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West Coast’s 2019 summer law students make a splash

Law Students Whitney Vicente, Isabelle Lefroy, Jessie Schwarz and Christopher Mottershead
August 20, 2019

As summer draws to a close, West Coast is saying goodbye to another cohort of dedicated summer law students who have contributed to our legal programs over the past few months. Each year we host a new group of lawyers-to-be, who assist greatly with legal research, developing educational resources, legal aid support and more.

Below, our 2019 summer law students reflect on their work with West Coast, sharing some of the lessons they learned through their experiences.

 

Isabelle Lefroy

After my first year of law school, I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to go back. Fortunately, working at West Coast this summer lent some clarity to how I was feeling. Now I know I definitely don’t want to go back – I want to stay at West Coast forever! 

I had the opportunity to work on all sorts of files at West Coast. One of the first things I worked on was a research project concerning the critical habitat of southern resident killer whales. Despite there being a protection order for these endangered whales, I discovered that Canada has done very little to protect their critical habitat. I combed through statutes, regulations, and protection orders to determine how Canada has protected the critical habitats of other endangered species in order to find ways to strengthen protections for the southern residents. This research supported the marine team’s work on developing critical habitat protection for some of BC’s most endangered creatures.

For half the summer, the law students had the unique experience of facilitating West Coast’s free legal advice program. We received calls and emails from residents all over the province and provided legal information on all kinds of environmental issues, such as rezoning of rural areas, pesticide use, and municipal action on plastic waste. It was a great way to learn about building client relationships, gain practical skills, and provide access to justice.

I also wrote a blog post on plastics and the law, which you can read here. The story was picked up by a local radio station and I had the opportunity to do my first radio interview! It was a great experience and I learned a lot from West Coast’s lawyers who appear regularly in the media.

One of the best parts about this summer job was the collaborative work environment. For example, I collaborated with Jessie on a memo outlining why past injunctions against projects like the Coastal GasLink pipeline and Site C dam have failed (or in the case of Taseko Mines, succeeded). Whitney, Jessie, and I teamed up to summarize the applications for judicial review of the cabinet’s approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline. Working together so closely created close friendships that I hope will continue throughout our careers.

This past summer has been an incredible experience that has solidified my interest in working in public interest environmental law. I feel so lucky to have worked with the incredible team at West Coast and contributed to their mission to transform the legal landscape!

 

Whitney Vicente

This summer has been one of the fastest and most engaging working experiences I have had. Coming to West Coast, I was not sure what to expect, but I was so happy with the outcome. The work is always diverse and exciting, and the people I have had the opportunity to work with, get to know, and more importantly befriend, will stay with me for much longer than September.

One of the best parts of working at a place like West Coast is having the opportunity to dip your toes into so many areas of environmental law. Throughout my time, I have been able to work with the marine team, and on work related to the RELAW project, Trans Mountain, and environmental legal aid.

Some of the interesting work I have been able to accomplish this summer includes research on Atlantic coastal protection, Trans Mountain media alerts and summarizing the judicial review applications by the First Nations after the approval of the pipeline expansion on June 18th. I also had the opportunity to work with the RELAW team on briefing Indigenous stories for legal traditions of the Stó:lō people. Many of the students also had the opportunity to go to the BC Court of Appeal and summarize the arguments of a case regarding injunctions and civil and criminal contempt.

This year the students had the pleasure of leading the legal advice/legal aid program. Working on this program allowed everyone to interact directly with clients, as we all did multiple client intake phone calls and followed the files to completion. This involved client intake memos, working with a supervising lawyer to pinpoint potential solutions and research questions, and finally contacting the client with the results.

I also really enjoyed the smaller assignments we would all get throughout the summer. Quick turnaround research questions that the lawyers would come and ask for were really rewarding. Finding answers and writing memos in one morning felt like you were contributing to the broader team.

Overall the experience of working at West Coast Environmental Law this summer has been so fulfilling, and it has reinvigorated my passion for the law and has shown me how it can be used as a force for good in the world. I am very grateful for this experience and for each and every member of West Coast who has helped and encouraged me throughout this fantastic summer.

 

Jessie Schwarz

Working at West Coast Environmental Law for the summer was a dream come true. After the roller coaster ride of first year law, it was heartening to join a team of individuals using their legal education and expertise to support meaningful and systemic change. This kind of work is what the law is truly for.

There was never a dull moment at West Coast over the summer. Under the supervision of West Coast lawyers, I worked on a range of fascinating projects and assignments. I researched and wrote a detailed memo on Transboundary Marine Protected Areas (TBMPAs) for the marine team, summarized judicial review applications for the Trans Mountain pipeline appeal, attended court proceedings, and researched case law on injunctions in the context of protests and Indigenous led blockades in Canada and the US.

When the BC Court of Appeals’ decision on the province’s reference question regarding the transportation of diluted bitumen came down the pipe (no pun intended), I was part of a team of lawyers and communications staff who analyzed the decision and crafted a media response. As part of this experience, I observed the law change in real time, and learned what the consequences of such change could be.

My largest project this summer was working with my remarkable summer student colleagues on the environmental legal aid/legal advice program. As part of the legal advice program we had direct contact with clients, and our work was responsible for helping people with their environment-related concerns. It was exceptionally rewarding to hear clients express their gratitude and to know that I had made a difference in their lives, even if only a small one.

I am eternally grateful for the kindness, knowledge, and time that the lawyers and staff at West Coast shared with myself and the other students. As I prepare to dig in to another year at law school, my resolve to use my legal education to fight injustice and seek lasting positive change has only increased.

 

Top photo (L-R): Law Students Whitney Vicente, Isabelle Lefroy, Jessie Schwarz and legal intern Christopher Mottershead

Author: 
Isabelle Lefroy, Law Student
Whitney Vicente, Law Student
Jessie Schwarz, Law Student