Imagine this: You have a great time during Orientation Week (although that’s not too hard to imagine), you meet your classmates and your professors, and law school begins. The days whirl by, December exams come and go, and the next thing you know it’s February and reading week is finally in sight.
Like most first year students, you signed up for the Law Students Legal Advice Program (LSLAP) and have been attending clinics for months. You have met with many clients, listened to each of their stories, and discussed their cases with Brian (the awesome supervising lawyer). You have helped clients with small claims and even one with their will, but none of your files have gone much further than that.
Tonight’s clinic is different. The next client that walks through the door and sits in front of you will be unlike any other. That client will spill their story but this time you will play an integral part in it. The client tells you that they have a court appearance in a week.
You scan their file, listen to them speak, take notes, and meet with Brian. “Yep” he says, after reading over the file. “Look’s like we will want to plead guilty… you’re going to have to do a speak to sentence” he concludes. You stare at him dumbfounded. The words sputter from your mouth, “I’m going to do a what?”. “Well don’t look too shocked kid, you’re going to court!”
Now you may be thinking to yourself…what do you mean a student is going to court? We are only in our first year, we hardly know anything, how can we actually represent a client? We can’t just put on a suit and play lawyers…we hardly have any law in our heads! Well the answer is that yes, some of you will have the opportunity to go to court in your first year at UBC Law. In fact, this story is hardly fiction; it’s exactly what happened to me.
There are a few of you who will be whistling all the way to court and there are a few of you who will dread ever setting foot in front of a judge. I’m guessing most of you will be like me though, and fall somewhere in between being excited and petrified at the thought of speaking in a courtroom. Now I have to say, that even though I thoroughly prepped with Brian and practiced my speech a hundred times, I was still scared out of my pants when I stepped into that courtroom in Surrey.
I ended up going to court twice. The first time there was a mix-up and I had to reschedule my speak to sentence for the next week. To top it off, I forgot where my client was standing when I went to introduce her to the judge. “This is my client Ms. X” I stated with what little confidence I could find. I turned to my left to point to my client, only to realize that she wasn’t there. “I believe your client is standing to your right Ms. Meyer” the judge stated, displeased... The rest of the appearance passed by in a blur and soon I was leaving the courthouse, already dreading my return the next week.
The days zoomed by and it was already time for my second attempt at my speak to sentence. This time there were no mix-ups and everything went ahead as planned. I even turned to my right and pointed to my client instead of an empty space beside me (phew). Thanks to one of the nicest judges I could ever hope to meet, I delivered my speech without stumbling and my client was given a very minimal sentence. I had survived! It was a success! When it was all over my client and I hugged, her eyes were filled with gratitude, and for a second I felt what it was like to be a lawyer.
In the end, going to court turned out to be one of the most amazing experiences I had in my first year of law school. I would highly recommend that you all sign up for LSLAP. Regardless of whether or not you have a client that you end up representing in court, I can assure you that it will be worth you while. Finally, I must add that you will NEVER be forced to represent one of your clients in court if you join the LSLAP program. If you do not feel comfortable going to court it is very easy to transfer your file to another student. Also, if you are set on going to court, you can put your name on a list and will receive the court files that other students transfer.
If you have any questions or concerns or want to learn more about LSLAP send me an email!
Hope June is treating you well,
Your Orientation Coordinator,
 Before a sentence is given, the accused, or counsel for the accused (this would be an LSLAP student), must be permitted to “speak to sentence” and make submissions to the judge that could affect the sentence. After hearing Crown recommendations and then defence submission, the judge will give a sentence. For more information you can read the LSLAP manual…but I would highly suggest waiting to learn more about this during the LSLAP info sessions in September! http://www.lslap.bc.ca/UserFiles/01_Criminal%2009.pdf