By Nazeefa Ahmed, September 1 2023—
Student Legal Assistance (SLA) is a non-for-profit legal clinic that provides free legal services to low-income Calgarians and all University of Calgary students. The pro bono organization aims to remove barriers to justice while providing law students with the opportunity to gain experience representing clients.
“SLA is a non-profit charity through which law students at the U of C provide year-round free legal assistance and representation in court to students and people who are unable to afford the services of a lawyer,” read a statement on their website.
The SLA is currently funded through the Alberta Law Foundation, the Students’ Union (SU) and Canada Summer Jobs, as well as donations from lawyers and law firms.
In an interview with the Gauntlet, former Deputy Student Director and incoming articling student Ryan Millar spoke about how the representation and information law students provide for their clients improves their lives.
“You truly can change somebody’s life by getting them into the treatment program that they desperately needed to be in or by lowering the conflict between parents who are separated and helping them come to a solution that works for them,” said Millar. “We demystify the justice system and help people who are caught inside of the justice system understand what their options are.”
U of C students who need legal assistance do not have to meet low-income requirements and can access the services free of charge. They are able to help students who appeal an academic misconduct finding.
Millar explains how most people think of the justice system in a two-dimensional way, and the SLA educates clients about programs and policies they are eligible for, using the example of a client stealing a skateboard.
“I think many people in that circumstance would think they only have two options — plead not guilty and go to trial or they plead guilty and be convicted of a criminal offence,” said Millar. “But the truth is that there are not only two options. There is the Alternative Measures Program, writing an apology letter or doing community service. If the client was under the influence, the Crown may withdraw the charges if a client agrees to counselling for an underlying addiction.”
Millar hopes that students take the opportunities offered by the SLA to further their careers.
“We have the client side through excellent client services, legal information and legal representation,” said Millar. “But then the other goal is really professional development through experiential learning which focuses on developing the skills that law students will need when they become lawyers.”
“For example, let’s say you want to litigate large files, maybe one corporation suing another corporation. The steps that you would take in the Alberta Court of Justice for a $5000 file is pretty similar to the steps you would take at the Court of the King’s Bench on a five million dollar lawsuit,” Millar continued.
In his concluding remarks, Millar encourages students to think of the humanitarian reasons for volunteering at the SLA as fall recruitment approaches.
“Most people come to law school because they want to make the world a better place,” said Millar. “I think students want to do something where they’ll see tangible results and see their efforts making a difference in someone’s life and there is no better place for this than the SLA.”
More information on the SLA and their services and registering to volunteer can be found on their website.