Student placement program offers hands-on experience to legal education

Law student Casey Caines shares her experience in the student placement program with Legal Aid Alberta

Legal Aid AB
April 13, 2022

At the beginning of her legal career, Casey Caines was unsure of what area of law she wanted to practice in—but a placement at Legal Aid Alberta led her one step closer to her answer.

“I wouldn’t say I was passionate about the law specifically,” says Caines. “I was passionate about where the law meets systemic inequalities in people.”

Wrapping up her second year at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Law, Caines joined Legal Aid Alberta as part of the student placement program in the “Low Income and the Law” course under the Family Office. Caines found herself a step closer to understanding where she fits within the legal system—particularly where she can do work that is meaningful and connected to the community.

“I am really interested in how the law can address systemic inequalities and access to justice,” says Caines. As an Indigenous mature student and mother of two young children, Caines found that a placement at Legal Aid Alberta was a perfect fit to pursue her knack for public law.

Firsts for everything

As a first-generation law student, Caines began her placement with strictly theoretical backgrounds and knowledge of the law. With the support of the Family Law Office team and supervisor Legal Aid Alberta Lawyer, Chuck Easton, Caines gained insight on practical applications of the law, from basic court etiquette to using trauma-informed approaches to client service. Caines adds: “There’s an immeasurable number of things that I learned through the program.”

These learned lessons, however, came with its own challenges. Understanding the boundaries for empathy to establish safe spaces, Caines shared her struggle with vicarious trauma. “When I see a client that looks like an aunt or cousin, it can be difficult to restrain that empathy to establish safe spaces,” says Caines, “I had to learn to manage the boundaries in a healthy way and remember the reasons why I went to law school in the first place.”

Memorable experiences

One of the significant lessons Caines took away was understanding how the law intersects with inequities in the community. “Seeing how legal aid works…you begin to understand how law can be used as a tool in some communities,” says Caines. “You’re able to see how that can address some systemic inequalities and not just create them.”

The placement “really allowed me to ground my lived experiences in legal education,” says Caines. “So often, we learn about Indigenous people through a legal lens, but at Legal Aid Alberta, I was able to truly work within and with my community and find ways to uplift them.”

Caines also established strong, long-lasting connections with the Legal Aid Alberta team: “With Legal Aid Alberta, you’re able to discuss your broader career goals,” says Caines, “everyone is invested in your legal education and career.”

After completing her placement in early April, Caines has since landed an upcoming articling position for the Court of Appeal of Alberta and looks forward to continuing work with Legal Aid Alberta in the future.

For young lawyers beginning their careers and incoming law students, Caines has some words of wisdom.

Caines reminds lawyers who are early in their careers about the importance of integrity: “Remain authentic to yourself. If you go to law school to do public service work and make meaningful change to be part of systemic reform, it’s important to hold onto that even in the difficult moments.”

For students, “get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” says Caines. “Pursue opportunities like the student placement. We can often talk ourselves out of doing these things, but it’s my takeaway and I’m pushing for people to do that in their legal education.”

For more information on student placements for the Low Income and the Law course or opportunities to join Legal Aid Alberta, click here.

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