STUDENTS LEARNING INNOVATION
The clinical course offered through the Elder Law Clinic is a social justice course. It stresses access to justice and a participatory justice approach to dealing with legal issues of aging and challenges of disability, incorporating multidisciplinary skills training and practice in problem-solving.
Students accompany lawyers of the Clinic to see how legal advice, representation and counsel are provided to older adults in their time of greatest legal, economic and social need. The philosophy is to represent the “whole client” which means that students engage with and under their supervising lawyer in a holistic and case management approach to client cases. They witness collaboration with social workers, doctors and other professionals to meet the needs of clients. This includes classes with doctors, social workers, legal experts and government entities engaged in all aspects of the field of aging, and, in particular, joint classes with medical and social work students to explore solutions for elder abuse and exploitation, client decision-making capacity and the ethical duties of representing clients with diminished capacity.
Under supervision, current students are handling cases involving capacity, protection, housing, care, elder abuse and exploitation, discrimination, trust and estate issues, and later life planning.
Our clinical students learn substantive law issues and concepts from our experts and advisors and critically analyze the appropriateness and the sufficiency of law, policies, procedures and practices in the field of aging. They engage in general higher level critical thinking – the application, synthesis and evaluation of legal knowledge. In addition to knowledge of law and aging issues, we seek to instill recognition of ethical dilemmas, to extend skills in legal analysis and problem-solving and in the full range of roles the lawyer is called upon to play as advocate, counsel, problem-solver and peacemaker. We want students to come away with how best to define these roles ethically, using multidisciplinary and case management skills, employing participatory justice and restorative justice approaches, practising mediation, engaging with their supervising lawyer in facilitated family meetings, innovative problem-solving and learning how to deal firmly but respectfully with the other side, often family members.
Besides teaching certain lawyering skills and legal principles, the clinic seeks to develop in students a commitment to the ideals of compassion and community and to seek innovative, effective ways to serve people. But the ideals studied at the clinic go further than community service and ethics. Students see first-hand how an older client’s goals of dignity, security and autonomy – fundamental legal rights – are promoted and best balanced with society’s interest in protecting vulnerable people from abuse and exploitation.
Participating in a clinic provides students with a unique learning experience and can profoundly change the life of clients. There is no better way to learn how to be a lawyer than by doing what lawyers do.
Clinic work is the essence of experimental learning, encompassing problem-solving and innovation, as a way to deal with access to justice issues for marginalized older clients of all classes and to find efficient, adapted, human solutions, most desired by this clientele.
Law students are provided the opportunity to work with real clients in crisis and transitional situations in their lives, to engage in real legislative and public policy work, and gain experience in the alternative dispute and judicial resolution system applying, in particular, participatory and restorative justice approaches to problem-solving. The clinic offers students a real world, real time opportunity to apply substantive law, develop skills and professional habits that directly apply and transfer to life after law school. In addition, clinic students engage in deep collaboration and develop connections with one another and interdisciplinary professionals, which we trust will carry them through the rest of law school and into their careers.
The Elder Law Clinic is entering its 10th year with a commitment to providing high quality legal representation and social justice to older persons throughout the Province of Quebec and those playing important roles in the lives of older persons.
We aspire to have our students “..understand the intricacies of relationships, ground themselves in the particular and in the general, blend everyday questions with broader, governing principles, and stand both in and outside of the law – to constantly view and judge themselves and their community.” (Roderick Macdonald, 2012)