The virtual YLIP experience

  • June 03, 2022
  • Chloe Quirion

Since the beginning of my university studies, I have dreamt of a career in public international law, which would combine my passion for defending human rights and my appreciation for cross-cultural exchanges. After completing the Law Society of Ontario’s lawyer licensing examinations at the height of the pandemic, my international articling options were limited, if not practically non-existent.

Thanks to the Young Lawyers International Program, I was paired with South African NGO Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), in their division focusing on the rights of refugees, migrants and stateless people. This program is the largest provider of legal services to refugee and asylum seekers in South Africa. The program is centred around its walk-in law clinic, but LHR also provides training, publishes reports and simplified information, and takes part in strategic legal cases.

Although LHR’s internship offer exceeded all my expectations, I continued to wonder whether a virtual international placement could really be productive.

After completing the internship, I can confirm that it is. It goes without saying that a virtual placement can be challenging and inconvenient. But the virtual YLIP experience can be extremely rewarding if you have the right attitude, a solid foundation of practical knowledge, and excellent soft skills.

Here are three tips for anyone thinking of doing a virtual internship through the YLIP:

Have a clear motivation for participating in the program

Before this internship, I often questioned the reasoning behind my professional goals: “Do I want to become a lawyer because of my interest in defending human rights, or because I love to travel and want to explore the world?”

Not being able to meet my colleagues and the clinic’s clients in person, spend my weekends surfing in Cape Town or visit the Apartheid Museum allowed me to answer this question. Working to defend human rights from my childhood bedroom is not as glamorous, but I know now that I am interested in this field because of the work itself and not only because of the added benefits.


Stay informed and ask questions

Getting accustomed to a new social, cultural, economic and political environment or acquainted with a new legal system can be complicated when your physical environment doesn’t change. Not living in the host organization’s community can limit your understanding of certain local issues and deprive you of the opportunity to interact directly with the organization’s clients.

In this context, it is essential to immerse yourself as much as possible in the culture and history of the host organization’s country. Read books, watch movies and YouTube videos, read the local papers, follow local organizations on social media and ask questions to your colleagues who are on site. Find different sources and compare different viewpoints. A good understanding of the host environment is key to be able to make a significant contribution to your organization.


Be proactive and get involved

To be a successful virtual intern, you need to be a problem-solver, independent and flexible. The distance between your host organization and the place where you live can create some technical difficulties. The time difference may limit constant access to your supervisor. If your organization is very busy, they may take a few days to answer your emails. Since you won’t be able to just knock on your supervisor’s door, you will need to be resourceful and take the initiative. Don’t be afraid to ask if you can join meetings, or to speak with team members if you need to clarify something or would like to make a suggestion. Your experience will be more valuable as a result.

The virtual YLIP experience can be gratifying and an incredible learning experience—it all depends on the approach you decide to take!

Chloe Quirion was one of the last virtual interns with the CBA’s Young Lawyers International Program (YLIP). She is currently completing her articling with the International Bureau for Children’s Rights.