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Queen’s Law Clinics keep growing

Increasing number of experiential learning opportunities benefits both students in the Faculty of Law and the Kingston community.

The five Queen’s Law Clinics currently offer students in the Faculty of Law a total of 218 experiential learning opportunities each year. This growth means there are 46 per cent more credit, volunteering, summer, and articling opportunities than there were in 2014.

[Queen's Law Clinics]
The Queen's Family Law Clinic assists self-representing Family Court litigants by completing their documents, helping them negotiate the Family Court process and referring them to other family justice resources. (Photo by Greg Black)

The clinics provide legal services in business law, family law, elder law, poverty law and prison law. Student caseworkers and volunteers work under the supervision of the directors and review counsel to meet the needs of clients who would otherwise have difficulty affording legal advice.

Since 2015, the clinics have operated out of the same building in downtown Kingston and Karla McGrath has served as executive director since 2017.

“Like all good roommates, we do our own thing but we also find ways to share resources, realize efficiencies, and explore what each other has to offer,” says McGrath, who is also the director of the Family Law Clinic.

The biggest growth has been in the Queen’s Elder Law Clinic (QELC), the first clinic of its kind in Canada. The clinic, formed in 2010, had eight credit students in 2014; this fall, 16 student caseworkers mentored by three student leaders will help seniors in southeastern Ontario with a variety of issues related to aging, including files like elder discrimination, abuse and neglect, while also gaining skills which apply to other areas of the law, including planning wills and powers of attorney.

“The aging demographic is no secret. For the first time ever, Canada’s senior population is larger than the number of children in this country. So all services for seniors are in high demand,” explains Blair Hicks, director of the QELC. “Past student caseworkers have been diligent and creative in finding ways to alert the community to our service. Those efforts, and word-of-mouth from satisfied clients, have meant that the number of applicants continues to rise each year.”

Hicks says that the expansion of QELC will mean an even greater opportunity for Queen's Law students to have an impact in the community.

“With additional student caseworkers, QELC can now serve more low-income clients in a shorter time,” she says.

Hicks, a Kingston estate planning practitioner, began as a part-time review counsel before becoming the clinic’s director on a part-time basis in April 2017. As part of the clinic’s expansion, her position is now full-time. 

The Queen’s Family Law Clinic (QFLC) opened with eight caseworkers and in 2018-19 and Violet Levin (Law’20) will be one of 12 student caseworkers at the clinic. Since June 2016, QFLC students have helped 245 people to navigate the family justice system, including completing more than 750 court forms relating to divorce, support, custody, and access.

Levin believes that “the best way to learn is to actually apply yourself in the field and experience itself is not something you can learn out of a textbook.”

Hicks agrees.

“For the law school student body as a whole, every additional academic or summer position increases the number of students who will graduate with a clinical experience under their belt – something that is greatly valued by potential employers and students alike,” she says.

The Queen’s Business Law Clinic has continued to expand each year to the point where the number of student positions has more than doubled in four years. Clinic Director Morgan Jarvis (Law’10) cites student demand, that couldn’t have been met without generous alumni support, for the growth.

This fall, four second- and third-year students at the Queen’s Prison Law Clinic will pilot a new advanced clinical course. The prison law clinic is unique to Queen’s, enabling students to assist inmates in one of seven institutions in the Kingston area.

“This new course will provide an opportunity to develop advanced advocacy and litigation skills through intensive involvement in the test-case litigation practice carried on by the Queen’s Prison Law Clinic and by having carriage of more complex prison law files,” explains Kathy Ferreira (Law’01), the clinic director.

Queen’s Legal Aid, the longest-running clinic, continues to offer the most student positions: 100 in total. 

Queen’s Law Clinics can expand because of continuing support from Legal Aid Ontario, the Law Foundation of Ontario, Pro Bono Students Canada, the Class of Law’81 Clinical Programs Fund, the United Way, and alumni and industry sponsors.