University of New Brunswick opens clinic to help fill gaps in legal aid system – New Brunswick
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University of New Brunswick opens clinic to help fill gaps in legal aid system – New Brunswick

The University of New Brunswick has opened a legal clinic in Fredericton which will aim to fill the gaps in the legal aid system.

It opened on Sept. 20 and shares a space with a medical clinic, combining health and legal services.

Jeanette Savoie is the supervising lawyer for the clinic and said this service was needed in the province.

“Clients told us, you know, there was nowhere to go, nowhere to go,” she said. “I still remember in law school, I’d always say we need a legal clinic in New Brunswick. We didn’t have one. There was no legal clinic, no student legal clinics in the province. this is the first.”

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She describes it as the “most significant single justice initiative” of the last three or four decades.

Clients will be able to access the students, who will have five files each, and the clinic can provide legal services for tenancy, housing, employment, small claims and social benefits.

Initially, the clinic set a goal of serving 40 clients from September to April, or the full academic year. It has surpassed that.

There are 16 files open, 16 files are pending, 20 clients were served on an emergency advice-only basis and seven clients were served and the file is closed.

Four clients are on the waitlist, Savoie said.

“They started coming really quickly and we started getting phone calls from all over,” she said. “I kind of expected this, given that there is no other private service that offers … legal aid.”

For Michael Marin, who is the Dean for the Faculty of Law, this was both needed and served as a valuable learning tool.

“As a legal educator, I really see tremendous benefits both for the students and the community,” he said in an interview on Tuesday. “This is the kind of thing you can’t do or teach in a classroom. I’ve always thought experiential learning is very valuable in that way.”

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Marin said the faculty of law could serve the community and this was something the entire faculty wanted to achieve.

“But we really see this as the first step,” he said. “There are many other clinical programs that we can do in all kinds of law. We can create opportunities for the public to learn in our facility. So, we are very keen to be a law school that is engaged with and serves the community. I think that enriches everyone.”

It also plans to open a legal observatory.

“It’ll be a space in the law school where real legal proceedings will take place,” he said. “Right now, there is a real challenge for some administrative tribunals in New Brunswick that they don’t have a dedicated space for hearings.”

It’s all very encouraging for Fredericton South MLA David Coon, who sees a lot of people in his constituency office seeking legal advice or trying to navigate the criminal or civil justice system.

“But when it comes to accessing justice, it has been very difficult, very frustrating and sometimes very sad,” said Coon. “The demand is huge. I think the demand has outstretched the capacity at some point.”

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Law student Roybn Forbes is eager to help at the clinic.

She said it is an experience that cannot be replicated in a classroom. She left a prior career to pursue law, aiming to help people navigate the legal system.

“It’s exposure I don’t think we would have if we were located at the university,” she said. “Trying to navigate the legal environment is so complicated and I can’t imagine trying to do it with no assistance.”

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