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Hegdis

Dear Clinic Students...

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One of my first posts on here was inquiring about the training you guys receive. I remember that I was motivated to ask because I had just watched a student behave poorly in court. Times have not changed very much.

 

Here is what I have concluded, five or six years since that post. I have concluded that three things are either happening or failing to happen here. (Feel free to correct me if you disagree.)

 

I think there are students who have a natural ability and confidence that works well in court. And I think there are excellent profs/supervisors who really go over each file and explain to you what the step by step process is. And finally I think there are students who prepare the living hell out of every file they get because they are terrified that they are going to screw up.

 

And as long as you have at least one of those going for you then you are probably okay. I see these students. They are fine. Some of them are even pretty good at advocacy in the real world and will have no difficulty getting articles based in the reputation they build at the local courthouse.

 

But it is clear that some don't have any of those three things. It is clear that some think it is okay, for example, to enter the professional arena and complain that exams prevent them from writing a two page diversion letter. It is clear that some think it is acceptable to just stare blank faced at Crown when they ask if the client is entering a plea or setting a trial date today. It is clear that some are totally oblivious to how inappropriate it is to force a judge to walk them through the rudimentary aspects of court process while on the record in a busy courtroom, all because they couldn't be bothered to show up twenty minutes early and sit and watch and learn how it's done between experienced counsel.

 

I wanted to start a thread so students in clinical programs can explain what they find good and bad about the experience, what they want to know, and what they would recommend future students learn or do (- maybe it will help the next poor sap who doesn't understand why the Court won't let her adjourn her matter for another month when it's already six months old and the Jordan deadline is in play!).

 

Comments from others always welcome too.

 

(No talking about actual files please. No hypothetical client scenarios. Just process and tips and recommendations and constructive, non identifying anecdotes.)

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Not to hijack this thread intended for students but I want to emphasize this:  I did some clinical work in law school - not too much but I had two crim files that I had to appear to court for - best advice for students: as Hedgis suggested, PLEASE take some time and sit in the body of the court and watch experienced (and inexperienced) counsel do their thang.  

 

You will learn as much from experienced lawyers as you will from inexperienced lawyers (if only to make a mental note not to be that guy when the lawyer gets a tongue lashing from the bench).

 

As a newly called lawyer, I often sit in on motions, conferences and trials (when they are available) when I am at court waiting for other matters.  Definitely worth your time.

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Having worked in a clinic, and in firm, and in sole practice settings, this is my advice for newbies (which pretty much still includes me by the way... but I mean for super new newbies):

 

Go sit in on anything and everything a few times. Don't know what's happening in Courtroom C? Go sit in the gallery for 20 minutes. Don't know how the stupid video bail pilot that causes mayhem at Brampton works? Go check out 206 while the sitting's good the next time 103 is down for the morning break (and don't worry, even the Crowns and regulars didn't have a clue about how it was supposed to work). Don't know what the hell that girl who asks "what your letter is" at the Ottawa Courthouse is talking about? It's OK, she's just trying to intimidate you asking which firm you're with so she knows when it's her turn to address the court. Don't know what the morning break is? Well... I can't help you with that one if you can't figure out. Point is, go and see all this stuff beforehand if you can. And if you get thrown into the deep end by your boss, don't panic. When in doubt, hold that sucker down. You start out learning by watching, and you end up learning by doing.

 

I still do this in my own practice when I'm prepping for somewhere new, or even just going to a courthouse I'm not familiar with. 

Edited by ericontario

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By far, the thing I wished I knew better when I was in law school is just how accessible the courts are. Had I known that, and been more proactive in learning what I really needed to learn, I'd probably have never left. I know this is another species of "if I knew then what I know now" and it never really works that way. I mean, if I knew in high school what I know now, I'd probably have gotten all the girls too (okay, more of them, at least) because girls seemed so complicated back then and the pretty ones especially, and who knew you just had to walk up and talk to them like human beings?

