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PBSC Queen’s volunteers help low-income clients navigate Family Court 

(March 2, 2017)

Project coordinator Amy Jephson, Law’17 (top row, 2nd right) with members of the PBSC Queen’s Family Law Project
Project coordinator Amy Jephson, Law’17 (top row, 2nd right) with members of the PBSC Queen’s Family Law Project

The rising problem of self-representing clients means that more and more people are struggling through confusing and emotionally charged family court processes on their own. Pro Bono Students Canada Queen’s is helping to demystifying the process for these disadvantaged clients through its Family Law Project (FLP). As part of an innovative national project, it sees student volunteers prepare court documents and guide clients through the court process.

“The complexity of Family Court is compounded by very real chronic problems associated with poverty,” explains Amy Jephson, Law’17, the project’s coordinator. “The Family Law Project allows these clients to access the family law system on a more equal footing with other Canadians.”

FLP volunteers at Queen’s work in tandem with the Queen’s Family Law Clinic to assist clients through a range of family law issues, such as custody, access, child support and divorce. “Where the Family Law Project operates, clients can have their cases presented in a way that is so much stronger than they could on their own,” she says. “The volunteers and lawyer supervisors act as translators between the clients and the courts. Clients tell volunteers their stories and volunteers, working under the close supervision of lawyers, interpret those stories for the Family Court.”

The student volunteers get practical experience preparing court documents and become accustomed to the quality standards and technical requirements for filing. They also learn how poorer clients interact with Canada’s legal system. “In two to three years when volunteers begin working at for-profit private law firms, their previous interactions in the program will increase the importance they give to pro bono legal work,” says Jephson.

“I could not be happier that I became the Family Law Project Coordinator,” she adds. “I have the opportunity to combine my passion of law with my passion to teach. It has given me the chance to speak to volunteers and emphasize why we are doing this work. I have in my time as coordinator tried to show that we are here to help people who desperately need it. That is what I have found the most rewarding about leading this project.”

Karla McGrath, LLM’13, Executive Director of Queen’s Law Clinics, praises the Family Law Project for its work increasing access to justice. She has worked with PBSC Queen’s students in Family Court since before her association with Queen’s. “Those experiences informed my decision and my effort to found the Queen’s Family Law Clinic. I’ve worked with dozens of Pro Bono students over the years and have always been impressed by their commitment, enthusiasm and quality of work.”

By Anthony Pugh