Ultra Vires


Review: A Summer at Advocates for Injured Workers

If you want to apply your theoretical knowledge to hands-on advocacy, a legal clinic is the best place to go.

Summer 2018 caseworkers at the Injured Workers Action for Justice (IAW4J) picnic at High Park
Photo credit: Morgan Watkins (2L)

Advocates for Injured Workers (AIW) is a legal clinic that represents clients in their workers’ compensation claims. After workers have been injured on the job, they are legally entitled to certain benefits and services from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). The role of AIW is to guide clients through the appeal process after their claims have been denied. This summer, I worked as a student caseworker at the clinic, and, in my totally biased objective opinion, it was the absolute best possible 1L summer.

As a summer student, each caseworker has sole carriage over ten to fifteen files. The work is varied and interesting.  Tasks include medical and legal research, developing case strategy, communicating with and on behalf of clients, and written and oral advocacy. (I know so many medical terms now! Please do not test me on this!)

No two files are quite the same; each has its unique quirks and challenges. This summer, in addition to assisting with WSIB claims, I also prepared and filed a human rights application for one of my clients.

I distinctly remember starting my summer at AIW and feeling like I had no idea what was going on. We had training sessions led by staff lawyers, legal workers, and experts from outside the clinic spread over a few weeks. On the first day, we had a morning and an afternoon session scheduled, with some room in between to get up to speed on our new files. Instead, the second I sat down at my desk, my phone rang and I spent the next hour-and-a-half chatting with one of my new clients.

Although the level of responsibility can be daunting at times, the staff lawyers are extremely patient and generous with their time. All of the written work that you complete is reviewed by the lawyers before being sent out, so you can be sure that you are submitting quality work for your client for which you won’t be sued. The lawyers are meticulous in their reviewing and, as a result, my legal writing has definitely improved since the beginning of the summer. (I make no promises about my non-legal writing.)

In addition to the substantive help, the staff lawyers at AIW go above and beyond to make sure that you feel supported, not just in your work for the clinic, but also outside of it. (Seriously, this summer, I got thoughtful and helpful advice on everything from job applications to course selection to what my younger sister could do with her biochemistry degree.)

Working with other law students also makes for a fun and collaborative work environment. There were nine of us in total this summer and it was great to have peers around off of whom to bounce ideas and with whom to commiserate about course selection. (Apparently everyone in this law school has great taste and chose Professor Dawood’s Democracy, Politics, and the Law course. Who knew waitlists could stretch so far?).

Thank you to my co-workers for (re-)teaching me how to use the postage meter and for helping me decipher obscure doctors’ notes. To the many doctors undoubtedly reading this, please, please just type your notes.

Throughout the school year, I had worked on a research project with Industrial Accident Victims Group (IAVGO), the parent clinic to AIW, as part of the Pro-Bono Students Canada Union-Side Labour Law Project. Over the course of that project, I read through more than 150 Workplace Safety and Appeals Tribunal decisions, combing through for equity factors that would give us insight into how the WSIB’s decisions may produce unequal effects for workers facing racial, gendered, mental, linguistic, and other barriers. Following that research up with tangible, hands-on advocacy as a clinic worker was incredible. The workers’ compensation system can be a confusing, frustrating maze to navigate and helping clients through it was extremely rewarding.

If you have an interest in workers’ rights, labour and employment law, public interest work, litigation, etc., I highly recommend getting involved with AIW, next year. There are so many ways to do so, whether as a volunteer, summer caseworker, or a for-credit student. Regardless of which you do, you’ll get to do meaningful work with top-notch people. It’s just that if you’re a summer student, you’ll get all of the above, plus three weeks of paid vacation. Just sayin’.

Caseworkers Angela Hou (2L) and Lauren Rainsford (2L) attending the Injured Workers Day march at Queen’s Park on June 1, 2018.
Credit: Morgan Watkins (2L)

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