Dalhousie Legal Aid Service (DLAS), often referred to as ‘the Clinic’, has been a part of the Halifax community since 1970. It is a clinical law program which provides third year law students from the Schulich School of Law, with the opportunity to immerse themselves in the practice of law. Many students, myself included, have walked its halls over the years, and have left with a better appreciation, respect, and understanding of access to justice and poverty law issues.
On August 25, I had the opportunity to speak with Richard (Dick) Evans, who acted as Executive Director (ED) of DLAS on more than one occasion, the first time beginning in 1975. Dick has also been a long-time donor to the Clinic. I spoke with Dick about his motivation for becoming involved with DLAS back in 1975, and the reasons for his continued support of the clinic all these years later.
Dick graduated with his undergraduate law degree from Osgoode Hall Law School in 1970. After completing his articles he worked for a prominent Toronto law firm for a number of years. In 1975, Dick enrolled in a graduate program at Osgoode to study ‘experienced-based learning’ in the legal context with a focus on serving low income clients with ‘poverty law’ issues. This was a relatively new trend at the time and something in which he was very interested. It was this interest in legal experiential learning that led him to accept a position as a professor with Dalhousie Law School, where among other responsibilities, he would act as the ED of the Clinic.
The thing that stood out to Dick the most during his times as ED was the range of interesting and rewarding work that the students conducted in a hands-on environment. He also expressed how much he valued the engagement of students, and the opportunity to work with them.
In his view, it is the integration between theory and practice that makes DLAS such an important and valuable experience. “It is the reason I went back to graduate school”, he said.
“There were also some administrative struggles” he expressed, thinking back to his times as ED. He remembers that it was an effort at times to keep the clinic viable. While it was hard, on occasion, to sort through and resolve financial and administrative struggles, Dick recalls that there was also considerable satisfaction in contributing to the continued success and operation of the Clinic. To me, the Clinic appears to have survived these hurdles, and Dick expressed that the overall experience always remained positive for both the students and the clients.
An important aspect of the clinic is working to bridge the access to justice gap. To Dick, it is evident that access to justice continues to be an issue, one that varies depending on where one is in the country. In his view, Nova Scotia appears to be on the right track relative to many other Canadian jurisdictions, and Dalhousie Legal Aid continues to play a role in remediating the access issue. This is part of the reason why Dick has made it a choice to systematically donate annually to DLAS, mostly by contributing gifts of shares. “It is my aspiration”, he says, “that this gesture will contribute to the ongoing success of Dal Legal Aid”. He adds that he hopes his donations will perhaps in part encourage others, especially former students that now like himself “may be a little long in the tooth”, to consider making annual gifts, or provisions in their wills, to donate to DLAS.
Furthermore, in many ways the Clinic can be instrumental to opening doors for students, who can use their newfound skills and knowledge to contribute to various organizations. For example, Dick credits DLAS with the opportunity he had to become involved in senior Board positions with Oxfam Canada and Oxfam International, a leading international development agency operating world-wide. In his view, it was his experience with DLAS that allowed him to significantly participate and contribute to issues of justice, gender equality and poverty alleviation at an international level.
Dick admits that not every student who has participated in the clinical program has been stimulated to think fundamentally about legal issues surrounding poverty and justice. However, he points out a very large percentage do. It is his understanding that many get a tremendous experience that, in a variety of ways, will live with them long after they graduate. For his part, he still retains strong memories of clients, students, and their cases from the 70’s 80’s and 90’s.
Having recently completed a term at the clinic, I share Dick’s opinion that the clinical program is an important part of the legal education of students. Not only that; it has a massive positive impact on the community by providing legal assistance to those that would otherwise be left out in the cold.
Access to justice is a very real and current issue, and to the extent that the Clinic can help even a small number of people, and bring these issues to light in a pragmatic and illuminating way for students, it is a valuable staple of the province. For this reason, I am thankful to donors of DLAS, such as Dick Evans, who contribute to the maintenance of the Clinic and the continuation of the many services it offers the community.