August 24, 2016 - 6:30 PM
KAMLOOPS - With nearly 150 clients helped, those behind the Thompson Rivers University community legal clinic would like to see it grow.
Associate professor Ruby Dhand says the legal clinic is the only one in the B.C. Interior offering pro bono, or free legal advice. It opened in February in the Centre for Seniors Information in Brocklehurst. The university is looking for more fundraising options and grants to hire more supervising lawyers, he says.
“In the future we hope to hire two more full time and maybe one more part time,” Dhand says. “We would like to have a full time program and a full time clinic.”
Dhand was one of the organizers who helped get the clinic off the ground and now that it's going the aim is to increase hours and areas of law that can be covered.
Currently the clinic is typically open three days a week and focuses on housing issues, though wills and estate law have been popular topics. Expansion could include areas like small claims or consumer protection.
“We see ourselves as eventually becoming a full clinic,” Dhand says. “We’re thinking of expanding into criminal law if we can find a very experienced criminal lawyer.”
The clinic's supervising lawyer Ted Murray says they are funded by a grant from the Law Society of B.C. and the school is turning there again for further help. A fundraising campaign is also on going.
“In terms of current resources we were really pushing the limits of what we can do,” he says. “With additional funding we could expand to a full time clinic with lawyers on full time contracts."
Over the summer the clinic has had six students working part time. In September, eight new students will replace the summer students and work under Murray. He says the experience so far has been gratifying.
“A lot of people don’t know what questions to ask,” he says. “A lot of people will come in and something happened and they want to know ‘Can I do something about it?’”
The students and Murray advise people on their best course of action when these queries come in.
Wills have also been common, and the students are able to draft simple wills for their clients.
“This jives well with our partnership with (Centre for Seniors Information),” he says. “Their clients are interested in having a will in place.”
With funding, staffing and academics still to be worked out, Murray says the earliest a new supervising lawyer could join the team is May 2017.
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