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Elder Law Clinic expands experiential learning opportunities

​Blair Hicks has always had a high-flying career and she’s now guiding some Queen’s Law students along their own paths to making a difference. As the new director of the Queen’s Elder Law Clinic (QELC), she supervises student caseworkers as they gain valuable practical experience while providing much-needed services to vulnerable Kingston-area residents. 

In this Q&A, first published by Queen’s Law Reports, she talks about the growing demand for legal assistance in her area of practice and her future plans for the Queen’s Law clinic. 

Q: What interests you most about elder law and in providing legal services to senior citizens?

[Blair Hicks, Director, Queen's Elder Law Clinic]
Blair Hicks is the director of the Queen's Elder Law Clinic. (Photo by Val Mitchell)

Blair Hicks: I particularly like the idea of helping seniors be more in control of events as the years unfold for them. I find that most clients are so relieved and empowered once they have put their wishes and instructions down into something formal; it’s very rewarding work.

Q: What attracted you to the Queen’s Elder Law Clinic?

BH: I first came to QELC in May of last year, as review counsel covering for the then-director who was on leave. It felt like a great fit right from the start. I spent a good portion of my former career (many years as an air force navigator) in a training and education role – I loved it (and missed it)! I was drawn to the opportunity to combine estate planning, elder issues (which are the areas I focus on in my own practice) and working with students all at once. It’s a fantastic opportunity.

Q: What will you be doing in your role as director?

BH: As the director, I will be overseeing the clinic and its academic program under the leadership of the Executive Director Karla McGrath. The program accepts eight student caseworkers over the school year, and we employ one caseworker through the summer months to provide year-round continuity. Specifically, I will wear a number of hats: instructor, mentor, review counsel, program manager, cheerleader, coach, and chief cook ‘n’ bottle-washer. Ahoy! 

Q: What are your plans for the clinic as the QELC director?

BH: QELC has grown each year, and in the last 12 months in particular there’s been a big leap in client applications, which now come in regularly, even during the traditionally quiet summer months. I hope that QELC will follow the pace of Queen’s Business Law Clinic and Queen’s Family Law Clinic, and continue to see steady growth so that we can eventually provide this experience to more than eight students; demand for the program from the students has always been greater than the number of available positions.

Last academic term, QELC established a trial community partnerships program with the Northumberland Community Legal Clinic (NCLC) in Cobourg, and our caseworkers reached out twice per month over the year to serve clients already established there. It was a great success, and this summer QELC has duplicated that arrangement with the Kingston Community Legal Clinic (KCLC) just down the street from us. These partnerships are win-win: the students have more and more diverse file work, are introduced to the workings of the community clinics, and the service addresses a real need in these communities. As well, we now have an in-house partnership with the Queen’s Prison Law Clinic to assist incarcerated seniors with issues such as powers of attorney. 

Lastly, in the months ahead, we hope to continue to target and educate more of the local community groups or organizations that would help us have a greater presence in Kingston, and generate an ongoing flow of clients. QELC students and staff have recently presented to Kingston Community Health Centre, local church groups, and financial and tax service providers that serve low-income seniors; the response to our service is always overwhelmingly positive.

Visit the Queen's Elder Law Clinic website for more information.