The Every Lawyer

A2J - Multidisciplinary Service Models

Episode Summary

Sponsored by the CBA A2J Subcommittee, this episode explores the positive impact the multidisciplinary services model is having on how our profession is meeting the challenge of improving access to justice.

Episode Notes

Overarching themes: lawyers can benefit from multi-disciplinary approaches in various ways, clients seriously benefit from holistic approaches, and that combining these two approaches is really making headway on improving access to justice for vulnerable communities.

Hosted  by Julia Tétrault-Provencher and featuring:

Emily Murray Luke’s Place, legal office with social and health support workers on site, specialised on the needs of survivors of intimate partner violence. People centered approach.

Amy Slotek on her work as an embedded lawyer at a downtown Toronto mental health agency working with the homeless. Picking people up where they are.

Michele Leering on Community Lawyers, Outreach, A2J in legal education and reflective practice. 

Ida Bianchi on how lack of access to all types of services, not only legal, often causes and then perpetuates people’s involvement with criminal and family justice systems.

Ab Currie on the uneven but steady march of progress on improving access to justice, the interplay between legal and non-legal problems, how these tend to cluster and feed off of one another, and that the legal profession is finally coming to realise more fully that you simply can’t solve one without solving the other.

Lisa Moore on Crossing Boundaries: Exploring Multi-Disciplinary Models for Legal Problem Resolution (2024). Lisa was the lead researcher and author and is also the director of the CFCJ.

Home - Luke's Place (

Embedded Lawyer Program: 2022-23 annual report (

Home - CALC (       

Michele Leering | Queen's Law (

JUST13_Bio_Currie.pdf (         

Crossing boundaries: Exploring multi-disciplinary models for legal problem resolution (

Episode Transcription

A2J - Multidisciplinary Service Models

Ida Bianchi:      I am so pleased about this podcast because I think that some of the work that these folks do is unsung, and it's like a bedrock for the people that need it.

This is the Every Lawyer presented by the Canadian Bar Association

Julia Tétrault-

Provencher       Welcome to the Every Lawyer. In this episode we explore how the multidisciplinary services model and particularly how it fits a client-centred approach to the practise of law. We think that we can see improved access to justice, particularly for people, and communities facing barriers and those disadvantaged by our system. Not only that, it can also help you in your life.


I'm Julia Tétrault-Provencher, and let me introduce you to our panel. Back to front we will hear from Lisa Moore, director of the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice, the CFCJ, and the author of the recently published Pushing Boundaries: Exploring Multidisciplinary Models for Legal Problem Resolution. Renowned A2J scholar and senior fellow at the CFCJ, Ab Currie. Ida Bianchi from the CBA’s A2J sub-committee. It is Ida who brought it all together today.


Michele Leering, former decades-long executive director and lawyer at the CALC, the Community Advocacy and Legal Centre in Belleville, Ontario, work for which she was recently appointed Member of the Order of Canada. Michele has now returned fulltime to academia where her focus is on access to justice and reflective practice, bringing the insight she achieved as a community lawyer to the whole of our profession.


Amy Slotek. Amy is Counsel with Legal Aid Ontario and project lead for their embedded lawyer program. She is, herself, the embedded counsel at a mental health agency in downtown Toronto and works with people experiencing homelessness. And finally, but not least, Emily Murray. Emily is the legal director of Luke’s Place, a support and advocacy centre helping survivors of intimate partner violence. First, can you tell us about Luke’s Place?


Murray:            So Luke’s Place is a non-profit organization that works with women who have been subjected to intimate partner violence who come through the family law process. We are named after a three-and-a-half-year old boy, Luke, who was killed by his father in an unsupervised access visit after his mother was unsuccessful in a family court order for supervised access.


We are physically located in Durham Region, so we provide services to women across the province through our legal clinic. We have a team of family court support workers who are a very important resource and support system to women as they navigate the family court process. And our support workers are key to our multidisciplinary wraparound service delivery where a woman is supported by a support worker and a lawyer, both of whom who play different yet important roles for the survivor. And this is how our pro bono summary advice legal clinic operates as well as how we deliver our limited scope of legal services with a staff lawyer.


So our team of support workers are non-lawyer professionals who are experienced and skilled when it comes to understanding intimate partner violence, trauma and the family court process. Many support workers come from a helping profession, either with a social work or counselling background. They provide critical emotional support and they help women address their legal and non-legal issues. For instance, they have the woman create a safety plan. They can help her address housing and income issues and provide referrals to other community programs and services and advocate when these services were necessary.


Support workers also play a critical role in helping survivors with their legal issues, help survivors talk about the violence they've been subjected to and help get their story down on paper. They help the survivor gather other sources of evidence and they help women who are effectively engaged with their lawyer by providing key emotional support and focussing on empowerment. So we have a team of support workers at Luke’s Place, but there are support workers located all across the province.


The family court support worker program was created by the provincial government in 2011 because of formal advocacy by the violence against women sector in Ontario. There are approximately 80 part and fulltime family court support workers across Ontario that are housed in over 40 different organizations, which are predominantly shelters, women’s centres and support service organizations.


And then before I let you ask another question, I do want to note that we also provide training, we create resources, we conduct research and we engage in systematic law reform and advocacy. And we really do try to embody the wraparound approach to our training and resource creation as well, because we see the value and the expertise of both a lawyer and a support worker when it comes to providing information to other service providers about how to support survivors through the family court process.

Julia:                 Well, thank you. Thank you very much for that. And we’d like to know what are the benefits, actually, of this multidisciplinary approach, especially when it comes to dealing with trauma or to avoid revictimization?

Emily:              Sure. So the multidisciplinary approach is key to providing support and services in a trauma-informed way. You have team members with different areas of expertise who are all working together to provide coordinated support and services to the survivor in a way that promotes safety and mitigates harm caused by engaging with the system.

In our context, having support workers involved in various steps in the case, including meetings with a lawyer and at court hearings, is designed to help make the experience less traumatic and harmful for survivors. The support worker prioritises the survivor’s emotional needs and wellbeing and takes the time to make sure they feel in control, prepared and less alone for important steps in their case.

