Canadian Student Clinics Take the International Stage

Over 225 persons from 18 countries attended the annual conference of the Association for Canadian Clinical Legal Education (ACCLE) held in conjunction with the conference of the International Journal for Clinical Legal Education (IJCLE) at the University of Toronto from July 10-12, 2016. This was the first time that IJCLE had held its conference in North America, and the first time ACCLE had an international aspect to its conference.

Papers and presentations came from all over the globe – Australia, South Africa, Mexico, Thailand, Kenya, and the usual suspects in Canada, the UK, and the US. The program was broad, and the topics were outstanding.

Many topics had an access to justice flavour, such as “Legal Essex: Mapping Unmet Legal Needs” and “Street Law in the North of Russia.”

International aspects of clinical legal education were dealt with in a session from Qatar on “Redefining the Concept of a Legal Clinic in the UN Principles and Guidelines on Access to Justice to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems.”

South African clinicians did a study on the impact of clinical legal education on the learning and careers of law students, a topic that I would like to see researched in Canada.

That allows me to segue into a small rant. I look at the research done in the US, UK, and Australia on clinical legal education, and it strikes me how comparatively little has been done in Canada. Part of the reason is due to the fact that Canadian clinicians are not members of faculty, and spend their full time operating their clinics. There is no time to do research.

A couple of Canadian law schools have clinical academic directors who are able to do research, and have done an outstanding job. However, much more needs to be done. This is an opportunity for faculty members with an interest in legal education, experiential learning, and access to justice.

I took two lawyers from my clinic at Western Law with me, along with three students. In debriefing with them afterwards, I heard the following:

  • Ontario (and most other Canadian) law students generally have a much higher level of responsibility representing clients than other parts of the world;
  • Our students receive a higher level of supervision from clinic lawyers to ensure clients receive excellent quality of representation.

These observations make me proud of our Ontario system of student clinics and it shows how the hard work of my fellow clinicians and our law students have succeeded.

What I found to be most satisfying about the conference was the opportunity to speak to fellow clinicians around the world and find that we had so much in common.

Congratulations are in order to Lisa Cirillo, Executive Director for Downtown Legal Services, and Cheryl Milne, Director of the Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights, who connected with IJCLE and organized the conference.

IJCLE’s 2017 conference will be in Newcastle-on-Tyne, England. ACCLE’s plans will be announced in the near future.

Post Script

The Federation of Law Societies is holding its annual conference in New Brunswick in October. The Federation has partnered with Canadian law schools to organize a programme that will look at legal education from the perspective of both law societies and law schools and will address how law schools and law societies can collaborate to better prepare future lawyers.

I think this is a positive development. Law schools and law societies need to come together to look at our current legal education system. With rapid changes occurring in the practice of law, the two sides cannot remain in their respective siloes. It’s time to come together to find common ground to create a better profession.


  1. Thanks for this discussion. I believe strongly in the value of a properly developed and well-supervised clinical legal education.

    My clinical experience at UBC in the 1994-95 academic year (I was one of six students in the first year of the resurrected Aboriginal Law Clinic, held in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside) provided invaluable experience. Our Aboriginal principal/supervising lawyer shared wisdom as well as legal, ethical, tactical, and cultural training.

    The clinic was the best thing that ever happened to me in my legal education. And it well prepared me for many aspects of the path(s) I followed subsequently.