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Law professor Gemma Smyth created a website designed to equip students with the essential people skills needed for working in poverty law.Law professor Gemma Smyth created a website designed to equip students with the essential people skills needed for working in poverty law.

Website aimed at improving clinical law skills

UWindsor’s Faculty of Law has recently created a website designed to equip students with the essential people skills needed for working in poverty law. The Clinical Law website is accompanied by a YouTube channel that hosts a series of video lessons.

“These are vital skills for clinic students,” says Gemma Smyth, law professor and website creator. “The program is intended to supplement the existing law program in an accessible format for students."

After interviewing clinicians and law students across Ontario, Smyth says she saw a primary struggle with introducing students to important clinical law concepts before they entered practice. 

Smyth (LLB ’02) partnered with film producer Kim Nelson of UWindsor’s Department of Communication, Media and Film, to develop open source videos aimed at introducing skills, etiquette, social justice attitudes and knowledge for novice lawyers.

There are several dozen video courses covering such topics as client interviewing and counselling; experiential awareness and cultural competence; explaining retainers; exploring lived realities of poverty; trial skills; and reflective practice. The site features mock trials and hypothetical scenarios, as well as lessons laid out in two to 20 minute videos.

"I was fortunate that Professor Nelson was willing to be creative and take a risk to work with a program that isn't typically associated with film,” says Smyth. “Both law and film students learned a lot about one another, both in terms of subject knowledge and professional attitudes."

The interdisciplinary project included help from film students Svjetlana Oppen (BSc ’12, Hons. BA ’14), Maria Cusumano (Hons. BA ’14), Brian Khan (Hons. BA ’14), and law students Mackenzie Falk, Shawna Labadie (Hons. SW ‘11, LLB ’14) and Colin Wood (LLB ’15).

Nelson’s documentary film-making class also got on board to help create the documentary, Under the System, a hard hitting, stark look at poverty in Windsor, which screened at the Windsor International Film Festival.

The project was funded by a 2013 Strategic Priority Fund grant. Since launching in February 2015, Smyth says the YouTube channel has had more than 10,000 hits from around the world, including the United States, Australia, India and South Africa. Feedback from viewers will inspire future material.

"We are thrilled that people around the world are using this program. Our primary goal was to improve clinical practice at home, but it has been gratifying that the program is obviously meeting a need in other jurisdictions as well."

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