They are attuned to the trauma responses of their individual clients and tailor their service delivery accordingly. They are also skilled at building trust and rapport with survivors, creating an atmosphere of safety and empowerment. Support workers also play an important role in helping lawyers better understand trauma. Many lawyers still have a lot of work to do when it comes to being trauma informed, with some still not really clear on what that means.

They can help the lawyer to better understand trauma and trauma responses and how to engage with clients in a way as to not retraumatize them. The support worker can help the survivor to manage and work through their trauma and bridge the communication gap with the lawyer by helping the survivor to stay on track with next steps.

Julia:                 And can you tell us why is a people-centred approach crucial when, especially with clients who are experiencing intimate partner violence and coercive control? And maybe if you could also explain a little bit what is actually the people-centred approach, because maybe some people are not very comfortable with this expression or this approach, so if you can also share it with us, that would be great.

Emily:              Sure. So I think just in even talking about why it's so crucial for survivors will sort of be a description of what it is itself. Because every survivor’s experience and situation is different there can't be a one-size-fits-all response model in place. Intimate partner violence survivors aren't a homogeneous group. A people-centred approach allows support and services to actually address the unique experiences, needs and priorities of each individual survivor they're working with.

It's also part of being trauma informed with the survivor in the driver’s seat when it comes to accessing services and support, and the focus is on empowerment of each individual client, based on who they are, what they need and what their goals are. This is a core part of our guiding principles at Luke’s Place.

Every survivor has a unique social identity that impacts their experiences of intimate partner violence and their position of power, privilege and vulnerability within society in general, and more specifically within the family law system. Services are not provided in a vacuum and they have to be provided based on an understanding and acknowledgement of this important context. This context is at risk of being ignored when a client-centred approach isn't adopted.

Julia:                 Thank you. I really like this survivor in the driver’s seat, as you said. I think it's a very good image, thank you. And what role do lawyers have to play in recognising and preventing coercive control?

Emily:              Lawyers have an important role to play when it comes to helping all survivors, including those who have been subjected to coercive control, more safely navigate the family law system. Step one is identification. Lawyers have a duty to screen all clients for family violence at the beginning of a file and throughout your work with a client. In order to do this effectively lawyers need to understand coercive control, what it looks like, how to identify it and how to address it in the family law system.

What we know to be true is that survivors may not readily disclose the violence they have been subjected to. There could be all kinds of reasons for this, including fear, shame, guilt, a lack of understanding that what's happened to them is violence and abuse. This makes it critical for lawyers to ask questions and not simply wait for clients to self-report. It's only when the violence has been identified is the lawyer then able to effectively do their job.

Without proper identification they won't know what process options to recommend, what court orders should be asked for and what evidence is needed to ensure the court has a full picture of the violence in the relationship. The lawyer also needs to be able to know what orders may be needed to address any urgent safety needs and how to get a woman in touch with other supports and services that can help with critical pieces such as ongoing and frequent safety planning support. This is where support workers play such a vital role.

A lawyer also has an important role to play in making sure that a compelling narrative is put before the court that makes it clear to a judge or arbitrator that the abuser is engaged in coercive control and violence and that certain court orders are needed, sometimes urgently, to keep the survivor and the children safe from ongoing violence. Lawyers can help prevent abusers from using the court process itself as a tool for further abuse.

This is often called legal bullying or litigation abuse and it can take many forms, all of which are designed to continue exerting power and control over the survivor. The lawyer has an obligation to recognise when this is happening and bring it to the attention of the court. Now more than ever there are resources available for lawyers. So we have an online course that we offer. It's self-directed. You've got your Law Society hours, I think it takes a lawyer –

Julia:                 Oh, yeah. Okay, I'm going to take note of that. That's great.

Emily:              I know, it's very important for lawyers to hear that. It takes about three hours to complete and you also get very detailed written guides that lawyers can use. And it provides some really practical tips including how to make their own practice more trauma informed. But not just our resources. I do find that a lot of law associations now are including more topics related to family violence, which I think is really important, and also some great free resources that the Department of Justice has created.

I know that we're often telling lawyers to turn to, it's called the Help Toolkit, which is a really helpful guide to help lawyers actually know what language to use. How do you start to have these conversations with clients when it comes to screening and identification, and then what do you do once it's disclosed? So there are lots of resources that are available to lawyers and I urge all of those listening to access them.

Julia:                 Very great, thank you, Emily. And our last question would be – so you shared with us the role that lawyers can play in preventing and recognising coercive control – could you also tell us how a multidisciplinary approach, again, can be important in such circumstances? You've touched upon it a little, but if you want to add some more, please do.

Emily:              Of course. I'll just say that it's a key piece in helping lawyers properly identify the violence in the first place. Support workers are especially trained to help survivors talk about the violence they've been subjected to and to help them organize their stories in a way that can be shared with their lawyer, and eventually a judge. While the lawyer’s focussed on what legal remedies may be available to prevent further violence, the support worker can be focussed on promoting safety and security in all other respects.

Helping to make sure the survivor has access to safe and affordable housing, helping the survivor to complete income assistance applications, helping to seek out counselling or other helpful supports and services. They have expertise in creating safety plans, which are critical in situations of intimate partner violence. They're another source of legal information so that the woman doesn't always have to incur legal fees in order to ask some basic legal question.

Julia:                 For more information, go to There is a special section there for lawyers, including training on using a trauma-informed approach to avoid revictimization as well as a helpful collection of applicable treatment. If we take Emily’s metaphor of putting the survivor in the driver’s seat, well, Amy Slotek and her team are the GPS, the car and the mechanic all rolled into one. So, Amy, you're a counsellor for the Legal Aid Ontario, and first let's start with what are the benefits of the multidisciplinary approach for the legal aid system in Ontario and elsewhere in Canada?

Amy Slotek:     Thanks, Julia, and I just wanted to say thank you to CBA for inviting me to talk about the work that I do. For me, the starting point is always the client, so your question who benefits, and the question I think we should be asking ourselves is, is the service designed to meet client needs in an effective way? And so in an ideal world clients would be involved in the design of the services that they receive.

In the case of the embedded counsellor model – and I am the embedded counsellor of the community mental health agency in downtown Toronto – in the case of the program that I run, Legal Aid conducted province-wide consultations with clients who manage mental health disabilities, and the results of that consultation were clear. Clients wanted to seek and receive Legal Aid services at community sites where they already saw trusted services and support.

