A solid foundation for Dal Legal Aid

Endowment is one of the priorities of Dal's capital campaign

- March 28, 2011

Tom Wallwork at Dalhousie Legal Aid Service. (Danny Abriel Photo)
Tom Wallwork at Dalhousie Legal Aid Service. (Danny Abriel Photo)

T H E   D A L H O U S I E   D I F F E R E N C E

In his two-and-half-years of law school—writing mock memos, mock briefs and reading numerous law cases—nothing had truly prepared aspiring lawyer Tom Wallwork to sit opposite a real flesh-and-blood person and ask, “How can I help you?”

“You read hundreds of cases with names on them, but never once do you give a thought to who they really are as people,” says Mr. Wallwork, a third-year law student at the Schulich School of Law who is currently on (four)-month placement with Dalhousie Legal Aid Service. “It’s pretty jarring the first few times. Here’s a person who legitimately needs your help as opposed to being just another name in a case book.”

Patchwork of funding sources

Affectionately known as “the clinic,” Dalhousie Legal Aid Service has been an integral part of the Halifax community, serving Halifax’s poor and disadvantaged and providing third-year law students with an intensive learning opportunity since 1970.

Located on Gottingen Street in downtown Halifax, Dal Legal Aid employs a staff of 13, including an executive director, five staff lawyers and two community legal workers. More than eighty-five per cent of its $800,000 plus operating budget—pieced together from a variety of funding sources—goes to salaries.

A stable funding source that the clinic could rely on, year after year, would mean so much, says Donna Franey, executive director of Dalhousie Legal Aid Service.

“With an endowment, we would be able to use the interest to ensure that we had adequate operational funds,” says Ms. Franey. “After all, if we’re cut back in any one year, that means we have to cut staff, and that affects our work with clients, community and the supervision of students.”

About to embark on a capital campaign called Bold Ambitions, Dalhousie University has identified the creation of a $1-million endowment as one of its priorities. With the establishment of such an endowment, the clinic could rely on the interest—an estimated $50,000 to $60,000 a year—to support operations, and possibly, to expand.

“We would love to be able to grow the program and to have more students involved,” she says. “There are  always more areas of the law we could expand upon to assist the low income community.”

The endowment has been started with a $150,000 gift from the Law Foundation of Nova Scotia.

Formative experience

At the clinic since January, Mr. Wallwork has gained experience by working on residential tenancy cases, income assistance appeals, pension appeals, small claims work and family law, including divorces, division of property and child protection cases. Sixteen students join the clinic for the fall and winter terms, as well as 12 in the summer.

“It’s the most worthwhile thing I’ve done at university,” says British Columbia resident, who did his undergraduate degree at UBC. “I’ve been very very busy but it feels good to help people.”

Rollie Thompson, professor at Dalhousie’s Schulich School of Law, says working at the Clinic was life-changing for him too, both as a student in the late 1970s, and later, as a director of the Clinic.

“It’s so formative because students at law school learn from books and law in practice is different from book learning. You go to the clinic and it’s real. You meet a client and it drives your education to a whole new level.”

Working at the clinic is not book learning, he emphasizes, it’s “doing learning.”

“And a lot of students learn better in this setting than in law school ... this kind of student does something and then does it better the next time. They often become very effective lawyers.”

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This article is part of the Dalhousie Difference series, introducing and showcasing some of the 50 innovative projects in development.


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