Fifty years. That’s how much
time has passed since a group
of University of Alberta Faculty
of Law students began operating a
clinic for free legal information called
Student Legal Services of Edmonton.
non-profit society has gone through
significant change since 1969 (a school
bus painted in psychedelic colours
was one of its first official office
spaces), however its core goal has
Though student volunteers are
not yet lawyers, they are able to
provide important legal information
(not legal advice), to the low-income
community of Edmonton that doesn’t
qualify for legal aid, as well as to all
UAlberta undergraduate students
with a valid OneCard.
Legal Aid Alberta offers assistance
to Albertans facing legal issues, but
eligibility is dependent on whether
service is offered for a particular legal
problem and on finances. The latter is
determined by the client’s net income
for the last 30 days, last 12 months,
their family size and assets.
SLS volunteers accompany clients to
court, and gain skills and experiences
that stick with them long after their
time at UAlberta Law is complete —
assets that can prove valuable to
“The first thing I ask in interviewing
any articling student is, ‘Did you work
for SLS?’ ” said Dave Mercer, QC, ‘80
LLB, who was chair of the society
from 1979-1980 and is now one of
four partners at Nickerson Roberts
Holinski & Mercer.
He said involvement with SLS
demonstrates an ability to make a
commitment, and taught him crucial
skills such as advocacy and how to
prepare for court.
“A large part of SLS when I was
chair was assisting the less fortunate
in society who otherwise wouldn’t qualify
for legal aid,” he said. “There was a
huge commitment from law students
to Student Legal Services.”
That steady commitment by students
(more than 250 volunteer each year),
together with the increasing need of
Edmonton residents, has SLS located in
two offices — its primary space at East
Campus House, half a block east
of the Law Centre, and downtown
on 106 Street.
There are currently four “projects”
or areas of law in which assistance can
be offered — civil, criminal, family, and
legal education and reform. Volunteers
can also become involved with Pro Bono
Student Canada, which conducts legal
research for non-profit organizations.
In 2018, for the civil and family law
projects alone, volunteers provided free
legal information to 1,772 individuals
via the phone or in person. Walk-ins are
welcome at SLS.
The opportunity to provide free
legal information is a staple of many
graduates’ law school experience, and
a highlight that simply goes unmatched.
Andy Sims, QC,’74 LLB, volunteered
for all three years of law school, and
was a dedicated member of the SLS
He said its mandate fit in very well
with social attitudes of the early 1970s.
“We were unabashedly student
radicals, and were committed to
using law for broad social purposes,”
Eighteen months after he graduated,
the SLS steering committee hired
Sims as a full-time supervising lawyer.
He later became chair of the Alberta
Labour Relations Board from 1985-1994.
He has managed a labour arbitration
and mediation practice for the
past 25 years, and more recently
conducted three labour reviews for the
government of Alberta.
Though Sims has had his fair share
of professional accomplishments
since his time at SLS, he values the
experience and people he met during his time there. “There’s still a strong
bond among us,” he said.
Ron Hopp, QC, knows about the
strong bonds SLS builds. The beloved
UAlberta Law professor emeritus was
a supervising civil law advisor from
1976-2015, having been a part of the
graduating class of 1971.
His contributions and commitment to
helping students and clients in need is
recognized by volunteers new and old.
He recalled one client in particular
who demonstrated the impact SLS can
have on those it helps.
After Hopp and his students assisted
her with a civil matter, she presented
them with two gifts: cans of dog food,
part of what she had been using to
“These are the people” he said,
“that we set out to attract and build
trust in (us).”
It was on the recommendation of his
late wife, Anne Hopp (an administrator
for the Faculty), that he became involved
with the society in the first place.
The couple’s unwavering support
for SLS didn’t go unnoticed. The Ronald
and Anne Hopp Bursary is named in
“The best part of my life is the
opportunity to teach, and the people
I’ve met,” said Hopp.“You can’t beat SLS
for what it does for the public and for
the students who so willingly provide
Sarah McFadyen, ‘20 JD, is the
2018-19 executive co-ordinator for
SLS, working as a liaison between the
management committee and the board
of directors. She, too, recognizes the
importance of SLS to the community.
In her position, she functions as
a liaison between the management
committee and board of directors.
“It’s one of those things that if we
don’t do it, who's going to?” she said
about the services she and other
McFadyen, who still volunteers with
the civil and family project, works at
SLS five to seven days a week, for
three to five hours per day.
"I really enjoy working on family
files. It's a great feeling when you help
someone get the child support they're
owed or more parenting time with their
children," she said.
"The individuals I've helped have
always been so grateful that SLS is
here for them because there's no way
they could've afforded a lawyer for
their situation or felt comfortable
doing it themselves."
Moreover, the experience she’s
gaining by working on such cases has
helped her decide her future career
likely lies in family and civil law.
“When I first came to law school, I
didn’t know what I liked and didn’t like.
Volunteering with SLS made me figure
out what I like,” she said, adding that
she hopes to go into family and civil law
Though each person involved with
SLS is as unique as the clients who
need their help, there seems to be
one common takeaway: time spent
volunteering is time never forgotten.