And so a multidisciplinary approach will be different, depending on which client groups and which community you work with. It definitely should not look the same across the board. So I work with clients predominantly who are homeless and who manage complex mental health disabilities, and service delivery design really has to take into consideration the reality of their homelessness as well as, in many cases, the duty to accommodate client disability.

For many of your listeners – I don't know if they've had experiences or have worked with clients with homelessness – but I think it's really important that I contextualise that experience. Homeless means needs to be conceived of as a form of displacement, which results from government inaction or action. And so people who are displaced in Canada face adverse conditions. They also face a loss of belonging, of their ID. They're forced to place their lives at risk.

They may be exposed to extreme weather, violence, exploitation, trafficking and abuse, so they're really focussed on their daily survival needs such as where to find a bed or a warm meal. And to be frank, they're often mistrustful of players in the justice system because they have had traumatic and negative experiences within that system. And so I think this reality is often lost on many, including decision-makers in the justice system. I think it would be a complete and utter shock to many listening to live even one day experiencing homelessness in one of our cities across the country.

And so part of our responsibility is to design services that take into consideration the lived experience of our clients and, for example, the digital divide. Many of my clients do not have access to a computer or a phone. Against this backdrop I would say the benefit for the clients I serve is that they don't have to choose between looking for housing and other supports and seeking legal help that day. They can do it all at one site and they can do so in a space where they feel they're safe and supported.

There are also tangible benefits to Legal Aid. Legal Aid benefits from having one staff person screening a client for a wide range of services, and in Ontario we're quite lucky because we have a robust legal aid system. So, for example, I provide criminal defence services, housing, law services, family immigration, and we have quite a wide range of services we can use to support the clients we do. This avoids the duplication of labour, and it means really I can get the clients the support they need early on in the process.

And I know people are very concerned about court delay right now, but that certainly can assist in terms of getting clients connected to the right lawyer, to the right service they need early on. I also want to say it professionally benefits me in terms of I'm a lawyer in this model. I leverage the expertise of the staff I work with on a daily basis. I can walk down the hall ten, 15 steps, and request a letter from the on-site psychiatrist who advocates a preserve for their housing. I can either refer clients to a wide range of services on site that might be helpful to reduce their sentence.

Beyond this, I think clients are more ready to trust me because I work in a community space, and I've worked both the courthouse and in community sites, and I can say that being in a community space allows me to build trust and connections with community members who have really had traumatic experiences within the justice system and really who are generally mistrustful of pretty much everyone who works in it, including defence counsel.

Julia:                 Thank you. I like that. I must say when I was reading the increase in access to Legal Aid Ontario services, the embedded lawyer program, the 2022, 2023 annual report, two things that really struck me first was how you could build this relationship of trust, but also, when I was reading it, the word holistic defence model. And I read it, and I read the little paragraph, but I'd like you to talk what it is, exactly. What is the holistic defence model?

Amy:                The holistic defence model has really gained popularity in the United States. The embedded counsel program that I run is an example of such an initiative. And in this model clients are provided with both traditional criminal defence services and provided with legal services that address the legal consequences of their criminal justice sector involvement. It could be a loss of housing, income, immigration status, for example. And holistic defenders also seek to address the underlying issues that might have brought an accused person in contact with the criminal justice system. And some common examples of those are homelessness, addictions and mental health disability.

Julia:                 And can you explain how the cycle of homelessness can be broken through this approach?

Amy:                So, again, to provide your listeners with some context. Ontario has a large remand population and a large homeless population, and it's not surprising to me that these two issues are interconnected. The number of clients with no fixed address has steadily increased over the past ten years in provincial jails in Ontario, as has the number of individuals held on remand who are of no fixed address.

And just to provide you with an interesting statistic, in 2017 approximately only one in 16 individuals in provincial corrections were living with homelessness at the time of admission. In 2021 this number increased to one in six. And so I'll explain a little bit about the cycle, because many of my clients move between the streets and short remand stints.

Homeless residents, many of whom are racialised and Indigenous, are over-criminalised and they're over-incarcerated. This is partly because they're more likely to come into contact with the police, and their activities in public are more likely to be criminalised. Conversely, criminal justice system involvement often results in homelessness. So people are often released into homelessness because of a myriad of factors. They may have lost their income and their housing due to incarceration or, for example, their release conditions may preclude them from returning home.

These clients get stuck in a vicious and traumatic cycle, and it's a cycle that easier to get into than get out of. And in a city like Toronto, frankly there are not enough shelter beds, there is a shortage of affordable housing. This means that they're sleeping on the street, and it is a sad reality that many people die on the street in this city every year. These are preventable deaths, and that many of these people were stuck in the hopeless cycle I described.

Holistic defenders aim to practise in a manner that might minimise some of those impacts that I just discussed, such as a loss of income, housing. This is an opportunity to mitigate the impact of criminalisation because we know that criminal justice sector involvement results in these things. So I may defend a client, for example, in the criminal context, whose charges arose in his housing unit. He may be also facing an eviction as a result. And so I am able, in my role, to take both of those files on and try to preserve that person’s housing.

For clients who are already homeless, connecting them with the support on site where I work to, for example, advocate for housing, to advocate for income supports that they're entitled to, may also, it provides us an opportunity, really, to ensure that people are connected and might find housing. This is not to, obviously, absolve the government from our ultimate responsibility of addressing homelessness, but this model offers us an opportunity to intervene at really critical junctures to support people and to potentially get them off the street.

Julia:                 And I'm guessing it's also a lot less retraumatizing to have only one lawyer, to only have to face one person from the criminal justice system. At the end of the day it's probably also, when you're talking about building trust, I'm assuming that's also something good, to have one person for housing, income, whatever other files they might need to look for. Correct?

Amy:                Yeah, we've all heard about the revolving door. Maybe some of us have been in and out of some ourselves in our lives, but that is the benefit of having one person upfront work with a client to sort of parcel out those legal issues and to talk to them about their experience. It's extremely retraumatizing to have to tell your story over and over again, and having one person to sit with and have that discussion, I think is really helpful.

