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Canadian-Style Legal Clinics: Interview with Anatolii Levchuk

Anatolii Levchuk, the community adviser and participant of the educational visit of the Ukrainian delegation to Canada in spring 2019, has told about the special aspects of operations of the legal clinics in Canada.

Anatolii, could you please briefly describe the trip? Why were you focused on the legal clinics?

The trip was a part of the project “Accessibly and High-Quality Legal Aid in Ukraine”. It has existed since 2014, and its purpose is to improve the equal access to justice for the Ukrainians and to increase the level of public awareness of the rights to free legal aid.

The delegates were:

  • Members of the project team;
  • Representatives of the Coordination Centre for Legal Aid and the Legal Club Network “Pravokator”;
  • The representative of the Directorate of Human Rights, Access to Justice and Legal Awareness of the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine;
  • The representative of the Community Advisers (me, Anatolii Levchuk), the organization existing to improve access to law in the small communities.

The purpose of the visit was to study the Canadian best practices and ways to improve the legal capacity at the example of the Province of Ontario, to gain practical experience of the latest innovation in the field of improvement of the capacity of the vulnerable groups as to their legal rights and general legal awareness level.

The legal clinics drew our attention because their network in the communities was used to provide the legal services.

Юридичні клініки по-канадськи: інтерв’ю з Анатолієм Левчуком, громадським радником, Асоціація юридичних клінік України

When we read your publications about the trip to Canada, we realised that the Canadian legal clinics mostly employed the qualified specialists, and the legal clinics themselves mostly worked in the specific area of law. To your mind, what do Canadian and Ukrainian legal clinics have in common? Are they more similar to the Ukrainian free secondary legal aid centres?

If you consider Ukrainian legal clinics at universities and the free legal aid (FLA) system in Ukraine, the Canadian clinics are more similar to the FLA centers.

To start with, it should be noted that the Government of Ontario Act adopted the Legal Aid Services Act in 1998. In pursuance thereof, the organization called Legal Aid Ontario was established as an independent non-profit organization, financed from the budget and publicly accountable, in order to administer the free legal aid program.

The system renders more than a million services to the residents of the province annually. The annual budget of the organisation is 371.6 million dollars.

As for specialisation, Ontario has 57 local and 17 specialised clinics. The local ones deal with a wide range of legal issues in the specific communities while the specialised ones are focused on the specific legal issues, but are generally not limited to the community and cover the territory of the entire province and sometimes the country. For instance, there is a specialised clinic working in the area of law in Vietnamese and Chinese.

Юридичні клініки по-канадськи: інтерв’ю з Анатолієм Левчуком, громадським радником, Асоціація юридичних клінік України

Please tell us about the local clinic you were impressed by.

The example of one of the local clinics in Ontario is Rexdale Community Legal Clinic. It is the legal clinic financed by Legal Aid Ontario that provides free legal aid to the persons with low income residing in the community. The range of the legal issues covered by the clinic includes housing issues, tenants’ rights; employment insurance; labour law; immigration; programme for support of persons with disabilities; support of the community well-being.

The clinic is located at the hub where around ten institutions render various services to the public. There is a health care service, an organisation supporting women, a mediation system, paralegals, legal educational and other institutions.

If you understand what I mean, just imagine that ten Ukrainian legal clubs of Pravokator are located at the same place. That is the hub in Rexdale Community.

For the last two years, they have resolved 450 legal issues and helped 345 clients in the areas of Working with People with Mental Disorders, Employment, and Anti-Discrimination.

What role do students play in the Canadian legal clinics? What functions do they discharge? What does a student need to start working for a legal clinic?

In this regard, cooperation generally starts with the students on-the-job training at legal clinics. The clinics are happy to offer training for several hours a week. The trainees often decide to work for the clinics after the training. I would like to tell about another way of cooperation, the Legal Innovation Zone, as an example.

The Legal Innovation Zone (LIZ) in Toronto is the world’s first incubator of legal innovation. The purpose of the LIZ is to enable people and organizations to find the best legal solutions and to disseminate legal knowledge. The LIZ was opened four years ago at the university. There are six other institutions there, at the same premises. For instance, there is a Urban Planning Institute, a Leadership Institute, an Ageing Institute, and a Social Media Laboratory. 

LIZ has ten employees, two of whom are students. Some of them are employed part-time. The organization is financed by the university (financed from the state budget in its turn), partnering organizations and some projects and start-ups.

The organization works in three principal areas:

  • Establishment of partnership with legal and related organizations;
  • Design search for new legal solutions and education;
  • Support of business start-ups.

How does that work? People from different industries, including lawyers, who have good business ideas present them. The LIZ team select and support the best of them. The cooperate to make the business develop successfully. In some time, the business gets profitable.

Could you give an example of the successful start-up?

My choice of the example might seem strange, but I will tell you about Arunan, the CEO of the start-up allowing to create legal wills online.

The man found out that six out of ten Canadians did not have a will; eight of ten people thought that they needed a lawyer to create the will. Most people do not even think about changing the document (for instance, after a child is born). They think it is expensive. Also, people do not like talking about death)). But people do die unexpectedly, and the family suffers, including due to division of property and litigation.

So, Arunan created a wonderful online tool enabling any resident of the province to create and update their will. The procedure is cheaper than the lawyer’s rate, so the service is popular. The owner earns good money, thus making it profitable for the Legal Innovation Zone as the legal innovation incubator as well.

That sounds interesting! To your mind, what should the Ukrainian clinics and the Association of Legal Clinics adopt from the Canadian colleagues in the first place?

Let me be critical of my opinion. I suppose we must work in a more coordinated and consistent manner both in law and other areas of local self-governance and in Ukraine. Different organizations must not try to “grab the biggest piece of the pie”. They must find areas of common interest and develop the systems and plan their activities for the years ahead together.

I am sure than the Canadian experience is of paramount importance both for the Association of Legal Clinics and the Community Advisers in Ukraine since our community is just being established while Canada has already achieved a lot. From my point of view, the most valuable experience was a chance to see how to organize the community’s operations consistently in order to improve its capacity. 

I believe that the consistent daily operations and focus on the achievement of the strategic targets will enable us to procure access to law at all levels, including small communities.

© Interview from the website of the Association of Legal Clinics of Ukraine

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