Written by a Rise student, this thoughtful reflection details the student clinician’s increased understanding of family law and their experiences transitioning from the classroom to working in the clinic at Rise. This reflection appeared in Issue 151, on Diversity in Verdict magazine, published by the Trial Lawyers Association of BC in the Winter 2017 edition.
From Classroom to Clinic – By: Arash Ehteshami
In my first weeks at Rise Women’s Legal Centre, I quickly came to realize that my knowledge around family law legislation and case law did not help me in the slightest when trying to understand the complex mechanics of actually navigating the court process. Even the simplest task, like initiating proceedings in either Provincial or Supreme Court, became mind-numbingly difficult to grasp, despite ready access to CLE materials and bountiful online resources. I may have been shell-shocked being thrown into a clinic environment, but nonetheless, it has made me appreciate the barriers many people face when trying to access our courts. And this is coming from someone that has had the privilege of attending law school for the past couple of years.
There is a very real difference, I find, between reading about divorce and family violence in a textbook and having a client share their first-hand experience about the same topic, face-to-face. No matter how explicitly a textbook (or even a judgment) tries to frame a client’s experience, it still lacks the ‘human’ element that makes working at Rise so different from being in the classroom. I don’t remember a single time in law school where a client was described to have suddenly broken out in tears, trying to recall years of abuse suffered at the hand of a former partner. Instead, family law is systematically decontextualized in the classroom into isolated issues, where emotion is superfluous and takes a back-seat to the ‘real’ issues at hand.
The change from the classroom to the real world has further been quite drastic for me: facts that were previously handed out on a silver platter now require careful questioning of clients, and issues that were blatantly obvious to spot in fact-patterns have now become an exercise in balancing priorities, from most-to least-urgent. While I’m unsure to what extent the PLTC module on family law can bridge the gap between the classroom and working with clients, I know that once the metaphorical rubber hit the figurative road, being able to read pleadings quickly and getting a handle on a client’s case took precedence over knowing what exact paragraph the test for relocation was set out in Gordon v Goertz. It’s amazing to look back on the last two months at Rise and realize just how far my understanding of family law has come.
Overall, I find myself very fortunate to be able to complement my studies with the practical know-how offered at Rise. Not only will I graduate with tangible, real-life experience in dealing with clients, I also get the opportunity to take family law for a spin and see if it truly is a field that I want to commit my time and energy to, once I graduate.
Moreover, it is incredible just how much positive work we can do for clients that literally have nowhere else to turn for their family and child protection matters. Sometimes, even giving the client an hour of time to listen to her legal problem, without making her pay out of her ears can help in easing, even if only temporarily the crushing emotional and psychological stress that she may have lived with for years. It is both inspiring and humbling.