Julia:                 Well, thank you very much, Amy, and maybe one last question I had just because I was hearing I found – and I'm sure I will not be the only one to find the embedded – it's a hard one for a French speaker – but embedded lawyer program – do you know if other provinces, out of curiosity already tried to copy this program from the Legal Aid Ontario? Is it something trying to be nationwide or for now it's only in Ontario?

Amy:                So I don't know of any that have been initiated, but I'd be so happy to see this model replicated where needed.

Julia:                 Yes.

Amy:                So if there's anyone out there who would like to connect, I'm sure I'd be more than happy to speak with them. Or Legal Aid will, as well.

Julia:                 That's great, I'll keep that for the province of Quebec, for sure. Now, Michele, turning to you. For my first question we wanted to know some key insights from your time at CALC.


Leering:            Well, thank you. I think the one most relevant to what we're talking about today, is the fact that a multidisciplinary model is a holistic services model and that that model responds to what the research has said, people need who are vulnerable, in particular. So it's just a really important approach to take. And I wanted to say a little bit about holistic, too, and what we mean by holistic, because there's really two different ways of thinking about it, at least in my mind.


The first is what we've been talking about, which is this combination of legal and non-legal needs and the need to unpack people’s legal and non-legal problems in a way that's productive for them. Because we can't really help a client solve a problem unless we understand what the problem is, and if we look at it too narrowly as a legal issue, that's simply not big enough. So we really need to have a more holistic analysis of what the problems are.


And lawyers can do the legal part but they can't necessarily do the other part, or they may have an inkling of some of the other issues and they do need support from other disciplines or other fields of thinking about problems to be able to do that. A non-legal problem can be interfering with capacity to solve it, it could have caused it, it could be aggravating it or maybe it will recur once the remedy has happened.


And I think the holistic approach, as we've heard, also includes a trauma-informed approach, and people have to be culturally competent, and those two things have not be part of people’s legal training. And this kind of holistic, if I might say, and systemic analysis, too, this real understanding of the problem and unpacking of our assumptions of what the problem is and our biases, our prejudices and our stereotypes, this all requires what I will call a reflective enquiry or a reflective practice capacity. And I'll say a little bit more about that in a few minutes.


But I wanted to talk about the second aspect to a holistic approach, and that actually deals with the approach we take to delivering legal services. And, again, we often think about lawyers and the work they do in the context of one-on-one client services, the traditional legal services model. Well, there's so much more that can happen with respect to legal services, and I would call them essential legal services for people that would be helpful.


Now, I just have to explain my vantage point for a moment for listeners who may not be aware of Ontario’s community legal clinic system. So there's more than 70 clinics in Ontario. They're funded by Legal Aid Ontario, and they've been around for more than 40 years. I'm just 50 now, I'm seeing some 50 anniversaries. And we've always taken a holistic approach to both legal and non-legal analysis, but also the way that we deliver services. So that very much influences how I think about things.


Ontario is the only English-speaking province that has full geographic coverage of this poverty law at work and human rights focussed practice. Most of us call ourselves community lawyers, and that we do community lawyering, but the way that we practise law is not very well known, even though there's many hundreds of us actually doing this work. And it's interesting to me, I remember when Ab first started doing his research when he was at the Department of Justice on legal needs and unmet legal needs, and he came to me, and to many other people, I'm sure, but he said to me that research is showing that there’s these clusters of legal problems, and one triggers another. And I'm going, well, yes, that's just our lived reality.


And no one had ever talked about that in law school, nobody was ever talking about it in legal practice or in continuing professional development, and it was finally our way of understanding the world and our clients’ lives and what was going on, and the complexity was actually vindicated by research the Department of Justice was doing. So Ab’s work has been very impactful in that way, and then has led us to thinking about ideas like, well, what is evidence-based practice in a context like this?


But I think today I want to talk about the justice and health partnership model because it's a more recent iteration that really seems to be beginning to be catching on. Although in Canada, compared to other countries like the US, Australia and even the UK, we're a little bit far behind in terms of understanding the potential of that model. And that's a model where we work more closely with healthcare providers, so the spectrum of healthcare providers, with occupational therapists, physiotherapists, nurses, doctors and so on, to help red flag a client’s legal issues early on. That's one model.

There's actually a whole spectrum of health justice approaches, but the idea is that we intervene earlier, which also goes along with the research about what's most effective to help people solve their problems, because we can recognise a person’s problem has a legal component and we can do something about it. And your listeners may be surprised, if they don't work with people who are from vulnerable communities or who live on a low income, how difficult it is for people sometimes to understand their problem has a legal component.


A lot of what we do in Ontario’s legal clinics in terms of the holistic approach, the service approach, is outreach and awareness building around what people’s legal rights and entitlements are. So building legal literacy and building legal empowerment. And that's part of the holistic approach that I'm talking about, back to that for just a second. And that's the idea that it's not just individual bespoke legal services to one person, it's building community awareness around rights, legal literacy training, legal empowerment, building legal capability. And doing that through public legal education sessions, various kinds of workshops, conferences, training of the people we call trusted intermediaries, so people who work more closely with people in our group and who are trusted by them.


And it's also taking on community organizing in appropriate cases and strategy development or policy change or advocacy to improve the protection of laws for, in our case, people who are living on a low income, and test case litigation. These broad spectrum, holistic spectrum, are what I would say are essential legal services to level the playing field, but we're not taught about those in law school.

Julia:                 Not at all.

Michele:           No, right? So there's a much broader amount of, degree of competence that we need, as a 21st century lawyer, I think, to serve the needs of vulnerable communities. And I’ll get to my concern about legal education reform in just a sec. But the justice and health partnership model really is catching on. We have a number of these partnerships happening in Ontario, fledging ones in other places.

The, it's called Medical Legal Partnerships in the States, and that's the first name that came into Canada when it was brought up by Pro Bono Ontario and the Children’s Hospital initiative. So it's been a really important one to making a difference in improving outcomes for clients. But also participating in those partnerships that have varying degrees of formality also make you realise you don't exactly have, as a lawyer, the right skill set to collaborate and research and evaluate and to work across disciplinary cultures, even, to help clients. That was a big ah-ha for me.

