A Path to the Profession and to Effective Community Lawyering
When the Law Practice Program (LPP) was launched two years ago, many argued that training future lawyers in a simulated setting would not yield the same results as articling. These same critics also contended that the LLP’s four month placement was too short to learn the ropes of practicing law.
Despite these criticisms, I was one of the employers who accepted to take on a LPP candidate during the first year of the Pathways Pilot Project. As a clinic lawyer, training future lawyers is in my blood. Ontario’s legal clinics are widely regarded as leaders in experiential learning and, in general, clinic lawyers are deeply committed to training the next generation of lawyers.
However, for clinics located in Ontario’s North, like the Nipissing Community Legal Clinic there are sometimes unique barriers to bringing on students. Given that nearly all of the provinces law schools are located in what I consider to be Southern Ontario, internships during law school are unworkable, and students who have graduated from law schools in urban centres have a tendency to want to stay there. Moreover, Northern clinics often have fewer staff lawyers, making it sometimes difficult to provide the appropriate supervision to law students with little or no practical experience. Yet, it is for these very reasons that offering a placement to an LPP candidate turned out to be an ideal fit for our clinic.
We selected Stephanie Boomhour from the French Law Practice Program’s first cohort of candidates, referred to as the Programme de pratique du droit, (PPD) to join our team in January 2015. From her first day at the clinic, we were deeply impressed by Stephanie’s work. Of course, working in a clinic is not for the faint at heart. Given that a clinic lawyer’s case load is regularly well over 100 files, in addition to our public legal education, community develop and law reform initiatives, our expectations of Stephanie were very high. However, she met them all. Having successfully completed the PPD’s four month intensive training component beforehand, she was, for all intents and purposes, practice ready. For example, through her experience doing a mock hearing at the Landlord and Tenant Board, Stephanie learned how to gather evidence, develop a theory of a case, and prepare clients to testify before an administrative tribunal. But it was also the little things she had learned, like note taking, organise files, managing her time and tickle limitation periods, that made it particularly easy for her to transition into the workplace.
In addition to this, the fact that she hailed from North Bay was a huge asset. Stephanie had deep ties in our community and had already volunteered with many of our community partners. The PPD’s focus on social justice trained Stephanie to approach the practice of law through a community perspective, as clinic lawyers often do. For example, during the training component, she had learned about Legal Aid Ontario and the unique role of clinics in promoting access to justice for low income Ontarians. She had also been introduced to several community organisations, like the Elizabeth Fry Society and the Center for legal services for francophone women of Ontario, to whom she could refer clients in order to provide them with holistic legal services. The cherry on the sundae was that Stephanie was perfectly fluent in both French and English and was therefore able to represent our clients in both official languages. As Northern Ontario boast the highest proportion of Francophones in the province, Stephanie allowed our clinic to offer more legal services to a wider range of French and English speaking clients.
Unfortunately, we did not have the funding to offer Stephanie a position as a staff lawyer following the completion of her paid placement at the clinic. However, it was no surprise to me that shortly after being called to the bar, Stephanie was hired on as a staff lawyer at the Sudbury Legal Clinic Community Clinic where she will continue to provide outstanding legal services to low-income Ontarians from the North in French and English. I am incredibly proud to have been a part of her path to becoming a lawyer and a committed member of the community.
 Stuart Bailey is the Director of the Nipissing Community Legal Clinic located in North Bay. He has worked there for over XX years.