UNB’s new legal clinic will provide free legal services to low-income clients
People who cannot afford a lawyer and do not qualify for legal aid now have another option.
The University of New Brunswick Faculty of Law now offers free legal services provided by some of its students.
This is part of a class that gives students the ability to manage civil cases and provide free representation to those who need it.
UNB’s legal clinic is led by supervising attorney and faculty member Jeannette Savoie, who has years of experience working with clients experiencing poverty.
Ms. Savoie said that the students under her supervision will deal with files related to rental, employment, social assistance and small claims.
She said low-income people in these situations are often in a vulnerable position.
“That’s where students with their training could be helpful in presenting your case, because for a lot of these administrative tribunals, the central issue is natural justice…the right to be heard,” Savoie said.
“Sometimes when people are vulnerable, they don’t always know they have those kinds of rights.”
Since 2009, a law added to the New Brunswick Law Society Act allows law students at UNB or the Université de Moncton to practice law under the supervision of faculty.
Legal Aid does not provide assistance with civil matters, except for certain aspects of family law, such as child protection and filing for divorce.
Robyn Forbes, in her final year of law school, said it “will give us a better understanding when we’re out there in our own practice.”
Law student Ana Mihajlovic said law school is often about writing a lot of papers, reading textbooks and reviewing cases without much hands-on experience.
“It will be really good to have this one-on-one experience with someone who has been in this field for a very long time,” she said.
An underrepresented population
Forbes said low-income people are underrepresented and simply don’t have access to legal services without free programs like the clinic, citing the example of low-income students moving to Fredericton for the first time.
She said that since rental laws vary by province, it can leave landlords with the upper hand.
“This can lead to situations where [students are] benefited,” she said.
Forbes said when legal services aren’t available to those without the financial means, they can be stuck navigating the legal system on their own.
“If you have someone like a lawyer or a student who can act as a guide under their instructions, that makes things a little easier,” she said.
Mihajlovic said the clinic will provide an important service to the community, focusing on housing issues such as rent increases, renovations and housing insecurity.
Savoie said this program will hopefully fill in some of the gaps not covered by legal aid.
She said the clinic has a financial resources test for potential clients, similar to the test used by Legal Aid, but slightly more lenient since the clinic does not take fees from clients.
She said most people on income assistance, pension, minimum wage or people with no income at all will likely be eligible for the clinic’s services.
A stigma-free hub
The legal clinic is currently being set up at the Downtown Fredericton Community Health Center on King Street.
Savoie said this location already serves as a training location for nursing students and social work students and that UNB law will now join the experiential center.
She says it’s a good place because marginalized people are already using the services there.
“It’s already comfortable for customers, they’re used to coming here,” Savoie said. “So we’re just another service that’s going to be provided.”