We think the work’s really important, the evidence is in, it does have an impact. There's all kinds of what they call systemic reviews that show that in all the different countries based on research studies that were done, and we need to be doing more of that work. And that aligns perfectly with the work that Ontario’s community legal clinics are doing to keep a roof over people’s head and food on the table. Healthcare providers want to do this work, because, for them, the work connects to improving the social determinants of health and health equity. So we have a common cause with them, and that makes it easier to do this multidisciplinary work, but we've got to up our game around how we function as legal professionals to be able to do it, at least in my view.

Julia:                 So that brings us a little bit also to this – you touched upon it – but really about legal education reform and reflective practice because you told us you would talk about it, so we’d like to hear how multidisciplinary services will factor in when you're talking about legal education reform and reflective practice. And also I'd like to understand maybe a bit better what is reflective practice, because I'm not sure I understand this expression. Thanks.

Michele:           Sure. First I'll say to do the multidisciplinary work we actually need a broader vocabulary than what's given to us in law. And even in law we don't spend a lot of time, really much time at all, talking about access to justice in law school. The Canadian Bar Association did a survey on that a few years back and students said they wanted more about access to justice. Anyway, it hadn't been happening. It's happening more now, but it's taken a long time, and it's been a decade since we had national reports on this.

So we need a new discourse, and I'm thinking about some of the terms that I wonder if your listeners had thought about, at least your legal listeners. Terms like legal care and legal literacy and legal health and legal empowerment. Do we understand these? Do we know what a trusted intermediary is, what secondary consultations might be? Some lawyers might be shocked to find out that we provide secondary consultations, legal information to service providers to help them serve their clients better.

That's something we did when I first started in practice at the legal clinic. That changed over time. Our decision at that was an important strategic thing that we should do. Understanding health equity and how it relates to access to justice has been very important, and somehow we missed the boat when they were doing theoretical development around social determinants of health and medicine, because 50% of people’s health is related to the social determinants of health, which is things like where you live, play and work. Access to justice wasn't included, although we do know that it's very much related to that.

So we need to rethink what legal professionals need to be able to do to become more proficient in their work, and that's all across the spectrum. What I have been working on in terms of thinking about that is rounding legal education more and the realities that people are facing, and trying to resolve, in a productive way that's win-win for everyone, what might be a disconnect between the theory you learn in law school and the professional knowledge that you actually need to practice law effectively.

And that term reflective practice, it's a very complicated one to explain, but it is the bridge between theoretical knowledge, the technical knowledge to use in your profession, and then how it has to manifest in practice. The word reflection probably gives you the clue. Reflection and the capacity to reflect, and reflect deeply and critically and on yourself and on society, on legal ideas.

A very broad range of domains, as I call them, of reflection, five, in fact, I won't go into it now, are really necessary to develop professional knowledge. And law is about 30 years behind other disciplines, especially healthcare, and understanding what reflective practice means and how it powers the legal professional. But that's probably a topic for another day.

Julia:                 It's a podcast in itself, I think.

Michele:           It is, because it's actually about making you think about how you create your professional knowledge and where it came from. And there's many ways where I came to this particular issue, but it is a really important one. And I think it will help us rethink – it's not even rethink, because we don't have one for law – a true professional competency framework for what legal professionals need to be effective. We don't have it in Canada, and we need it. And other professions have it, and it's inspirational. If people are interested they can Google the canMEDS Framework, and that is the one for family physicians in Canada, and they will see that they focussed on roles. Who is it that they need to be, and then their training follows along with that.

And I think their model aligns well with what we would want from lawyers, too. Being an expert in your field, a leader, a scholar, a communicator, a collaborator. They even have a role of health advocate that is way more robust than what we have in law. I've been an advocate for an access to justice consciousness in all of our students, and also having an access to justice conscience as a professional responsibility. And I think these things empower us to be more reflective about our work, and I think they've resulted in creating these multidisciplinary approaches, including the health justice one.

People started thinking outside the box about how things can be better than they are right now, and how can our skills be combined and be focussed very much on the clients’ needs rather than the system’s needs. Because that's what we're trying to shift to, people-centred justice is about moving away from what the system wants to do to what the people need to have happen. So I hope that that's helpful.

Julia:                 Yeah, very much. No, Michele, that was very good, thank you very much. We will keep in mind if we could have another podcast just on reflective practice and how you are creating professional knowledge, because I think it is very interesting. It's kind of a solution, also, of how we could approach differently our justice system, so thank you very much. And now, Ida, we are up to you. You were so happy to be here and we're so happy to have you as well.

Ida Bianchi:      Well, I'm happy be in the presence of all these individuals who are doing this amazing work that I can only dream about in some ways in the work I've done. So thank you for having this podcast episode and thanks to everyone who agreed to contribute, because you are doing amazing work.

Julia:                 Thank you to you. And I think that's why we also wanted to start with the question about instances in your work where you saw that having a multidisciplinary approach really made a difference.

Ida:                   Well, what I can answer more clearly, is what happens when you don't have a multidisciplinary approach. I think that that's – I can turn the question on its head and answer that more easily, because that has been the reality, particularly when I was in private practice. I was called to the bar many, many years ago, and my whole reason for going to law school was to work on social justice issues. And so I dutifully went forth and I set up a little practice after articling at a very large law firm, and I was going to do family law and child welfare law.

And first of all, to Michele’s point about what we were taught about being a lawyer and how that needs to change, particularly when you're dealing with vulnerable people, we weren't having that conversation back when I was a baby lawyer, and so I had this model of what it's like to be ‘I'm the lawyer, I deal with the legal issues and I'm also in an adversarial system.’ But what I came to realize fairly quickly is that, A, my clients don't experience life that way, and the legal problem that they're experiencing might be a consequence of many other problems in their lives that they're not getting help for.

If you're homeless or you have a drug addiction and you're struggling to care for a child, the state response is to come and take your child from you or intervene to force you to do some things to address the issue. But the services that would address the root cause of the problem that led to state intervention either didn't exist or was overburdened and also it was really up to the lawyer to try to find these things for the clients.

