By Samantha Gob, Osgoode Hall Law School, incoming 2L student.
As someone very familiar with the non-profit sector and youth work, JFCY’s mandate of providing legal assistance to low-income children and youth immediately caught my interest. Before law school, I worked for over ten years in the non-profit sector, at one point managing multiple child and youth programs. The idea of assisting children and youth in conflict with the legal system hugely appealed to me. Thankfully, I was given the opportunity to assist JFCY’s mission, working principally with the Street Youth Legal Services (SYLS) program, and I learned so much in the process.
My supervising lawyer, Zahra Shariff, along with other members of the JFCY team, provided me with a wide variety of tasks to dive into, including advocacy letters, hearing preparation, court appearances, client meetings, legal research, and drafting of applications and memoranda. Law school can only teach you so much; it was this actual hands-on legal practice that really solidified my learning from 1L. I understood the Rules of Civil Procedure in a new, vivid way when I experienced, first-hand, the process of perfecting an appeal. While observing Zahra interview new clients, I was able to witness in real-time the art of active listening and of effectively structuring an interview. Even writing my first ‘real-life’ legal memo was somewhat of a surreal experience.
What greatly stands out to me about my experience at JFCY are the clients and their stories. As I mentioned, I’ve worked with young people for most of my adult life. However, like many, the realities and the perspectives of young people, as they navigate the legal world, was not something I had ever truly realized and considered in full. But the voices of children and youth cannot be lost in the din of adult voices deciding what is best for them. Through every interaction I observed between the staff at JFCY and the clients, and every strategic conversation I was privy to, I was made witness to a group of legal professionals that take very seriously the meaning of child-centred legal work. They not only represent our Province’s most vulnerable and, oftentimes, most silenced, and give these young people the voice and agency that they deserve; they also work to change the systems that have contributed to their disempowerment – through systemic law reform and advocacy.
Many of the young people the SYLS program provides services to are those with intersectional identities. The unfortunate reality is that far too many young people experiencing homelessness and poverty have been victims of other forms of abuse, injustice, and prejudice in other facets of their lives. While widespread systemic change remains a painfully slow work-in-progress, it is inspiring to know that there are talented and passionate lawyers, like those at JFCY, who are working to make a difference. I am so proud to have been a part of this team, even if for just a short while.