By Adrianna Mills, 2L, University of Toronto Faculty of Law
Like most law students choosing a placement for summer, I was interested in an internship that would provide me with an introduction to legal work, an overview of exciting legal fields, and hands-on client experience. I certainly received this at Justice for Children and Youth (JFCY).
I began my summer already keenly interested in children’s law, after completing a graduate degree that focused on children as victims of crime. While at JFCY, I had the opportunity to work on many interesting client files, relating to criminal defence, unaccompanied minor refugees arriving at the border, post-mortem DNA testing, special education and others. One of the great things about working in a clinic like JFCY is the chance to work with clients directly, even as student. While doing so, I garnered an appreciation for JFCY’s holistic approach to the client, which views the client as a young person with interrelated legal issues.
In addition, I worked on an independent research project in partial fulfilment of the requirements for a Donner Civic Leadership Fellowship. This project examined whether or not Canadian criminal courts use Gladue principles to consider the best interests of the accused’s child when sentencing Indigenous offenders. This research provided me with an overview of criminal sentencing, Indigenous issues, and the best interests of the child framework.
However, it was not until mid-way through my placement that I realized the most important thing I have learned from the staff at JFCY: a glimpse at the kind of lawyer I want to be.
In a profession known for its intellectual challenges and adversarial system, it’s difficult not to get caught up in a focus on oneself, on accomplishments, job title, and wins—in essence, a lawyer-centric view. The lawyers at JFCY are invariably client focused. JFCY’s clients are often highly vulnerable, as children, unstably housed youth, refugees, young people with disabilities, and members of other marginalized groups. JFCY lawyers are driven by a passion to assist them.
What has struck me most is the way that the staff, and particularly my supervisor, Allison Williams, approach their work with such humility. They are willing to ask questions, and as such, invite them from others. They admit they are always learning and that others have something to teach them. They are empathetic, patient, and dedicated, and I am grateful to have had a chance to work alongside them this summer.