The CAS plays a dual role in the system. It provides services to families but also it acts as a police, in a way. It polices the family with the goal of protecting the child. There is no – apart from the lawyer for the parent, there isn't a player in the system that is helping find services to address these causes. I did a project for the Law Commission of Ontario on entry points to the family justice system, and I was also commission counsel to the Motherisk Commission. In the course of that work we came to understand – and there's the recommendations in the report – that many parents, they ended up where they were because they didn't have access to the services that they need.

And so many of our recommendations from that commission focus on peer support, multidisciplinary services, because our thought was if those were in place at the beginning, we might not have had to go down the road of litigating and then having to deal with this tragedy of the evidence. So what the rest of the group is doing, those who are currently in the field, is they're really breathing life into the concept of multidisciplinarity. Growing up as a lawyer we were not trained to be alive to those issues. We were trained on finding the evidence and putting the best case forward that you can, but what people really might need instead of that is access to services to address the reasons that there's a legal problem in the first place.

Julia:                 Well, unfortunately I think that from what Michele said, we don't have that much still today from the legal education, so I think we still have some progress to do on that. 

Ida:                   I applaud Michele, because I know Michele has just finished her PhD at Queen’s, and this has been a focus of hers, is to inject access to justice ideas and thoughts into students. There should be more focus on access to justice in law school, but to add to that, contextualising traditional legal skills amid the other skill sets that you need to serve these kinds of populations would be very important.

Julia:                 I see that Michele is nodding to that very much. Approving. Silently approving what you're saying.

Ida:                   There are so many people in this – the system is complex. The family justice system is complex, with many different people doing many different parts of the work. And so one of the challenges, and one of the important things to do, is to find the leverage points in the system and to collaborate with others. Because I think truly there are people doing really great work, and then we don't hear about them. So you might have an idea in your head and you might say, “Well, I wish there was someone who would be providing some type of service,” and there actually is someone doing that. And so better coordination would be useful, or having someone who can identify that for clients, would be great.

Julia:                 Totally. Yeah, I agree that that's an issue that we see everywhere, this coordination between the different actors. And I think that's why it's awesome to have six or seven panellists now on one podcast so we see a bit of coordination here, that's great. And about the Motherisk Commission and the Law Commission of Ontario Family Justice Report, were they promoting, and how were they promoting a people-centred approach that we already discussed a bit with Emily before, and Amy as well? Were they talking about that?

Ida:                   I think it's inherent in the notion that you meet people where they are. A people-centred approach is the essence of multidisciplinarity because usually people with legal problems have other problems. It's usually what brings them into the system in the first place. One of the things that the report said, and this is hardly – I have the report here – but it's hardly – 

Julia:                 Go ahead.

Ida:                   I have it in my stand.

Julia:                 That's great.

Ida:                   This is the Motherisk Commission Report. As if this – we all know this, but the Commissioner wrote ‘The vast majority of the families whose cases we reviewed were poor. We saw this in the descriptions of parents having difficulty providing food and safe shelter for their children. We know from our reviews and from the social determinants of health research that many parents were also dealing with high stress and physical mental and health issues.’ That's the baseline of most of the – at least in the child welfare system – that's what gets you there.

Intergenerational trauma, poverty, addiction, mental health. If you could fix those, or address those, you might be able to get people out of the system altogether. That's why multidisciplinarity is essential for those types of legal problems. This is certainly a live question and, again, it is a challenging one to answer. I think within the context – not to say that it's easy in a community legal clinic environment – but the ethos of the clinic is, its essence is more holistic, so there's more of that framework.

The project that Amy’s working on is quite remarkable and has a lot of potential for other practice areas, and then of course Luke’s Place has done a tremendous amount of work for women experiencing domestic violence, and just almost out of whole cloth, spearheaded this initiative, and they're doing really good work. So I think that there's pockets of good work going on across the province, and maybe that's the best we can do, really, in a complex system. I think your panel is just full of people who are doing, who have done great stuff.

Julia:                 Thank you very much for that. Thank you. It's also breaking the cycle, and as we also mentioned with Amy before, I love how everything is interconnected. Thank you very much, Ida, for that. We come now to Ab Currie from the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice. Perhaps best known for his work on the Cost of Justice project and his 2016 report on everyday legal problems entitled Nudging the Paradigm Shift. Would you say that the parameters that define traditional legal work have changed, or are changing, or do we still need to nudge – to use your expression – to nudge a little more incessantly to make sure that they will change?

Ab Currie:        Well, yeah. Well, full disclosure first, everything I know I've learned from people like Michele and other executive directors of community legal clinics that I've worked on projects with. The question are the parameters changing, I guess they certainly are. I think probably it might be better to say that they've already changed fundamentally, and I think that's obvious from what people on this panel have said. I think the change might be somewhat uneven.

This brings to mind quite a well-known phrase from years ago, brings it to mind for me, anyway, a futurist novel writer named William Gibson, who quite famously said, “The future’s already arrived, it's just not evenly distributed.” There are more and more examples of people-centred justice and holistic justice and the kinds of things that everybody’s talking about, but, again, I wish I had a good answer to that. I mean, I think that the new parameters have done one big thing, which has been to set the bar much higher for meeting access to justice. It requires a whole lot more than it used to. The change has transformed it, for sure.

But I can remember clearly talking to the executive director of one of the Legal Aid plans some time ago when I was making this pitch, and he said, “Yeah, I get what you're saying, and it makes sense to me, but I don't have the resources and I don't have the mandate.” And I'm not so sure, I don't know how much that's changed. And there's another thing that I have, that's been a bee in my bonnet for some time now. For the last ten years as I've worked with several of the community legal clinics in Southwestern Ontario, some pretty interesting innovations in expanding or extending access to justice.

A lot of innovation projects got quite well funded and they've got enthusiastic, highly capable people doing the work, funded for three years. The funding ends and then the clinic is left struggling. I tried to integrate what has been a good idea and what many of their clients have come to depend on, trying to integrate it into the delivery model without the resources. And there's nothing wrong with that, okay? Bee in my bonnet.

But to move onto something else, for me, the bedrock of this whole approach, is understanding people’s problems from the point of view of the people and experiencing them themselves and not from the perspective of the justice system or the courts or the written law, but unpacking that there's a whole lot of different things. And there are two that have been part of the work that I've been doing for the last little while – maybe longer than that, as Michele points out – but experiencing legal programs is a human experience with all its messiness.

