericton Northside clinic at the John Howard Society building, and a monthly clinic at St. Mary's First Nation.

FLAC clinics have provided valuable clinical experience to the volunteer UNB Law students that attend each week. Volunteers each year have exceeded the number of volunteer time-slots available each September. Some students have received articling positions in part because of the clinical experience they received through their volunteerism with FLAC. The FLAC Board of Directors has a place for a student representative who coordinates the student volunteer schedule.

Student volunteer training includes training in intake interviews, professional ethics, confidentiality, and conflicts. Because there is a fairly high representation of First Nations people in the client demographic, who in some instances have legal issues specific to their First Nations status, students receive indigenous cultural training by an elder from St. Mary's First Nation as well as a professional from the off-reserve urban indigenous community. Students also interact with a regular flow of newcomer clients, particularly refugees, who have unique challenges navigating the justice system. To this end, volunteer law students are given cultural training from the Fredericton Multicultural Association (MCAF). In addition, volunteer training includes sensitivity training around LGBTQIA2S+ issues by members of that community.

The existence of FLAC benefits three distinct groups: clients, students and lawyers:

i. Clients are helped to discern legal from non-legal issues.

ii. Clients are guided to the correct procedures if they are pursuing self-represented legal remedies.

iii. Clients are encouraged to hire lawyers when their issue cannot be adequately addressed through self-representation.

* They are given clear and comprehensive explanations that help them understand why professional advocacy would be best in their situation.

iv. Clients are pointed toward a network of other community services

* If their problems are of a non-legal nature.

* If they could benefit from community services on top of legal remedies.

v. UNB Law students have the opportunity to engage with real clients:

* Student volunteers perform the initial intake interview, giving them first contact with the client.

* Students develop skills in compassionate critical thinking.

* Students develop skills in discerning legal issues from other problems.

* Students learn to control and direct the conversation without disregarding the client's need to tell his or her story in detail.

* Students learn to interact with a wide cross-section of society, including people with special needs, mental health issues, language and literacy barriers.

* After the intake interview, the student must brief the lawyer on what he or she believe to be the legal issues.

a. Students must think on their feet.

b. Students learn to distill and articulate the legal issues from what may have been a long and convoluted client narrative.

* Students listen while the lawyer interviews the client.

a. Students get exposed to a variety of different lawyers who have different styles and approaches to client interviews and legal problem solving.

b. Students learn about a range of legal issues within real-life fact scenarios.

c. Students may be invited by the lawyer to offer input, which permits them to apply legal theories they have learned in the classroom

* Students debrief on-site with the lawyer afterwards.

a. All students benefit from hearing about the different legal issues that clients brought to that clinic session.

b. Students can engage in further discussion with the lawyer regarding other legal matters.

vi. Lawyers have opportunity to give back to the community, to learn from one another and to teach students through the de-briefing process.

FLAC students have often expressed that they particularly value the ability to practice providing legal information and distinguishing it from legal advice. Traditional classroom learning does not provide students with a chance to exercise this distinction. When working on hypotheticals, students are expected to demonstrate the application of the law to specific fact scenarios. In the real world, providing legal information means walking away from the temptation of giving the "best answer" to the facts of the client in front of you. Learning this skill early in law school is an invaluable way to develop habits that will be helpful even as a new lawyer, when one may be too eager to help a friend or family member with advice even though not retained, and potentially open oneself up to liability.

Community Clinic Course (Law 5210)

While invaluable, the volunteer student experience at FLAC is limited compared to what students can learn in a for-credit clinical context. In 2017, UNB sought to address the need for clinical education by developing the Community Clinic Course (Law 5210).

Clinical legal education creates a learning environment that is different from both academic law courses and from articling. While the articling position provides the student-at-law an experiential learning environment, it is not generally bolstered with the same type of learning processes that occur in a clinical course. Articling students exist primarily for the value their work brings to the firm and their principal, where, in a clinical setting, the law student's personal and professional development is the primary value. Being afforded the opportunity to work with real clients under a supervisor who prioritizes the student's learning experience is unique to the law school clinic environment.

Clinical legal education includes a classroom component which prepares the student to get the most out of their learning experience. Students are given exercises and assignments that assist them in developing reflection; students are also given cultural sensitivity training through guest speakers and exercises that help them learn to recognize their own bias and privilege. Students are required to use critical thinking skills to unpack experiences within their externship placements as observers and participants in the administration of justice. As such, they have opportunity to intentionally develop the type of professional identity that is going to be tailored to the style of lawyering they wish to emulate, in an environment where the real-world stakes are low. The reflective practice skills they learn through a clinical environment equip them to enter their articling positions with the ability to observe and analyze dynamics in the work environment. Intentional learning paves the way for a practice where new lawyers not only learn from their mistakes, but are equipped to unpack the emotions that come with mistakes.

The first term of the course focuses on classroom learning around professional identity, reflective practice, learning processes, access to justice, local community network services, and cultural sensitivity training by local community experts. (5) As with the volunteer FLAC students, guest speakers include members of the Fredericton Multicultural Association and members of St. Mary's First Nation. In addition, students in the course hear from an expert in trauma and violence informed approach from...

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