Law Centre turns 40

Neil Gold and Glenn Gallins
Neil Gold and Glenn Gallins at the Law Centre's 40th anniversary celebration

This year the University of Victoria’s Law Centre celebrates its 40th anniversary, which we will celebrate at the Law Centre on June 9th. As we look back to its beginnings and through its evolution one thing remains clear: the Law Centre offers a critical service to a vulnerable segment of society, and at its heart is a robust student clinical program – arguably the best in the country.

The Law Centre serves between 1,800 and 2,000 low income clients per year and is the longest running common-law clinical program in Canada. What started from humble beginnings in 1977 has served over 80,000 clients in the Greater Victoria area and has become a pillar of student education at UVic Law, thanks in large part to the unwavering direction of Glenn Gallins.

When the University of Victoria’s law school first opened, the school’s initial objective was to have a public law orientation and a focus on contributing to the community. Creating the Law Centre was part of that vision.

Murray Fraser, founding dean of the law school, was the driving force behind the creation of the Law Centre. Professor Neil Gold worked with Murray to get the program up and running in 1977. The idea of clinical programs, which started in the US in the early 1970s was still very new. Once the program was established, Neil stepped down and in 1978 professor Keith Jobson volunteered to step in as the director. In the beginning, students started their clinical term on day one with a pile of files on their desks and had to figure out what to do with them. In 1978, Glenn Gallins was hired to help create a more structured program for students.

Glenn has a favourite story to explain what it was like in those early days. In the spring of 1978, a student named Tony Palmer (who subsequently became a provincial court judge and is now retired) showed up for his first day at the Law Centre and on his desk was a pile of about 30 files. At 4 o’clock that same afternoon he went into Glenn’s office and said “you know, it looks to me like maybe we have a trial tomorrow.”  And he was right - it was a small claims trial. And it showed a glaring need to prepare students for the work they would be doing.

That very first clinical term was in the spring of 1977. The clinic was located in Bastion square in the Law Chambers Building. In early 1978, the Legal Aid Society office in Victoria joined the Law Centre clinical program and together moved to 510 Fort Street until 1980. At that point the office moved to 1221 Broad Street where it remained, for the most part, for the next 20 years.  

Glenn left Victoria in 1982 to study for his LL.M. in public international law at the London School of Economics, and returned as director of the clinic until 1985. Between 1985 and 1992, John Orr was the clinical director, however Glenn remained at the Law Centre mentoring students and managing his own caseload until 1992 when he rejoined as a member of the faculty and the director of the Law Centre. He has taught every clinical law term since then.

Glenn has mentored over 1500 students and has been recognized for his teaching and community contributions many, many times over the years. He has been awarded the University of Victoria Alumni Award for Excellence in Teaching, the Law Faculty's Master Teacher Award, the University of Victoria Community Leadership Award which acknowledged his exemplary leadership in linking the University of Victoria and the community for the greater public benefit, and the Victoria Bar Association's Pamela Murray Award which recognized his high professional standards and substantial contributions to the well-being of the local bar. And In 2013, Professor Gallins was awarded the George A. Goyer Award for his distinguished contributions to the legal profession and residents of British Columbia – the highest honour that that can be bestowed by the BCCBA.

In 2003, the BC government was looking for a way to improve the adjudication of human rights issues. It abolished the BC Human Rights Commission as well as the Advisory Council. The new process provided for direct access to the Human Rights Tribunal, and to assist Complainants and Respondents with that process, the government decided to fund human rights clinics. The Law Centre was awarded a contract by the BC Ministry of Justice to operate one of those clinics and still does so today.

Over the years, the students have become very aware of the fact that if they weren’t helping clients that come to the Law Centre, the outcomes for those clients would be far worse. Because of this, many students have been inspired by their work at the Law Centre to follow careers in social justice.

What has really made the Law Centre’s clinical program stand out is the orientation – the boot camp – which prepares students for work in the clinic. The first orientation, in 1980, was one week in length and dealt solely with trial preparation. Over the years Glenn created a rigorous, 5-week orientation that teaches lawyering skills including interviewing, counselling, negotiation, mediation, trial preparation, and drafting. These skills give law clinic students a huge advantage when applying for articles because they know how to prepare for trials and hearings. They know how to look at legal problems from a client’s point of view. And they’re exposed to a breadth of different types of cases. The Law Centre’s caseload breaks down to 30% criminal law, 30% family law, 10% human rights, and 5% representation agreements and wills.

In 2013, the Law Centre moved to the Victoria Courthouse building where it co-located with the Justice Access Centre. It now houses 5 staff members with seven interview rooms, 17 student work stations and a reception area. Each student is temporarily articled to a member of the local bar and receive advice and assistance on the conduct of their files from their principals.  

Paul Pearson is an alumnus of UVic Law, practices criminal law with Mulligan Tam Pearson, and teaches as a sessional instructor at the law school. He has also volunteered as a supervising lawyer at the Law Centre, so he’s been with the Law Centre, and Glenn Gallins, both as a student and as a practicing lawyer.  He had a lot of wonderful things to say about his experiences there:

 “When you experience the Law Centre as a law student, you see why it is consistently described as the best thing students did in law school. While many students enter the program with a keen desire to put what they have learned at UVic to practical use, they soon realize the problems their clients face are very, very real. Without the calm guidance of Glenn Gallins, these problems could all too easily become overwhelming. Law students who have completed Law Centre are changed people, and carry with them life-long empathy for the persons in society who most desperately need the courageous protection of lawyers. 

The mutual benefit received by both law students and members of the public is a rare example of what can be achieved with a modest budget and strong support from both the University and the community. Well over a thousand law students, and countless thousands of British Columbians have benefited from this pioneering and ever adapting program. “

Students in the clinical program work with staff lawyers Stephen Perks and Tybring Hemphill, both of whom have been mainstays of the Law Centre for over 15 years. They assist students with their files and help them prepare for trials, often accompanying them to court. Students also work with Susan Noakes, the staff social worker who helps address the full range of clients’ problems, and who assists the students with how to interact most effectively with clients, some of whom have led very difficult lives. Students have found this interdisciplinary approach immensely rewarding.   

The face of the clinic is Judy Jones, the Program Administrator. As far as Glenn is concerned, she runs the place and deals with every aspect of administration. “It’s clear that she truly loves her job,” says Glenn. “She’s down to earth, knowledgeable and easy to deal with, but she’s not afraid to tell the students to pull up their socks. She is the eyes and ears of the place.” And so is her dog, Misty - a sweet little Maltese-Shih Tzu cross. “Misty is an institution who keeps the student’s stress levels under control” explains Glenn. “She’s also wonderful at calming down our clients. She’s the secret.”

And it seems Judy truly does love her job. “Our students work tirelessly to assist so many people on a daily basis,” explains Judy. “With cutbacks to so many agencies, The Law Centre continues to help those who can’t help themselves or navigate the legal system. Glenn Gallins, as director of The Law Centre, oversees not only the teaching and support of the students, but also all of the funding challenges.  Glenn, with the help of the outstanding staff of the Law Centre, is dedicated to the ongoing learning and most importantly, professional and empathic assistance to clients.”

The Law Centre has been able to keep its doors open for 40 years thanks in large part to the support of the Law Foundation of BC, which has provided uninterrupted funding every year since 1984, and, more recently, by the friends and alumni of the Faculty of Law through donations.