A couple of things we know about legal problems from the research is that legal problems trigger other legal problems. Legal problems trigger and are triggered by a whole bunch of non-legal issues, and what you end up with often is clusters of interdependent problems. They are really difficult to pull out one and just say okay, I'm a lawyer, I deal with this, and that's the end of it. You cannot do that. Eventually what we're recognising is that we have to figure out ways to be able to provide service not doing that.

Another thing that has been of special interest to me is that the research tells us, and now the clinical experience tells us, particularly in the, well, the projects I've done, the Law Van project and Secondary Consultation and the Legal Health Check-up, is that there's a large segment of people experiencing everyday legal problems that acquiesce in the problem. They don't come forward asking for help.

A lot of people do come to the clinics and they show up at the door, they have a problem, but there are a whole lot of people who don't. And acquiescence is, actually, it's a behaviour that gets – in a sense it's the way that people experience the problem. They don't do anything. They talk to Uncle Fred or whatever, but they don't seek authoritative help. And some things fall out of that that I, those things that I think are probably worth mentioning, the things that I've learned from others and directions that I think are useful, one is outreach.

Somebody said this before, is that you have to go out and get those. Go out to where people still live or spend much of their time and make first contact highly accessible. And you’ll get a surprising number of people who’ll – if you, like in the case of the Law Van project that I have recently been working on, park a van in a highly visible place in a little town and put a sign out on the street by the parking lot, “Free Legal Help” and you'll get a whole of people who will come.

And the vast majority of them, it started out – I've been on this project for four years – it started out 85% of people said they had no previous contact with either of the legal clinics. And now after about four years it's down to about 55 or 60%. But after having been working in the area so long, for four years, it's amazing. It's startling that that many people have had no previous contact with the legal clinic. But you show up in their town and they'll come. That's really interesting.

The second thing focuses on wellbeing. I think that when you think in terms of outcomes, you've got to think in terms of the client’s wellbeing. Not legal outcomes. I think Ida made this point, other people, too, but the absence of stress, secure employment, good, affordable housing, being secure in the notion that there is help in your area, in your community when you need it. Those are the things that we need to start thinking about as we move along in this process and we learn more about it with experience.

The third thing is focussing on the community, because law offices and clinics don't have the resources and they don't have the skill sets to deal with problems the way we now think that we should. The resources that are established in the community, like Luke’s Place, are really important. I always look at this from the point of view of the legal clinic as the centre and things develop out from there. Which is not necessarily the way. You can focus on community organizations apart from clinics, but looking at it from the point of view of clinics, you have to develop networks of access to justice services in collaborative processes for referrals and collaborative problem-solving.

And as other people have pointed out, this is transformative. It's transformative not only for serving clients, but it's transformative for lawyers. We've got this notion of the whole client. Well, the other side of that coin is the whole lawyer. And a lot of training and mentoring has to be done to try to accomplish that. I've a little anecdote. Last summer the Law Van project had quite a number of students come to spend a few weeks providing service. The people at the van tried to get the students familiar with that way of providing service, and they didn't get it at all. It just wasn't part of their law school experience.

And this is Michele’s thing, and I think it's really important that I don't think all of the social legal research that goes back decades, and all of the minor research work that gets done on particular innovative projects, amounts to a pretty substantial body of knowledge. And they're not exposed to that. And I think it's really important that they should be, somehow. That's it, that's my sermon. All of my pet peeves. Thank you.

Julia:                 Thank you so much, Ab. And, actually, thank you, it was very good, very interesting, and everybody was nodding at everything that you were saying. Everybody was, “Oh, yeah, no, that's true.” No, definitely we could see that there was lots of agreement with the other panellists. But what I'm hearing is that, well, you do see how a multidisciplinary approach is improving access to justice, but it also has to be done with better outreach. In a way it's also some training for lawyers, and that it cannot be only a multidisciplinary approach, it has to be holistic or to have other tools to it so that it can increase access to justice for the communities.

Ab:                    The folks on the Law Van recorded case notes. The one that I remember from the last winter, is two people came in, a mother and daughter, and they had multiple problems each. And so they sat down, they went through the problems and they got some advice, they got some referrals. There was a whole bunch of different things. And then I also asked the people to record unsolicited spontaneous comments from people getting the service, and one of the women said, “I can't believe how much you've helped us, and we've only been here for such a short period of time.” 

So a holistic service, when you sit down and somebody comes in and they think they're going to be there for ten minutes and ask you a quick question, and holistic intake and holistic interviewing starts to tease apart the complexities that we've all been talking about. It works. I know it works and we just have to be able to communicate that better to more people. Anyway.

Julia:                 Research leads to power. The work Michele, Ab and our final panellist, Lisa Moore, are doing, is essential if we want our profession to influence and be the best it can be. For a sense of where we are in terms of the thing that multidisciplinary services model, and its positive impact on improving access to justice, the Every Lawyer strongly recommends to read Crossing Boundaries: Exploring Multidisciplinary Models for Legal Program Resolution. Lisa was the lead researcher and author, and she is also the director of the CFCJ. So I ask her, can you tell us to what extent the legal profession in Canada is embracing the multidisciplinary services model?

Lisa Moore:      So I would say that in recent decades there's certainly been shifts in the legal landscape to accommodate more approaches that contemplate both the legal and non-legal aspects of legal problems as well as different entry points into the legal system that may not necessarily begin with formal legal institutions. So to that end I think that multidisciplinary approaches that support holistic legal problem resolution have generally been embraced by the legal profession in Canada.

The way that we think about this issue now has a lot to do with the research on everyday legal problems, and people-centred access to justice has really focussed on legal problems as life problems, and looked at different ways of exploring early dispute resolution. I did a survey as part of the multidisciplinary legal problem research about a year ago, and about a half of respondents indicated that they had collaborated in some way with professionals in organizations outside of their field to promote some sort of joint legal and non-legal assistance. So I think the legal profession in Canada has an appetite for this sort of cross-disciplinary collaboration. There are challenges, of course, but right now I think the  landscape is really promising.

