Legal community salutes UAlberta Law course that assists low income individuals

Course marks a decade of training students how to provide access to justice

Denis Ram - 04 October 2019

A unique law school course offered by the University of Alberta Faculty of Law, in partnership with Edmonton Community Legal Centre and Legal Aid Alberta, celebrated its 10-year anniversary on October 3, as part of Access to Justice Week..

The Low Income Individuals and the Law course not only gives law students hands-on practice helping low-income individuals gain access to justice, it also connects their experience to issues of policy and law reform, through group meetings and seminars.

"That aspect of the course sets it apart from courses offered by other law schools," said UAlberta Law Professor Catherine Bell, who created the course with Katherine Weaver, then-vice-president of policy and research with Legal Aid Alberta, and Debbie Klein, executive director of the Edmonton Community Legal Centre (ECLC).

"Katherine and I run the course in collaboration with ECLC and Legal Aid Alberta. but as part of the practicum component of the course, students work under the supervision of lawyers," she said. "It's truly a collaborative effort. We couldn't do it without all the volunteers from the legal community."

There are four key components of the course which is offered to upper-year law students: preclinical training, group meetings, clinical work and seminars.

"Like student dental clinics which provide relief to physical suffering, this alleviates suffering of another kind, said David Percy, Dean of the Faculty.

Students learn information necessary for a critical understanding of the social, economic, and cultural context of law and legal service delivery, said Bell. Many past students continue to work or volunteer in areas of service to low income people after being inspired by the course.

So far, more than 150 UAlberta Law students have completed the course.

Profesor Bell also announced that next fall will mark her last year teaching and co-ordinating the course. Dr. Anna Lund will be assuming her role when Bell retires in 2021.

The celebrations were held at the ECLC offices in Telus House and included members of the legal profession, members of the public, and students and professors from UAlberta.

Access to Justice Week engages law schools, legal professionals and members of the public in providing information and learning more about access to justice issues in Canada. Its events and activities highlight the importance of justice, the barriers to accessing it, and the ways everyone can work together to break down those barriers.