Public Interest Law Clinic at the University of Calgary.

Author:Laing, Christine

The forces shaping the access to justice crisis are deeply connected to the forces shaping the future of legal practice and legal education. Marginalized people are chronically deprived of access to legal services. The expanding role of the administrative state has created opportunities for public engagement that have increased the need for individuals and organizations to access timely and affordable legal advice. For its part, the legal profession is grappling with technological and social changes that are challenging traditional practice models and the role those models play in perpetuating unmet needs. Leading law schools, in turn, are starting to adopt innovative educational models to better equip the next generation of lawyers to address these demands.

The Public Interest Law Clinic sits at the junction of those forces. It began as a University of Calgary Faculty of Law experiment to provide students with credit for hands-on file experience in environmental matters. The focus was narrow and files were only worked on through the fall and winter semesters. Thanks to a $1-million gift from the Peacock Family Foundation, that experiment became the Public Interest Law Clinic which is able to take a much broader range of files and operate year round.

Today, the clinic works on impact litigation files (strategic litigation intended to impact conditions for many people in similar situations) including judicial review applications and human rights claims. The clinic also assists clients seeking legislative reform to understand the legal framework and their options for pursuing reform. The clinic's course instructors are practicing lawyers who carry the clinic's files on a pro bono basis. Each year, a new group of law students joins the clinic to address public interest issues through a combination of theoretical course work and direct file work. Students encounter access to justice issues as they research, write, and advocate to advance cases for real clients.

The clinic has two main purposes:

* to provide access to justice; and

* to provide a practical education experience.

Access to Justice

From the clinic's perspective, the concept of access to justice can be divided into two broad projects: 1) closing the gap between people and the law; and 2) closing the gap between the law and justice. The first project involves addressing the way lawyers and courts operate to allow people to access the law. To an extent, the Public Interest Law Clinic...

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