The City Law Department, U of T’s legal clinic, is celebrating 50 years | Media Pyro


More than half a century ago, a group of students from the University of Toronto received funding for a summer program to lay the groundwork for a free community law clinic in Toronto.

Today, the Downtown Legal Services clinic provides free legal assistance to students and low-income members of the community in legal areas that include housing, family, employment, crime, refugees and immigration.

Supervised by five staff attorneys and the clinic’s director, 100 casework students and volunteers serve approximately 2,000 clients annually.

“That original spirit of improving access to justice continues with students who enter the clinic today,” he said. Prasanna Balasundaramdirector of the clinical legal society and the clinical legal education program at the Faculty of Law.

Balasundaram, who was one of the lawyers representing the refugees who helped kill the Safe Third Country Agreement In court related to the office in 2020, moderated a discussion about the birthday party this week with a student employee Nina Patti and former client Rossana Ibarra. The panel explored how the clinic’s law students can “develop an understanding of the social reality of law and the legal profession as it relates to the lives of clients,” Balasundaram said.

Patti, a second-year law student, says that volunteering in the clinic’s employment law section was the most important part of her law school experience, a rewarding and experiential one. – hand. This includes negotiating a settlement at the Ontario Civil Rights Tribunal, and representing a client before the Ontario Labor Relations Board.

“Without DLS, many of my clients would not have had access to legal aid, and I am proud to be involved with an organization that provides these needed services,” she said.

reads the Student Legal Aid Group.  University of Toronto Students' Legal Aid Society final report (summer program)

“A great University must be attentive to its neighbors,” he wrote Charles F. Scott Jr. a Peter D. Quinn in the financial report.

The clinic has its roots in the U of T’s Students’ Legal Aid Society (SLAS), which was founded by U of T Law students in 1969.

In its early years of operation, the student legal aid group was a student-led program, supported by faculty advisors and volunteer lawyers, as recognized under Ontario law at the time. Legal Aid Act. The Community Legal Aid Center (CLAC) has two rooms on St. George. Legal Aid Ontario, through the “student advocate” office at Old Town Hall, shared the best cases that law students can handle at the U of T’s Faculty of Law and the University of York Osgoode Hall Law School.

“This is consistent with the idea that a great University should be considerate of its neighbors, and not be bound to include those who are closely associated with it,” the note reads. Charles F. Scott Jr. a Peter D. Quinnmembers of the U of T Law class of 1972, in a report.

In the summer of 1971, the community also conducted 16 community “health” in cooperation with established community agencies, and using 23 legal models handled a total of 710 cases – from litigation to small claims court. After a petition by students at the University Professor Emeritus Martin L. Friedlandthen the dean of the law school, to include the clinic in the law school curriculum for course credit, the faculty hired its first attorney on the supervisory staff: U of T Law graduate Richard “Dick” Gathercole.

Over the years, more than 5,000 alumni of the Faculty of Law have attended the clinic, which is now housed in the Fasken building on Spadina Avenue.

It includes U of T Law alumni Barbara Jackman – one of Canada’s leading refugee and immigration lawyers – says her clinic experience has greatly influenced her career path.

“I went to law school thinking I was going to be a practicing lawyer. [At law school] I realized that immigrants don’t have a face,” he said. “I wasn’t the only one involved in immigration law – a lot of people involved in this program were in ‘human rights’. ‘”.

University Professor Emeritus Robert Prichardserved as the law school’s sixth dean in the late 1980s and 13th president of U of T from 1990 to 2000, reflected on the clinic’s history as a former member of the SLAS board in the early 1970s.

“The people involved in SLAS are amazing. I am very proud of my relationship with all of them,” said Prichard.

Rachel Brycea recent graduate from the Faculty of Law who works as a refugee and immigration lawyer, says the Downtown Legal Services clinic – a Downtown Legal Services grant from Legal Aid Ontario, the Law Foundation of Ontario, U of T’s Faculty of Law, U of T students and gifts from U of T alumni and friendsa highlight of his law school years.

“DLS was the best experience I had in law school,” she says. “It offers the perfect combination of support, empowerment, customer advice and legal action – and that opportunity is unmatched.”

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