Access to justice is prime concern for paralegal grad Nadya Stewart

Published: 10/9/2014

August was an exciting month for recent paralegal graduate Nadya Stewart. At mid-month, she wrote the paralegal licencing exam at Toronto’s Metro Convention Centre with a few hundred other aspiring legal services providers. A few days later, Nadya’s contract as a student paralegal at the Rexdale Community Legal Clinic was unexpectedly extended from the beginning of September to the end October. Nadya happily welcomed the news.

“In this clinic, everybody is so amazing and helpful,” says Nadya, who began work in May at the Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) clinic in Rexdale after graduating from Sheridan College’s two-year paralegal program in April. “I never feel strange if I have to ask a question because there is always somebody who is willing to help and guide you. If there are ever any challenges or I’m not 100 per cent sure of something, there’s always someone I ask for their experience or advice.”

Taking a chance

Nadya already had already worked part-time at a debtor-creditor firm as a student when she saw a posting at the college for a student paralegal position at the Rexdale Community Legal Clinic. She decided to take a chance and try something new. Her learning experience at the clinic has proved her gamble worthwhile.

“When I was in school, I didn’t focus on any particular area of law available to paralegals,” she recalls. “Once I came to the Rexdale clinic, there were so many different areas to work in like Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program. It was awesome to help lawyers with hearing preparations and go with them to their clients’ hearings. It has been a really good experience.”

Seminars for the community

As well as helping vulnerable clients with Ontario Works, ODSP and housing matters at the clinic, Nadya has gained practical working experience with staff members outside of the clinic. She participated in frontline service in the community to tell residents about the services provided by the Rexdale Clinic and Legal Aid Ontario.

“Just informing people about services the clinic provides is wonderful because a lot of people don’t really know about them and need assistance,” says Nadya. “I assisted one of the lawyers with a couple of legal services seminars. One was in the clinic for the Tamil community to let people know their rights as tenants. People asked lots of questions because there were things most people didn’t know. Thanks to the presentation, they found out. You feel great when you are able to help in that way.”

Discovering the paralegal profession

As someone about to become a member of one of Canada’s newest professions, Nadya is aware that the public, as well as some lawyers, do not yet fully understand what legal services are part of paralegals’ scope of practice.

“Hopefully that will change and I think it will gradually over time,” she says. “Since paralegals have only been licenced since 2007, people are not really sure what area paralegals can work in. But I find people do want to know what the difference is between a paralegal and a lawyer.”

However, the lawyers working with Nadya at the Rexdale Community Legal Clinic are fully aware of the role of a paralegal and how working as an interdisciplinary team benefits their clients.

“The lawyers here are great,” says Nadya. “They are willing to have me help and assist them in any way that I am able to and it’s fantastic. I don’t find any conflicts. They are pleased to have me assist them and they know what paralegals are able and not able to do. We make it work. It is 100 percent mutual cooperation.”

Helping people is the best experience

When asked what she enjoys most at the clinic, Nadya immediately says the experience of helping people who come there for services.

“People come and let you know what their issues are,” says Nadya. “The intake workers, some who have been here 30 years, assess the situation. Just being able to have that first-hand look right when people are coming in is great. You see the different issues that people are dealing with in the community and are able to see how the clinic can help. I’ve so enjoyed that.”

Access to justice is the main thing

As a result of working at the Rexdale Community Legal Clinic, Nadya hopes to work for Legal Aid Ontario after her contract ends and she is a newly-minted licenced paralegal. The clinic experience made her realize what is most needed to help low-income clients.

“I am definitely looking to help, as are all lawyers and paralegals, with access to justice for everyone – that is the main thing clients need,” says Nadya, who is a member of the Paralegal Society of Ontario and the Women’s Paralegal Association of Ontario. “There are a lot of people who don’t have access and require it. I hope I am able to assist that way. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to work at the clinic because I was able to see where the needs are first-hand. I would definitely like to continue working in Legal Aid to explore and learn as much as I can.”

Kill Bill C-585 Which Would Deny Refugee Claimants Social Assistance

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Bill C-585 seeks to deny access to social assistance to refugee claimants. This is a crucial lifeline for individuals who have often escaped war and persecution when newly arrived. Frequently, refugee claimants cannot access work permits for months on end, and rely on social assistance to survive. We cannot support such a cruel policy.

http://www.change.org/p/stephen-harper-kill-bill-c-585-which-would-deny-refugee-claimants-social-assistance