The Work of Legal Clinics in Trying Times
Guest Blog from Marion Overholt, Executive Director, Legal Assistance of Windsor
This blog post was originally published by the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA), a specialty community legal clinic. Both CELA and LAW are members of the ACLCO.
As Executive Director of a legal aid clinic, I have been reflecting on what our work means to our client communities in the context of the current pandemic. Three key aspects come to mind as critically needed at this time.
1. Recognizing our Place
As legal aid clinics, we advocate for inclusion, not exclusion, and for justice, not charity. We live in a very unequal society, increasingly recognized and brought into sharp relief by the pandemic. We are raising our voices to ensure that senior governments know about the impacts of their decisions on our clients. Eternal vigilance is our work. Seeing impacts of our current societal arrangements on our clients gives rise to the systemic work that we do, to make those arrangements more just and equitable.
2. Diversity of our work
As clinics we are nimble, flexible, and adaptable, and this is how we represent our client communities so well. These traits are being demonstrated especially well right now as all legal clinics across Ontario have rapidly adapted our services to ensure that we can continue to provide the range of services our client communities need. This includes continuing our public legal education in new ways, reaching out to municipal governments and to MPPs in our communities, advocating for new solutions to longstanding problems that threaten to make the current pandemic so much more harmful to many of our clients. Our voices are also critical in ensuring that those elected officials and their staff know they have community support for the efforts they are making on behalf of our clients. With uncertainty as the new norm, legal clinics will be continuing to rely on our adaptability and commitment to care for our client communities as we move forward.
3. Vulnerability of our client communities
The current Covid-19 pandemic is both revealing the extent of already-present discrimination and inequality among our client communities, but also unleashing additional discrimination both latent and blatant. Equality issues around racialized communities, economic well being, identity, ageism, youth, migrant workers and many others are being exacerbated in areas of housing, employment, income and access to services. As legal clinics, we are the advocates using law to advance the wellbeing of our communities. We are advocating for inclusion, for eliminating many of the current barriers, and calling for strong attention to equity as all of us and our governments consider how we will rebuild and recover following the pandemic era. As legal clinics, we will be championing the causes of our clients and ensuring ways to include their voices in all of those decisions.