Connie Do describes herself as “not a very traditional law student.” Set on pursuing graduate studies in psychology throughout her undergrad degree, she says it wasn’t until she began working for a rehabilitation psychologist and learning about personal injury law that she decided to go to law school.
After starting out at Allard Law in 2018, Connie signed on as a volunteer with the Law Students’ Legal Advice Program (LSLAP), a student-run organization, but also one of the largest legal aid providers in BC. In 2020, she served as the group’s executive director. Now about to graduate, Connie explains what made her time with LSLAP so rewarding and what it was like running the organization remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What motivated you to first get involved with LSLAP?
Prior to law school, I worked at a psychology practice whose clients were individuals with barriers to employment, and volunteered with various community initiatives. I wanted to continue helping people during my time at law school, and LSLAP provided a great opportunity to meaningfully contribute to the community while also allowing me to build important skills for legal practice.
What was it like running this organization during a pandemic? What were some of the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
This role is challenging in “normal” times and was certainly more challenging during the pandemic. My term as executive director began in January, so I was only two and a half months into my term—and very much a novice—when the pandemic was declared. It was a daunting experience. The main issues were hiring, securing funding, recruiting and training volunteers, and the upkeep of our files in a remote context.
Fortunately, I worked alongside an excellent team of student executives. Each person brought unique skills to the table, and we approached the job aware that we’d have to be flexible, creative and innovative. We also gave ourselves the space to be imperfect. Sometimes we were just rolling with the punches and making things up as we went along. Other times, we came up with solutions that improved our service delivery overall. We came out of this experience having grown a lot as a team and as individuals.
What did you find most rewarding about your experience with LSLAP?
As clinicians, we are in the position to advocate to the best of our ability for people who don’t have the resources to hire a lawyer. We’re changing the lives of individuals, often for the better, with the tools given to us in law school.
As student executives, there is an additional dimension to our work. I was really happy with how quickly we adapted to the changes and continued our service with little interruption. Like many organizations, the sudden switch to remote work was jarring and we didn’t know how the transition would work out. This was made more challenging for us as students because we were also adapting to the sudden switch to remote schooling.
Many people think of our role in promoting access to justice in terms of the files we take and the breadth of our service. This wouldn’t be possible without a system in place to facilitate the work we do. There’s a lot of work happening behind the scenes, and part of what made my job rewarding was ensuring that things ran smoothly.
Your law school journey will challenge you in all sorts of ways, but it’s also rich with experiences and opportunities.
Why should Allard Law students consider volunteering with LSLAP?
LSLAP gives students an opportunity to facilitate access to justice and gain practical legal skills. As one of the largest legal aid providers in BC, our service is important for many people with financial barriers to legal services. You can gain experience in a variety of legal work, including drafting letters, submissions and pleadings, making court appearances, attending tribunal hearings, negotiating plea deals with the Crown, and preparing and conducting full trials. And sometimes our work makes the news.
Perhaps one of the best aspects of LSLAP is the community-building within our office. We promote an open-door, collegial atmosphere where you’re encouraged to ask questions and share your expertise. One of my favourite memories was debriefing with my colleagues after my very first residential tenancy hearing. I stepped into the common room, announced with a huge sigh of relief that I’d just done my first hearing, and everyone in the room clapped. It was such a validating experience and their support took the edge off of what was, for me, a novel (and stressful!) process.
As you look back on your time at Allard Law, what advice would you give to new students who are just starting law school in the fall?
Your law school journey will challenge you in all sorts of ways, but it’s also rich with experiences and opportunities. Be kind to yourself and acknowledge disappointments, but know that disappointments do not define you or your capacity to excel. Regardless of how your path unfolds, you’ll look back one day and be glad that certain doors were closed to you.
Enjoy the process. Three years will fly by so don’t forget to make some amazing memories with those you meet along the way.