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Law students' pro bono legal information clinic wins ISANS Award

Posted by Jane Doucet on August 20, 2019 in News, Students, Awards
Professor Constance MacIntosh with the ISANS Award (Photo: Jane Doucet)
Professor Constance MacIntosh with the ISANS Award (Photo: Jane Doucet)

In June of this year, Schulich Law’s student pro bono legal information clinic was awarded the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia’s (ISANS) Award for their efforts to help newcomers with legal issues. The award recognizes an individual, community group, business, or employer who has demonstrated exceptional and innovative efforts in welcoming immigrants to Nova Scotia and helping them successfully integrate into the community.

Pro Bono Dalhousie @ Schulich Law has partnered with ISANS to provide legal information clinics since 2005. The students meet newcomers at ISANS for two hours on Friday afternoons through most of the school year. The clients are referred by ISANS caseworkers who have identified these individuals as people in need of legal information.

Often working with translators, the students might help clients fill out a standard sponsorship form for a spouse or child, help them understand whether they meet the criteria to continue their permanent residency, or connect them with a lawyer if they need to launch a legal action, such as a judicial review of a declined family sponsorship application.

“The clinic makes us exercise our communication and problem-solving skills, which means we’re getting valuable experience in client service unlike anything else we get in law school,” says Josh Pye, who will start his third year at Schulich Law in September. “The ISANS staff members are knowledgeable, patient, and a delight to work with. It’s also clear that there is a lot of demand for the service the clinic provides, which makes the experience even more rewarding. It has been one of the highlights of my time at law school so far.”

The clinic makes us exercise our communication and problem-solving skills, which means we’re getting valuable experience in client service unlike anything else we get in law school.
— third-year student Josh Pye

Recognizing an important need

Schulich Law Professor Constance MacIntosh helped launch the pro bono student project after recognizing that there was a need for access to legal information for refugees and immigrants. She has been the supervising lawyer for the 120 students who have passed through the program since its inception. “It’s real applied research and important hands-on training in delivering legal information services in a dynamic environment to people who are not going to get this service anywhere else,” she says.

In order to maintain cohesiveness with the program, MacIntosh tells the students that she’s looking for a two-year commitment from them, although many return for more. Each year they help 30 to 65 newcomers, often former refugees, offering information about citizenship, travel documents, and the rights and obligations of permanent residents. They might help clients in exceptional circumstances write humanitarian and compassionate letters. They also update the clinic’s practice and training manuals, which are resources for incoming student volunteers.

It’s satisfying for MacIntosh to watch the students develop and hone new skills. “I’m excited for them to wet their feet during a pro bono project and then to make a career out of it,” she says of former students who go on to work in refugee and immigration law. “There’s a real vulnerability in these clients, and it’s incredibly powerful work that the students are engaged in.”