Julia:                 I think that's very encouraging, honestly. And because I think when I was discussing also with the others on the panel I was thinking that's so good but are we in a bubble or is it something that's going outside? And the more they were talking the more I was thinking, no, actually, this is getting more and more interest. And now hearing you, I think this is very good news, and I think this is super important, so I'm glad to hear that. So you are the author of Crossing Boundaries: Exploring Multidisciplinary Models for Legal Problem Resolution. You shared a little bit, but can you share a bit more with us what are some of the key findings and conclusions of it?

Lisa:                  Sure. So I think one of the most important takeaways from this research is that models that integrate problem identification and referral and problem resolution across multiple disciplines, they really do work to facilitate holistic service delivery in ways that address problems that are stubborn and complex and life altering and problems that have legal and non-legal dimensions. And they also create longer-term benefits for justice seekers and also for government.

From the survey, one of the questions that I asked was about the type of multidisciplinary model that people would be interested in working in, and the types of collaborations as well that legal and non-legal individuals and organizations have been a part of, and a majority indicated that they have done work with others outside of their field. This includes things like client referrals and internships, student placements.

There's been work at the community level, so the development of community resources, consultation, public-facing reports and materials. Lawyers have worked to train public library staff. They've worked on community advisory committees. So across the board there are different ways that lawyers and non-lawyers have collaborated to provide support and information and advice for people who are dealing with these sort of complex problems.

Julia:                 So is it also something that is being spread all over the world, or maybe  not all over the world, but where do you see it in other places?

Lisa:                  I think there are variations of it in lots of different places. And, again, I would say that a lot of this comes back to the research in this area. I think there has been additional attention during the recent year on access to justice, and particularly people-centred access to justice, so what works for the public, the people who have legal problems. And a part of this has been looking at legal problems as life problems. So once you start to think of problems outside of just their legal dimension, you also think of ways to address those problems not just as problems through the legal system, but in other ways.

So I think that there are models that work at the community level that are multidisciplinary, and then there are other more established models like medical, legal partnerships that might work in hospitals or community health organizations. So across the board I think that they're growing, not just in Canada or here in the US, but elsewhere. And it might look like a community-based support network or it might look like something else that takes place in a hospital or elsewhere.

Julia:                 I like that also, that maybe taking outside of them, more institutional, maybe it's just community-based but it's still the same idea, and I think it's also an important point. But I know that for sure. So I worked for two years in an international corporation and I found it very interesting because all the projects we were doing, it was all about a holistic approach and it was all about this multidisciplinary approach. So I worked more in a sexual and reproductive rights and it was idea of yeah, okay, law.

But it's part of the entire life of the person, so we also need to make sure that we have a communication with psychosocial support, if needed, medical support if needed. And so I think it also gets an international law sphere, which I think is very important as well. So it's good, it's really getting ... And maybe my last question for you would be, because I think we always love to hear that, is do you have examples of best practices? So if you want to follow the best practices as practitioners, what would you recommend?

Lisa:                  So each individual who is part of a multidisciplinary model that we've been talking about, they'll generally have a distinct role in that network, and they'll have specific knowledge and skills that they contribute to problem resolution processes that's based in their own expertise and experience. In terms of best practices, it will generally be important to know the specific expertise and skills that each person will contribute within that network, or team. So who’s responsible for what, what are they contributing to that team? 

It's also important to establish limits of assistance that will be made available to clients to manage expectations, a clear plan of communication. It's also, I think, critical for any multidisciplinary model to work. So it's important to clearly identify the types of information that can and will be shared among those on the team. Communication among individuals from different professions, it shouldn't be highly specialized, so that people can understand.

Julia:                 That's good.

Lisa:                  And another important consideration is how clients will be referred to other professionals within the network. So that's something that you'll need to consider beforehand, as well as the professionalization boundaries. There needs to be some sort of communication about what professional boundaries exist within that multidisciplinary network.

Julia:                 And a question for you. The Crossing Boundaries: Exploring Multidisciplinary Models for Legal Problem Resolution, is that available online?

Lisa:                  Yes, it is available online, in English and in French, and there's also a separate report that was produced based on the survey that I carried out. So that's all available.

Julia:                 Perfect. So for our listeners, because I think you gave really practical examples here, and I think it's super useful. So for our listeners, please be aware, and I think, yeah, we'll put the link in the episode notes so you can have access to it. And, Lisa, tell me, do you have any final thoughts that you’d like to share with us?

Lisa:                  A few things. I would like to thank the Canadian Foundation for Legal Research for sponsoring the [unintelligible 01:10:29], and also the Law Foundation of Ontario that supported the translation. But just in terms of multidisciplinary models more generally, the research shows that they generally improved the quality of health that people receive. So if you're working with social workers and medical health professionals and lawyers and counsellors and community-based intermediaries within this network to try to resolve both legal and non-legal problems, what happens is that the complex problems tend to be improved in a holistic way that will generally improve the quality of life. So I think there are real benefits to them, and I think that looking into ways of investing in them should be a priority.

Julia:                 Thank you, those were really important final thoughts. Thank you so much, Lisa, it was very interesting. And I think, again, I felt with all of the panellists we could have done one podcast with each of them for one hour because everyone has so much to say and it was so interesting. Thank you very much.

Lisa:                  Thank you so much. Thank you very, very much.

Julia:                 Thank you, everyone, very much, for this. I think it was very great. I see that's what you had in mind, right, Ida? It was very, very nice.

Ida:                   Thank you for being so interested in our work. It is gratifying to learn that the CBA does want to do more to publicize this kind of work and this kind of approach and really problematize the way we think about legal practice. Because it's actually way richer than how it's been painted. And so many people are leaving the profession and we have issues around emotional wellbeing. This can all change, people, it is possible.

Julia:                 We're not doomed.

Ida:                   We're not doomed. We can see ourselves as larger than what we understood ourselves to be, and more impactful. And we ourselves could take a better multidisciplinary approach, even with our narrow legal practice. This is okay, and it's wanted. Don't shut those parts of yourself down. Bring them to work and use them.

This is the Every Lawyer presented by the Canadian Bar Association.

Julia:                 That was a big panel and a lot of information. Clearly, the way we practice law is changing, and you want to be part of this change. Thank you for listening to the Every Lawyer. Please reach out to us any time at And have a great day.

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