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Access to Justice: International Lawyers & NCA Students Stepping Up

I recently joined the National Canadian Lawyers’ Initiative (NCLI) as an Intake Coordinator. If you haven’t heard of NCLI, it is Canada’s newest Access to Justice organization dedicated to filling the gap between Provincial Legal Aid and paid legal services for those who don’t qualify for the former and cannot afford the later. As an intake coordinator, I’m usually the first human contact a client has with the organization which means I get to hear their stories and experiences with the Canadian justice system firsthand while providing general legal information and, where necessary, triaging their case to one of NCLI’s growing community of pro bono lawyers.

In addition to improving access to justice in Canada, NCLI is also a model for diversity! Throughout my time at NCLI, I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with the organization’s fantastic and diverse Executive Team as well as working with a super collaborative and supportive team of fellow Intake Coordinators from varied backgrounds and professional experiences. Furthermore, the work we do makes me proud to be joining the legal profession because, as I listen to client stories, it has become even more evident how important legal service are to the communities we live in.

I’m also incredibly proud of the NCLI’s diverse roots. The organization’s inception and success has been driven by Internationally Trained Lawyers (ITL) and Internationally Trained Law Students (ITLS). NCLI President Alex Don and Executive Assistant Alex Kim both received their LL.B. from the University of Leicester; Vice-President Mark Mejía gained his legal education in the Dominical Republic; and the organization’s Director of Communications, Rapti Ratnayake, attended law school in Edinburgh.

But the international influence doesn’t stop with the executive team. So many of my fellow Intake Coordinators have completed or are in the process of completing their NCA examinations and are taking the first steps towards making an impact in the Canadian legal market. It’s been a true pleasure connecting with my fellow NCA community in this way and contributing to something important in the midst of COVID shut-downs that have impacted small business and individual citizens across the country.

Furthermore, the opportunities that NCLI offers NCA students are incredibly valuable considering so many NCA students who opt for the self-study option are shut out of Pro Bono Students Canada (PBSC) chapters since they do not have a Canadian University campus to call home. NCA students also find it difficult to gain access to other Pro Bono opportunities if they are studying from afar or simply don’t have any other Canadian experience on their resume.

Yet so many NCA students crave Canadian legal experience and the opportunity to make a difference in the legal profession they will soon be entering. This is a struggle that NCLI’s own Rapti Ratnayake sympathizes with: “As [an Internationally Trained Lawyer] myself, I’ve found it very hard to volunteer on other pro bono work. We’ve made an active effort to include everyone, irrespective of where they have trained.” As such, NCLI welcomes both Canadian and globally trained law student and as an added bonus, their “offices” are online given the cross-Canada nature of the NCLI clients and the new COVID reality in which we find ourselves which means those who are not physically in Canada (like me!) can still participate.

So, if you are a Canadian or International Law Student looking for pro bono opportunities, I highly recommend NCLI. If you are a lawyer licensed to practice in any Canadian province, please also consider donating some of your time to this very important access to justice effort!

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