When Will Law Schools Confront the SRL Reality?NSRLP
NSRLP is proud of our initiative to expose law students to the human face of the SRL crisis, and to bring them some much-needed data on the extent of and the reason for the SRL phenomenon.
Especially so given that law school classes continue to bury/ suppress/ hide/ neglect/ ignore this information.
Here is the Good News
SRL Awareness Day (formerly Bring an SRL to Law School Day) went off well at Windsor, Osgoode and Western last week. Ottawa U and Queens are planning future events.
Feedback from the students and SRLs who participated has been uniformly positive. Elizabeth Roberts is an SRL who attended Osgoode’s event:
“The prof, whose lecture I attended on family law, opened up the floor to a discussion which turned into a brainstorming session of problem-solving some of the challenges myself and another SRL shared from our experiences. I really appreciated and respected the prof allowing her limited lecture time to be shared in this way. It was engaging, it shifted the energy in the room, and the students really got into the discussion. This demonstrated a much needed example of working together, rather than in opposition with, the future movers and shakers of change within the legal profession.”
I am grateful to my colleagues Bruce Elman and Cindy Nantais for welcoming SRLs into their classes (and for the additional invites from my Property Law colleagues).
There was lots of student enthusiasm for a heavily oversubscribed extra-curricular A2J & SRLs Certificate Workshop at Windsor (which will be held shortly at Ottawa U), offered the evening before for law students from all years. At the end of the workshop, students suggested that this workshop be run again, that there should be more workshops on related themes such as providing legal services to the the primarily self-represented, and that students could perhaps offer local SRLs legal research workshops, or help them with court forms, after their own training.
But Here is the Bad News
Barbara Captijn also attended the Osgoode event.
“I was grateful to be invited. …(B)ut if I’m not mistaken, (there were) very few professors at the panel event. I feel we can talk all we want to each other about the A2J problems, we know what the problems are, but where are the “fixers”? From very senior levels of the legal profession throughout Canada everyone talks about the urgent need to improve access to justice, but where’s the beef?”
Similarly, there was just one faculty member – my colleague Noel Semple, who was presenting – and one sessional instructor – Georgette Makhoul who teaches the SRL Coaching class – at the panel discussion for SRL Awareness Day at Windsor.
When NSRLP held a seminar for faculty last semester about how to integrate facts and research about SRLs into their classes, just one faculty member showed up (as presenters, Dayna and I outnumbered the participants).
Faculty engagement (or lack of it) in learning about the SRL crisis sends a message to students.
I admit to enormous frustration with my own law school, Canada’s flagship A2J law school, whose research and clinics have been a beacon for progressive legal causes in the last 25 years.
At Windsor Law I work alongside amazing legal scholars who work on A2J in relation to indigenous rights, immigration and refugee policy, environmental and resource development, international development, human rights, police profiling, racial justice and much more. I am proud that the strength of our faculty in these areas means that our students are exposed to these ideas.
But there is a threshold issue here that I struggle to get my colleagues to recognize.
Unless you can afford expert legal assistance, none of this really works. It’s just “in theory”. The threshold issue for A2J is the vast inequality that exists as a result of the unaffordability of legal services.
No amount of progressive rights in any of these areas is meaningful unless we can first accept that the majority of people can no longer afford lawyers – and that other forms of assistance are severely restricted by the monopoly privilege of the profession (look at the reaction of the Family Bar in in Ontario to the proposal that paralegals might assist family litigants).
Run the numbers – more legal aid (even if it were available, which it is not) is not going to solve this. Only changes in the way that legal services are offered – which is what we are supposed to be preparing students for at law school – and regulated will make a real difference in creating access to justice.
At the A2J Certificate Workshop last week, students asked over and over again “why are we only learning about this now?”
Change is Inevitable
Of course there can be no legal profession without clients. For now, corporate and institutional clients – also often dissatisfied – are sufficient to maintain a business model. But how long can the legal profession survive without personal clients?
I was grateful to my Acting Dean at Windsor, Myra Tawfik, for her recognition of the inevitability of change when she met with our SRL guests on Wednesday, and openly acknowledged that the profession was failing personal clients, and needed to confront change. “We are going to be on the right side of history” she said.
That’s right. I think this is obvious to almost everyone. The status quo cannot endure, and it is those outside pressing in, demanding meaningful participation and procedural fairness, who will be the change-makers.
Change there will be. The inequalities between those with and without representation could not be starker. Until we confront this reality we cannot make access to legal rights and justice meaningful.