Law students learn, fill vital need at same time

Outreach programs operated by Law students serve community organizations and fellow ubc students

by Don Wells staff writer
long before the terms "community service" and "experiential learning" became buzz phrases at UBC, Law students were taking to the streets in droves, thanks to the faculty's long-held commitment to clinical education programs. Volunteerism through clinical education has been a hallmark of the faculty since the early '70s. The Criminal Clinic, founded in 1974, is an academic program that lets students assist in the defense or prosecution of clients charged with summary offenses who can't afford lawyers and don't qualify for legal aid.

Alternatively, Law students can participate in the Legal Clinic program, providing clients with a wide range of legal services ranging from landlord-tenant disputes to criminal defense work.

In 1996 the program was replaced by the First Nations Legal Clinic. Working out of a Downtown Eastside office provided by the Legal Service Society of BC, six students per term work alongside practicing lawyers and receive credit towards degrees in the First Nations Law Program. It's difficult to say how many students have honed their skills while lending a hand to those in need, but the demand is overwhelming. "The point is to teach skills, but the wonderful offshoot is that the students get to provide a much-needed public service," says Nancy Wiggs, an administrator who oversees the Criminal Clinic. "We could quadruple the size of these programs and still not be able to meet the need."

In addition to the clinical programs, the faculty also supports two other initiatives designed to combine experiential learning with community service.

The Law Students Legal Advice Program (lslap) is administered by an independent organization of students with additional support provided by the provincially funded Community Legal Assistance Society.

By far the largest outreach program, lslap involves approximately 150 first- and second-year students working out of community centres throughout the Lower Mainland. Although not part of an academic program, students who volunteer for a third year may receive credit.

In addition to serving the needs of individuals in the community, Law students can also volunteer to serve community organizations through the Pro Bono Program. Now in its third year, the Pro Bono Program is administered by two paid students who link organizations with volunteers to provide research services and other types of legal support work.

Law students also lend their time and skills to a number of campus and community organizations. The Student Legal Fund Society, for example, is an AMSsociety that uses law students to research potentially precedent-setting cases of significance to UBCstudents, and assist practicing lawyers to prepare cases.