 

Anyway, point is, hanging around in court is by far the best advice possible and inevitably most students won't follow it. When I finally starting doing stuff, I was far more in the category of "get by on confidence and natural ability" rather than exhaustively prepared or properly supervised. It's amazing what you can bluff your way through so long as you are careful not to stumble into anything you can't undo, and you know when to ask your stupid questions in the hallway rather than in front of the court. But there are a variety of ways to get it done.

 

It's funny now, to think of this, but when it came time to find articles I still didn't know how to land decent articles in criminal defence, and because it's such a small and personal group of lawyers (even in Toronto) it's hard to break into. Now, I could give any student a pretty much guaranteed path to follow to break in. And aside from telling them what to do, it wouldn't rely on my help or advocacy at all. It's exactly a case of "if I knew then..." Well, it worked out for me, and it will for generations of confused students to come. So I guess that's just how the world goes round.

 

Man though, those high school girls. Who knew?

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Yeah, back when I first started appearing in court in law school I was petrified, and convinced everyone was far too busy.  Now I know that everyone is super helpful - if you think to ask ahead of time!  Show up for court 15 minutes early.  As the Crown or defence about what you're going to do to make sure you have the process right.  I can pretty much guarantee they'll be happy to help as long as you're patient.

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I think it is probably best to separate what is meant by a clinical program in Vancouver - there are the "clinics", which are for credit, and then LSLAP, which may now be for a very small amount of credit in some cases but is generally not. My impression from those who have done both is that there is a night and day difference between the two, with the former providing you with time to prepare as a function of your reduced course load, as well as more hands-on supervision. Most of the people I knew from law school quit LSLAP because they didn't believe they had the opportunity to succeed with the way that program was structured at the time - entirely extracurricular with very low amounts of supervision.

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I think it is probably best to separate what is meant by a clinical program in Vancouver - there are the "clinics", which are for credit, and then LSLAP, which may now be for a very small amount of credit in some cases but is generally not. My impression from those who have done both is that there is a night and day difference between the two, with the former providing you with time to prepare as a function of your reduced course load, as well as more hands-on supervision. Most of the people I knew from law school quit LSLAP because they didn't believe they had the opportunity to succeed with the way that program was structured at the time - entirely extracurricular with very low amounts of supervision.

This explains a lot.

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This explains a lot.

 

I did LSLAP on a part-time basis during the summer. They have many resources to rely upon. I recall a hair-pulling moment when I didn't know if my client would show and I didn't know what to do. As students, your appearance on behalf of a client is restricted (at least it was then). Advising lawyer could not be reached. I was given a defence lawyer's number and left a VM explaining the predicament. I went to the court lawyer in charge of handling these kinds of matters and was essentially told to talk the client into showing (which I had already tried ...). Anyways the client showed and it all just worked out. Volunteering as a student definitely has some unique challenges that aren't clearly surmountable with preparation.

 

All that said, there are many resources to assist you before something goes wrong, as things are going wrong, and even after things have gone wrong.

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Just because I wanted to see what the hell you were talking about:

 

http://www.lslap.bc.ca/background.html

 

So, over 200 students working at over 20 locations, governed on a day-to-day basis by a six-member student executive board, and all of this work is overseen by exactly two staff lawyers.

 

What the fuck could possibly go wrong?

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Just because I wanted to see what the hell you were talking about:

 

http://www.lslap.bc.ca/background.html

 

So, over 200 students working at over 20 locations, governed on a day-to-day basis by a six-member student executive board, and all of this work is overseen by exactly two staff lawyers.

 

What the fuck could possibly go wrong?

 

To see the training would be to give you hives.

 

I will also note, per Another Hutz, that I have also been informed that there is a wildly different experience for those who work there over the summer. Instead of a one hour session covering off 1) everything about the program, and 2) everything other than criminal law that you may deal with, there's substantive training on what you should or shouldn't do in, for instance, an intake interview.

Edited by benjuryon

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When I did LSLAP in first year there was virtually no training - I remember being handed a few pages of do's and don'ts and that's about it.

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Some observations from overseeing students during their Family Law Program and through being the "mentor" in an access to justice course...

