U of M faculty of law looks to improve access to legal service in rural MB

The University of Manitoba faculty of law and the Law Society of Manitoba are looking to improve remote access to legal services in our province.

With the law society’s “Forgivable Loans Program,” certain law students could receive a free legal education, as long as they move to a remote community in the province and practice law for five years or more.

Under with the program, chosen students will have 20 per cent of their tuition and living expenses reimbursed each year, for five years after graduation, if they practice law in a remote Manitoba community.

After five years the hope is that the lawyer will be well established in the community and be likely to remain there.

“It’s an access to justice issue,” Brenda Silver, director of Professional Education and
Competence at the law society said in a press release issued by the university.

“There are many underserviced communities that likely have people who love their community and want to be lawyers but can’t afford the training. This program aims to alleviate that hurdle and help these communities get lawyers.”

Two law students per year will benefit from the new program. The students will still have to meet regular admission requirements for the faculty of law. The program hopes to welcome two students in September of 2011, and the deadline for admission was Nov. 1.

“The faculty of law is committed to ensuring access to justice and it gives us great pride to take part in such an innovative program,” acting dean Lorna Turnbull said in a press release.

“It’s important that communities throughout the province have reliable access to lawyers who can help them fight for their rights, or on a more basic level, purchase properties, establish or sell businesses, arrange wills or settle family matters.”

Some students in the faculty of law agreed with Turnbull’s sentiment.

“The program seems like it’s not a bad solution to the challenge of providing accessibility to legal services,” said Corey Lo, a law student at the U of M.

“This program is something worth considering.”

However, Greg Sanderson, a lawyer practicing in Dauphin but serving several small towns nearby, felt that the program will “not likely improve access to anything for people in remote
communities.”

“It will not matter if the law degree is free; a lawyer cannot make a good living in such a small area,” said Sanderson.

Sanderson explained that the benefits of having their degree paid for would not outweigh the costs a lawyer would have to pay to maintain an office in a remote area.

The faculty of law at the University of Manitoba is not the only law school looking to solve the problem of remote access to legal professionals. In a report released by the Law
Foundation of Ontario in 2009, this issue was stated to be an important priority.

The report explained that the lack of legal services affects communities and groups in different
ways.

For rural women experiencing domestic violence, the smallness of the community may create personal conflicts and make it difficult to maintain confidentiality. The lack of childcare and transportation can cause difficulties to make appointments to see a lawyer, and the lack of shelters and support services may make it impossible to leave.

“Specialty services and expertise may also be lacking to deal with the needs of youth, the elderly and people with disabilities,” said the report.

The report went on to state that one way to increase access to remote and rural areas would be to provide incentives, which may include free access to continuing legal education and loan forgiveness for recent law school graduates.