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UBC Reports | Vol. 48 | No. 10 | Aug. 1 , 2002

UBC Law Students Last Chance for Those in Need

Funding cuts threaten program.

By Helen Lewis

When Andrea Van Deijck's doctor gave her grave news, she turned to a group of UBC Law students for help, but cuts in provincial funding could leave others like her with no safe haven.

Van Deijck has Crohn's disease, a serious chronic inflammatory disease of the gastrointestinal tract, as well as arthritis and anemia. Her condition took a sudden turn for the worse during her PhD exams early this year.

"My doctor said, 'You should have a power of attorney and a will in place because if you don't start bouncing back fast, we'll have to hospitalize you'," she recalls. Bed-ridden and unable to work, she couldn't manage the trips or the fees to see a lawyer.

So she turned to the UBC Law Students' Legal Aid Program (LSLAP), an organization run by law student volunteers giving free legal advice and assistance to low income people and members of disadvantaged communities.

Under the supervision of a volunteer private practice lawyer, LSLAP volunteers offer legal advice and potential representation at 23 weekly clinics in the Lower Mainland.

They cover matters including small claims mediation and trials, BC Benefits, Employment Insurance and Workers' Compensation Board appeals, landlord/tenant disputes, employer/employee disputes, wills and estates, debtor/creditor issues and criminal summary conviction charges (where there is no previous conviction and little possibility of incarceration).

LSLAP executive president and third-year UBC law student Jamie Maclaren says students, single parents, and new immigrants form the bulk of their client base.

However, with recent provincial government cuts to LSS funding, $37,000 of LSLAP's funding is under threat. LSLAP already lost its popular family law program to legal aid cuts in 1997, and is overburdened by current demand. Cuts to other clinics and legal aid programs will further increase traffic to the already-stretched LSLAP.

"We have constant demand and our operator gets a call every minute. We take a huge load off the system in terms of accessing legal rights - people are exasperated by the system," Maclaren says. "We're not competing for our client base with anyone, and there's nothing to replace us. Without that funding, it looks pretty bleak.

"In terms of scale and comprehensive service, we're unique in what we do in the Lower Mainland," he says. "We're picking up people who fall between the cracks - who can't afford to pay for lawyers and aren't eligible for legal aid."

About 80-120 UBC law students are actively involved in LSLAP each year. In 2000-2001, they did 5,200 client interviews, opened 4,600 new files and saw 600 returning clients. They handle an average of 300 criminal trials a year.

While helping law students apply their skills under the supervision of experienced lawyers, LSLAP makes a difference in the lives of people like Andrea Van Deijck.

"I was in a crunch and LSLAP came through," Van Deijck says. "My situation was scary, and the expense was a major obstacle. When you're living on a shoestring, $300 is an awful lot of money. [LSLAP's] Carolyn Anderson went out of her way to meet me on campus or call me outside office hours. She was efficient and reassuring, and it was an incredible relief."


Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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