 

1) Read the tip sheet if the lawyer writes one. Or make sure you attend the training/info session. Seriously. I was beyond annoyed that students flat out admitted to "glancing it over". I get that you're busy, but the reason we have students is so that it didn't take me 2-3 hours to redo a file.

2) Remember, these are real files that affect real people. No, don't devote 20 hours per week to this (unless you're getting course credit) but be flexible. Some weeks may require you to work a bit more than those scheduled 3. No, travel time to the court house isn't factored in. Remember, the lawyer owes a duty to the client. I will expect high level work for my client.

3) Edit your work before sending it to the lawyer. Some basic typos are fine (forgetting "the") in this situation. You're typing with a client present and they're chatty. I get it. Don't tell me that you're "done" and pack up your laptop, then get surprised when I sent the application back to you for major revision when you're referring to "litigants" in a family pleadings.

4) You can't give legal advice. Check back in with the lawyer if new facts/legal questions arise. Don't drop this bombshell off 5 minutes after you're supposed to leave then shrug when I ask when you're coming back.

Communicate your needs. "Artsydork, just checking in. This client is quite difficult and fairly chatty. Mind if I ask them to go get a coffee?" or "Artsy, it took 2.5 hours to do the Application. Is this an urgent matter, or can we pick up next week if that's ok with the client?"

5) Be humble and non-judgmental. The clients can be tough to deal with. You're already in a strange position being students. Some clients are upset that they're not getting the lawyer to do the work. Others are just very frustrated about the whole process and want to vent endlessly. Learning to cut through some of the client drama is very effective. Keep judgmental comments to yourself. Vent afterwards where a client can't hear if need be but remember, clients are likely experiencing different realities than you are, and are often in vulnerable positions.

6) Supervisors aren't being vindictive/mean. We genuinely want you to succeed. Please ask questions, especially if you're not sure why I'm recommending a certain course of action. Or even ask me about the state of the law! Lawyers have so many opinions!

7) Feedback is important. Schedule a meeting if I'm too busy to properly sit down with you. Mind you, don't shy away if I offer.

 

I was genuinely very impressed with some of the students in the program. Some first years were very receptive. One in particular seemed a bit taken aback at the amount of corrections I made. They (politely) asked me to go over with them. I spent some time going through all of the corrections since they were actually interested. Very minor corrections the following week. Student listened, acknowledged and learned. It was amazing. A few 3rd years were articling ready. Absolute pleasure to work with.

 

One 3rd year student had a mild meltdown and flipped their shit at me. Don't do that. Talk to me. It's hard juggling law school, applications and ECs.  I owe a duty to my clients and you do too. I won't submit negligent work. Again, my name is attached.

 

tldr: Do some research. The files are real with real people and real people problems. Talk to your advisor/supervisor. Take feedback well and apply it. Don't be afraid to make a suggestion, especially if you're the one working directly with the client and the lawyer is more of a manager.

Edited by artsydork
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Also: it is not a viable plan to endlessly adjourn in the hopes that some one else will deal with it. You will look stupid and you will be stopped. Figure out a plan.

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I worked in the clinic in 2nd year and the best advice I can give is to get to court early, make friends with the staff, and talk to the lawyers. At least in London, I found that the lawyers & articling students in set-date court were always very friendly and approachable, and were more than happy to help out law students from the clinic who were completely clueless. It's a small bar in London and a lot of the lawyers appearing there went to Western Law, had worked at the clinic in the past, and are generally happy to pay it forward.  

Edited by beyondsection17

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Can confirm that there is hardly any training given to 1L LSLAP volunteers. It is a basically an exercise in flying by the seat of your pants. I sought out the advice of senior clinicians for my first couple of routine appearances in Provincial Court so I had a basic idea of what to do when my matter was called, however some of my peers are... well, clueless. 

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As a 0L hoping to volunteer for LSLAP next year, this is terrifying.

 

At the risk of hijacking the thread, can anyone who did it before comment on what we should be doing, where the resources are (if they exist), etc?

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I think the big takeaway is to actively seek out help and guidance. Do not expect or wait for anyone to come to you.

