UNB Legal Clinic sees success and growth in first year of operation | NEXUS Magazine | Alumni | Faculty of Law | UNB

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Faculty of Law

UNB Legal Clinic sees success and growth in first year of operation

Despite being open for just over a year, the UNB Legal Clinic has emerged as a powerful resource in improving access to justice, not just in the City of Fredericton but throughout province. Since opening its doors in September of 2022, the clinic has answered hundreds of inquiries and provided legal support for well over 100 clients in need.

Jeannette Savoie, Supervising Lawyer for the Clinic, has seen a remarkable demand for services, specifically surrounding tenancy.

“We’re seeing a lot of issues with evictions, especially around large rent increases, renovictions, or landlords claiming they are changing the use of the premises—also, unreasonable house rules and lease requirements.”

A disturbing trend that Savoie notes is the frequency with which these issues seem to be faced by the immigrant population, international students, and other newcomers.

“Statistically, we are seeing a lot of tenancy and employment issues involving newcomers to Canada. It is a very disappointing trend to see, but we're here to help guide them and help them to exercise their rights.”

The clinic has also been engaged with small claims, social benefits, and some family law issues not covered by legal aid.

“Sometimes, it’s as simple as answering a question,” said Savoie, “to give the person some guidance on their next steps.”

The clinic has now seen 17 students rotate through the program. For Savoie, her first order of business is always to get to know these students and understand their backgrounds so she can play upon their strengths and expertise.

“We've got students with really diverse work backgrounds and skillsets—experience in business, social work, insurance law or tenant relations. I try to put their skills to work for our clinic to maximize the benefit to our clients.”

Research initiatives to support access to justice

Savoie and her team have partnered with Prof. Argyri Panezi’s Legal Innovation Laboratory to look at expanding e-filings to lessen the burden on the provincial court system. The pilot project they are currently exploring looks at e-filings for simple divorce proceedings. The research teams are looking at creating an algorithmic questionnaire for non-contested divorce applications.

“This would be for people who have essentially dealt with children, support and property, and it's just a matter of getting the divorce so they can move on with their lives. These folks still need to access the justice system and have their case reviewed by a judge, and that takes a lot of time and a lot of resources, which the court doesn't have. If we are successful, it could open the door to more extensive e-filing services, removing some of the burden on the courts.”

Expanding operations beyond Fredericton

While the clinic’s primary target is to provide services for the greater Fredericton area, an important goal for Savoie is to expand the clinic’s operations beyond the city through outreach clinics. An early partnership was established with the Saint John Newcomers Centre (SJNC), an organization that provides support as new arrivals integrate into the city.

“We’ve done in-person and virtual clinics with the SJNC. We’ve dealt with a lot of different issues, immigration and refugee issues, family law, and again, employment and housing. We've also had to help file complaints against various police forces for conduct.”

The clinic also regularly serves Miramichi and the surrounding communities through a partnership with Harvest House, a non-profit mission that seeks to help those in need through programs in addiction recovery and housing. The Clinic has also partnered with the Miramichi Transition House to support women and children who are victims of domestic violence and/or intimate partner abuse.

Two students have had the opportunity to practice their legal skills by doing all the preparatory work, examining clients, and pleading the case before adjudicators in Small Claims Court. To our knowledge, it is a first for UNB Law students in New Brunswick to be able to carry files from start to finish, under direct supervision of the Clinic Supervising Lawyer. More small claims actions have been started by the students and are in the final phases of preparation.

Savoie would like to see the clinic expand its coverage into provincial offenses, with students acting as agents under her supervision. She would also like to see more opportunities to partner with the Department of Social Development, providing pre-emptive support to families in the child protection system.

“When I practiced in Yellowknife, they'd have me provide informational support before the department got involved. I would advise clients on their options prior to child protection’s involvement. This led to fewer apprehensions. It’s not about taking on a role that's being filled by another service provider but filling in the gaps."

There is also potential for the clinic to become more involved refugee claims. Savoie and her student clinicians have already tested these waters after being approached by the New Brunswick Refugee Clinic to support their efforts processing 150 refugees who were sent to Fredericton from the Roxham Road crossing in Quebec. The students were trained and volunteered their time to support refugee claimants.

Finally, Savoie hopes to establish a formal partnership with the Université de Moncton Faculté de droit to expand services into even more regions of the province, including for francophone clients. She has been in early talks with a Moncton law professor who was tasked by the Dean of Law to research potential opportunities.

The first year of operation has been a big learning curve for Savoie and her team, with the most pressing challenge being the need for more meeting space. In late November, the clinic moved its operations from the Fredericton Downtown Community Health Center to larger office space at 527 Queen Street.

“We’re so grateful to the folks at the community clinic who shared their space with us as we got the legal clinic off the ground. Our new location will enable us to be more efficient with our bookings and allow us to better serve our clients.”

The Faculty of Law would like to thank the New Brunswick Law Foundation (NBLF) for their continued financial support of the UNB Legal Clinic. Additionally, we thank the friends and family of the late Donald A. MacBeath, QC. This group generously established the MacBeath Fellowship, that supports students through their summer placements.