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Are Legal Clinics the Answer? Part 2

In part one of this article series I posed the question of whether clinical legal education can provide the solution to two difficulties facing the legal profession in Canada today. These two issues include a call from the legal profession for students that are better prepared in their academic training to take on the rigours of practice and a call from the community at large for the cost effective delivery of legal services. In part one I maintained that clinical legal education could play a valuable role in preparing students for practice by providing upper level students the opportunity to apply the theoretical knowledge that they have acquired through law school in a properly supervised real world environment. In part two I contend first that there is a significant unmet demand for legal services in Canada and second that this demand could in part be filled by legal clinics operating from law schools across the country.

Unmet Demand for Legal Services

That there is a significant unmet demand for legal services in Canada is a proposition that I believe few would effectively be able to argue against. Indeed, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada has recognized one aspect of this demand in numerous recent speeches where she has referenced the access to justice “crisis” in the country, brought about by in part, she asserts, by a legal system that is too costly and too complicated for most Canadians. Numerous recent reports also document this crisis not only in regards to justice concerns, but in regards to a wide array of legal services in general. These reports include the Federal Department of Justice report on Legal Service Provision in Northern Canada, The Canadian Bar Association paper entitled “Moving Forward on Legal Aid” and the Law Society of Upper Canada’s Report of the Ontario Civil Legal Needs Project.

The Role of Legal Clinics

Having briefly highlighted the recognition of an unmet demand for legal services in Canada, I contend that an expansion of clinical legal education in the country could present one partial solution to this issue. Students who are taking part in a clinical legal program have the time and resources available to handle a wide range of client issues. Additionally, while certain subject matter may restrict students to assisting local clients, there are many services that can be provided from a distance to clients residing in more rural or remote areas. One example of this type of service is the Business Law Clinic at the University of Victoria, which serves clients from all around the province of British Columbia by utilizing technology such as Skype and e-mail.

There can be no doubt that we are facing a challenge in regards to meeting the unmet demand for cost effective legal services in Canada. Official recognition of this issue has come from the judiciary and legal organizations from across the country. As organizations such as the Law Society of BC explore ways that properly supervised law students and paralegals can be utilized to address this issue, I strongly encourage those involved with Law Schools across the country to expand their clinical programs to both provide a well rounded education to students and to work to fill the existing unmet demand for legal services.

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