Background

Learning Law in Place is one of a series of CBA projectsFootnote1 emerging from the 2013 report, Reaching Equal Justice. Reaching Equal Justice challenges all those working in, or preparing to work in the justice system to think deeply about what they can do, as individuals and in collaboration with others, to move toward equal justice now.

The report started from community consultations with marginalized people and on the street interviews. Key findings from the community consultations were damning: legal rights are just on paper, justice systems cannot be trusted, justice is person dependent and justice systems are difficult to navigate. Random interviews with people on the street were more positive but demonstrated less familiarity with the justice system, or what to do if confronted with a legal problem.

Legal problems are everywhere, but impact different populations differently. Research has shown that over 3 years, 45% of Canadians will experience a “justiciable event”.Footnote2 Legal problems tend to cluster, multiply, and have an additive effect, and this pattern of cascading problems disproportionately impacts people living in marginalized conditions.Footnote3

The report suggested 31 Targets to be achieved by 2030, with Actions to begin immediately and interim Milestones to mark progress, each advancing a particular goal that will move toward equal justice. One Target is aimed directly at increasing awareness of access to justice among law students (at pg. 121):

  • By 2030, three Canadian law schools will establish centres of excellence for access to justice research.
  • By 2030, substantial experiential learning experience is a requirement for all law students.
  • By 2020, all graduating law students:
    • Have a basic understanding of the issues relating to access to justice in Canada.
    • Know that fostering access to justice is an integral part of their professional responsibility.
    • Have taken at least one course or volunteer activity that involves experiential learning providing access to justice.
  • By 2020, all law schools in Canada have at least one student legal clinic that provides representation to low income persons.

Reaching Equal Justice says that access to justice is the biggest legal issue of our generation.Footnote4 Learning Law in Place (the Guide) is written to enhance learning from experience in an access to justice context, with the goal of ensuring that increasing numbers of law school graduates and young lawyers are committed to advancing equal justice. It is intended to be one tool directed toward the larger pedagogical mission of supporting access to justice through legal education. At the same time, it is designed to both gradually change the legal profession’s understanding of access to justice as a right, and also an integral part of lawyers’ professional responsibilities.

Learning Law in Place intends to help law students get the most out of any and each experiential learning opportunity they may have. Instructors or supervisors can encourage the use of this Guide in various ways. For example, they might ask students to use it in whole or in part, depending on the nature of the experiential learning opportunity. Some instructors and supervisors have found it helpful to create opportunities for law students to discuss the Guide together periodically, to learn more about how their colleagues are taking advantage of the Guide.