– Diana Tindall
Twenty-four UBC and UVIC law students completed externships at Rise Women’s Legal Centre in 2016 or 2017.
All 24 of these law students gained experience practising legal, community lawyer, ethics and practice management skills according to their supervisors’ evaluations. (Average ratings were highest for their ethics and community lawyer skills. Average ratings were lowest for their practice management skills.) While most students came into the Centre with relatively high levels of each skill set, each student applied or improved their skills and/or knowledge about substantive law and the practice of law according to their supervisors’ evaluations. Eighteen of these 24 students completed exit surveys. All 18 of these students also agreed their skills and/or knowledge about substantive law and the practice of law improved by this experience.
When asked about their best experiences at Rise, students mentioned:
- when they were able to help clients and their positive reactions,
- being co-involved in the decision-making on files not just processing others’ decisions,
- learning about working with clients and practice management,
- the legal experiences they had, and
- working with others passionate about the work.
When asked about their worst experiences at Rise or about what could be improved, students mentioned:
- the sheer volume of intakes and files and other caseload management challenges,
- the emotional demands of the work,
- some of the seminar/orientation/paper components, and
- examples of when they were not able to help clients.
Rise stakeholders were surveyed in June 2017 and July 2018. Twenty-three stakeholder surveys included comments on what has worked well with respect to the students working at Rise, relating to:
- the students themselves – that they are compassionate, committed, diligent, a pleasure to work with and enjoy what they are doing
- the information and support provided to students – the training, supervision, workshops, mentorships and research opportunities
- the practical skills and learning gained by students
These stakeholders also made suggestions for improvements including with respect to: the scheduling (in accordance with academic terms) which may impact cases and the number of cases/caseloads which may be overwhelming (in terms of quantity and quality) for students, student recruitment as well as more court opportunities.
Fifteen of the 18 students completing exit surveys agreed they were more likely to practice family law than when they started. They reported being encouraged to practice family law by their personal interests, the personal nature of the issues, their interest in being a solo practitioner, their interactions with clients and the potential for them to have a positive meaningful impact on someone’s life. They reported being discouraged to practice family law by a lack of articling opportunities, the intense emotional demands, their lack of interest in being a solo practitioner and the potential to have a big negative impact on someone’s life.
“I definitely want to do family law. I already wanted to do family law before this externship, however, this experience has firmly solidified my intentions to build my legal career in the field of family law exclusively. Ideally, I would love to work in a mid-size or larger firm where I could predominantly work on files where the parties have relatively equal bargaining power. I would focus my pro bono practice on family violence files.” – Law Student (2016)
“I think I’m just as likely or more likely to practice family law. I want to help address the problem of access to justice in family law, particularly for low income women. I eventually want to get some experience with ADR practices in family law, and I would love at some point to work as a family law mediator.” – Law Student (2016)
“This clinical experience confirmed my impression that family law is an interesting, challenging and complex area. I am more likely to practice family law than when I started.” – Law Student (2017)
All 18 students completing exit surveys agreed they were more likely to do pro bono work in the future. Several noted it continued or increased their previous interest in this work.
“Definitely. I have a much better understanding of the need for lawyers, especially family law lawyers, to offer pro bono services to women, particularly those who are low-income, experiencing family violence, or facing other challenges to learning about and enforcing their legal rights (for example, language or cultural barriers, etc.)” – Law Student (2016)
“I had already been volunteering with [an organization], so was familiar with the needs of clients in extreme poverty who were also facing other forms of oppression. Working at Rise made me appreciate that even people who are doing better than those clients still need help and support that is more affordable than the average lawyer. It made me recognize that the need for affordable or free legal services is very great. I think this experience has furthered my resolve to do pro-bono work if at a firm, or to have tiered fees if working on my own.” – Law Student (2016)
“…I also have a much better understanding of what ‘access to justice’ means on the ground and the impact that legal aid cuts have had. I already valued pro bono work before coming to the clinic but my experience absolutely solidified how important I think pro bono work is.” – Law Student (2017)