While she is still settling into her new job, Sarah Forsyth, Law’15, already has found there are a couple of aspects of her work as a Review Counsel with Queen’s Legal Aid (QLA) that she really enjoys.
“For one, I love working with students,” she says. “As I’m doing so, I find myself thinking, ‘What would it have helped me to know back when?’ And that leads me to share with students any information that I hope will benefit them down the road as they pursue their own legal careers.”
The other thing Forsyth relishes is helping legal-aid clients who face challenges related to their residential tenancies, social-welfare benefits, employment situations, interactions with the criminal law system, and similar legal issues that many find befuddling. Her commitments to doing right and helping others are career-path altering imperatives that she developed in her second year of law school.
During her undergrad time at the University of Ottawa, Forsyth spent a year (2006-07) serving as a House of Commons page, and for three years after that she was a Parliament Hill tour guide. It was her experiences during that formative four-year period that sparked in her interests in politics and constitutional law and in a vague notion that she might pursue a career in the law. That prompted her to enroll in law school.
It was at Queen’s that Forsyth’s career plans took a marked turn. She found that she especially enjoyed studying Administrative Law with (the now late) Professor Stan Corbett. “I return to the principles I learned in that course frequently,” she says.
Forsyth’s interest in pursuing a career in constitutional law or government faded further while she was doing an externship placement with the Community Advocacy and Legal Centre in Belleville, Ont. She found herself immersed in a wide range of legal work – researching points of law, assisting with case and project management, interviewing clients, and working on Landlord and Tenant Board cases, among a great many other things. “That was my first opportunity in law school to do ‘hands-on’ work in a clinical setting. When I did so, I found that I really enjoyed the experience,” she says.
As a result, she subsequently spent a summer working with the Kingston Community Legal Clinic (KCLC), where she went on after graduation to article and then practise, focusing on residential tenancy cases. “My title, other than Staff Lawyer, was Eviction Prevention Worker,” she says. ‘I worked with low-income tenants and represented them in hearings before the Landlord and Tenant Board.”
Being very much a “people person,” Forsyth branched out in 2019 to teach an introductory course in residential tenancies law in the Paralegal program at Loyalist College in Belleville. She enjoyed teaching and working with students so much that when the opportunity to join the staff at QLA came along in March, she went for it. “I really loved my job at KCLC, and I loved the people. But after almost five years, I was felt it was time for me to gain exposure to other areas of the law, and I thought I could do that at QLA and at the same time, I’d be able to work with students.” Forsyth was right about that. QLA offers services in a wide range of areas, including residential tenancies, civil claims and defences, criminal charges, disability benefits, and human rights.
“I’ve experienced a steep learning curve at QLA,” she says. “The nature of the work I’m now doing is different in that while I’m still practising law, I’m now doing it by advising and directing students I’m counselling,” says Forsyth.
“Instead of drafting documents myself, interviewing clients, or doing all the other tasks that a lawyer normally does, I advise and direct students as they do that work. This has required some adjustment on my part, and I’m still learning. But I love what I’m doing at QLA. I really enjoy the law, and I really enjoy teaching.”
The Queen’s Law Clinics gratefully acknowledge the support of Legal Aid Ontario, the Law Foundation of Ontario, Pro Bono Students Canada, the Class of Law’81, the United Way of KFL&A, and alumni, friends, and industry sponsors.
By Ken Cuthbertson, Law’83