Gemma Smyth is the Externship Program Director for the University of Windsor Faculty of Law, in Canada, which has a long tradition of focusing on access to justice. Windsor is so committed to this mission that it requires all students to take an Access to Justice course in their first semester.
Gemma is one of several faculty teaching small sections of this course. She particularly focused on deepening students’ understanding of clients’ experiences of the law and legal processes.
She used a Stone Soup assignment as a capstone for the course. Students were required to interview people who had experienced a significant legal problem. Then students wrote papers analyzing the interviews, considering access to justice critiques of inadequate attention to clients’ lived experiences and impacts of law on people’s lives.
Gemma wrote that the assignment worked extremely well overall and was a truly “deep” and rewarding learning experience. Students learned quite a lot about interviewing subjects. They also learned about a wide variety of areas of law, and particularly how people experience law, which is often different from how it is written.
Students had a lot of questions about this assignment, which obviously was very different from their other courses. Part of their uncertainty was due to the great discretion they had in doing the interviews. In the future, Gemma plans to provide more guidance and possibly break the assignment into smaller chunks.