Intensive Clinical Law and CLASSIC
At right: Group photo during U of S President Ilene Busch-Vishniac's visit to the CLASSIC office in downtown Saskatoon.
Experiential education lies at the heart of the College of Law’s innovative and highly successful Clinical Law program, one of few across Canada that collaborates with a community-based legal clinic, CLASSIC (Community Legal Services for Saskatoon Inner City Inc.).
What our students say
- “I will look back on my time at CLASSIC as one of the best things I’ve done with my life.”
- “I learned about the troubles faced by impoverished clients. I learned how to cope and remain positive in difficult legal situations, and gained practical experience.”
- “I learned how to interact with clients who can, at times, be very different from me and I learned, also, much about the Cree and Dene cultures.”
- “The course is great; should be required for all students. It instills a law student’s career with an ethic of service and pro bono work, along with giving invaluable practical experience.”
- “This has been the best experience of my law school career.”
Students enrolled in the intensive clinical law program (a full-term, 15 credit program) take on client files at CLASSIC under the close supervision of CLASSIC’s two supervising lawyers and attend a weekly seminar course instructed by the Clinical Law professor, who coordinates the program and evaluates students.
Students take on files in a broad range of areas of law, and are responsible for interviewing and counseling clients, preparing court documents, negotiating with opposing parties, and advocating for their clients before courts and tribunals. Students enrolled in the Advanced Clinical Law course also complete a larger clinical law project, which typically involves community-based collaborations with local agencies (for example, providing public legal education seminars or working on specific projects with agencies such as AIDS Saskatoon and the Elizabeth Fry Society).
Reaping experiential benefits
Clinical law students, through their work with clients at CLASSIC, take on client files under the supervision of practicing lawyers. They are exposed to the complexity and nuances of legal practice, and are called upon to develop both technical lawyering skills and professional skills, such as judgment and legal analysis, through case work.
Each step of students’ work is carefully mentored by supervising lawyers and the course instructor, ensuring ample opportunities for learning and reflecting on experiences. The immersion in professional practice also exposes students to the complex ethical duties of lawyers. Thus, the program exemplifies the integration of ethical practice along with an emphasis on particular lawyering skills.
The students, their future clients and the legal community all ultimately benefit.
Creating reflective practitioners
As Donald Schon has argued, a key feature of professional practice is the ability of practitioners to “learn from experience” in the indeterminate zones of actual practice (The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action (1983) New York: Basic Books). The clinical law seminar permits students to become what Schon calls “reflective practitioners” through weekly “case rounds” dialogues (Susan Bryant and Elliott S. Milstein, “Rounds: A “Signature Pedagogy” for Clinical Education?” (2007-8) 14 Clinical L Rev 195), critical journal assignments and exposure to relevant literature. The focus of instruction is to always critically link theory with actual practice at the clinic.
Learning about access to justice
Because of CLASSIC’s location in one of Saskatoon’s core neighbourhoods and its emphasis on community engagement, clinical law students learn first hand about larger issues relating to access to justice in Saskatoon. Students learn that the weight of the law rests heavily upon the most disadvantaged members of society, who disproportionately rely on public benefits, are disproportionately criminalized and incarcerated, and who are least able to afford legal representation. Students learn that lawyering is context-specific and that effective legal practice requires learning about clients’ community, social and economic contexts. An interdisciplinary focus at CLASSIC means that students work with social workers, First Nations elders, and other community members on files and other projects.
CLASSIC has received national and local recognition for its programs, including the National Pro Bono Award of the Canadian Bar Association and the C. Willy Hodgson Award of the Law Society of Saskatchewan, both in 2008. In 2008, Clinical Law Professor Sarah Buhler also received the University of Saskatchewan’s Award for Distinction in Outreach and Engagement for her involvement in the program, and in 2012, CLASSIC supervising lawyer, Amanda Dodge, was awarded the CBA Legal Aid Leader Award.
CLASSIC in the news
Experiential learning benefits students and community - April 30, 2013