Queen’s legal aid clinic loses $22,000 under Student Choice Initiative

Law students opted in to fee at higher rate than undergraduate students

QLA Director Blair Crew.
Photo: 
The Queen’s Legal Aid (QLA) clinic lost $22,000 in funding following the implementation of the Student Choice Initiative (SCI) this fall. 
 
The SCI was introduced by the provincial government in January, and gave students the choice of opting out of fees deemed “non-essential” by the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities (MTCU). While some law schools considered challenging the province about the loss of mandatory status for legal aid student fees, the levies became optional this September. 
 
In a written statement to The Journal, QLA Director Blair Crew said 77 per cent of undergraduate students opted in to the $5.50 QLA student fee. 
 
“We are grateful to the large number of students who decided in favour of paying the Queen’s Legal Aid levy,” he said. “We think of the levy as an inexpensive ‘legal representation group insurance policy’ in which a majority of the AMS and SGPS students had the wisdom to participate.”
 
While Crew said 76 per cent of graduate students opted in to the QLA fee, more than 90 per cent of law students within the SGPS paid the fee. 
 
“This demonstrates a very high commitment to helping to promote social justice from a group of students who uniquely understand the vital need for the services QLA provides.” Crew said.
 
“Not only do the students who opted to pay the levy help support QLA’s anti-poverty work that assists the people of Kingston, but they also gain instant access to a free, closely supervised law student to represent them for their own legal matters.”
 
Despite the promising opt-in rates, Crew said there wasn’t a lot of time for the clinic to advertise the benefits of paying the fee to students.
 
“The Student Choice Initiative caught everyone by surprise,” he said. “The fee descriptions, which described the purposes of the levy on the fee slate itself, were kept short and we were limited to a small number of characters. This did not allow QLA to fully explain the benefits of the QLA levy.”
 
Organizations were allowed fewer than 200 words in the opt-out portal to describe the potential benefits of paying the fee. 
 
“We hope that longer descriptions will be permitted next year. In the meantime, we believe that word of mouth of the many students who opted in this year and who will benefit from QLA’s services will increase the opt-in rate for 2020.”
 
Crew said this year’s financial losses will not seriously affect Queen’s law students. 
 
“The majority of students who participate as QLA caseworkers are volunteers who generously donate their time, without receiving either pay or academic credit,” he said. “As such, law students will continue to have the opportunity to hone their advocacy skills while giving back to the community, despite the reduction in QLA’s revenue.”
 
Crew added that, for the time being, the losses to QLA funding would not result in reductions in staffing levels or the number of supervised law students.
 

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