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One of the supervising lawyers told me when I started "LSLAP is only as good as the effort you put into it" - you have to be proactive.  I know a few friends who did really meaningful work and I know quite a bit who simply quit after the first semester.  The staff lawyers are really good though, they are always available to give advice and guidance. 

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One of the supervising lawyers told me when I started "LSLAP is only as good as the effort you put into it" - you have to be proactive.  I know a few friends who did really meaningful work and I know quite a bit who simply quit after the first semester.  The staff lawyers are really good though, they are always available to give advice and guidance. 

 

Yeah, here's my fucking problem though. And you'll excuse my tone, because this isn't directed at anyone here but rather the spirit of the whole thing.

 

A student clinic does not exist for the sake of the students who volunteer there - especially a clinic that is helping the poorest and most vulnerable possible clients. A reasonably sophisticated client might benefit from free volunteer student labour (I'm thinking of Pro Bono Students Canada, and the work they do for not-for-profit corporations) but in the end, if the student sucks or doesn't do a particularly good job, the client still has a sense of where to get real help or can access some other recourse. Based on what I see of LSLAP, the student is all they've got. The student may be the only access they have to professional legal advice at all. And if the student fucks the dog, the dog stays fucked. And then the dog dies. And nobody gives a shit and the shitty fucking work that the student did never even comes to light because no one cares enough to provide proper oversight.

 

If there is a qualified lawyer who knows that LSLAP is only as good as the effort that each student puts into it, and must also know that there are many students in the program who don't put in proper effort, then that lawyer is fucking negligent to even agree to supervise under those conditions. I'm sorry. Using the "n-word" in connection to any lawyer's work is a big accusation. I use it intentionally. Maybe there are things I don't know right now. I'll stay open to the possibility there might be controls and back stops I'm not aware of. But if this is it it's simply not good enough. And I don't give a holy hell if students are getting good, bad, or indifferent experiences through this clinic. No one has a professional obligation to ensure that students have a positive learning experience. I care if clients aren't being served properly, after being promised that they would be.

 

No one - NO ONE - give me any line about how this is better than nothing. I'll reach down your throat and tear out the first organ I get a good grip on if you say that. No one would ever tolerate the proposition that we would send unprepared med students to provide substandard health care to vulnerable communities, and if a few patients die along the way that's still better than nothing. We're a civilized fucking society and what we do, as a profession, matters. We touch, fix, and sometimes destroy real lives. This permission we give ourselves, as a profession, to be satisfied with "it's the best we can do under the circumstances" just isn't acceptable. If the best we can do is the legal equivalent of making our poorest and most vulnerable clients live with literally incompetent professional help, then pretending that's acceptable is not the answer. The answer is to leave them all unrepresented and let the fucking system burn until a better option is made available.

 

I'm judging a program I don't know a lot about, from the other end of the country. Maybe there's a lot I don't know. But based on what I do know, this horse deserves to be taken out back and shot.

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No one - NO ONE - give me any line about how this is better than nothing. I'll reach down your throat and tear out the first organ I get a good grip on if you say that. No one would ever tolerate the proposition that we would send unprepared med students to provide substandard health care to vulnerable communities, and if a few patients die along the way that's still better than nothing. We're a civilized fucking society and what we do, as a profession, matters. We touch, fix, and sometimes destroy real lives. This permission we give ourselves, as a profession, to be satisfied with "it's the best we can do under the circumstances" just isn't acceptable. If the best we can do is the legal equivalent of making our poorest and most vulnerable clients live with literally incompetent professional help, then pretending that's acceptable is not the answer. The answer is to leave them all unrepresented and let the fucking system burn until a better option is made available.

 

Say I'm a practicing lawyer. I could represent one or two clients on my own, assuming they can afford it. Or I can supervise 10 students through this program. Six students help their clients. Two of them help immensely. Of the other four, two do dick all, and two actually harm their clients.

 

Is that negligent? 

 

We do send new doctors to remote communities, and I'm sure people die who would be saved by experienced doctors. 

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