Michele (B.A., LL.B., M.Ad. Ed., PhD. Candidate – Queen’s University) is the Executive Director and a lawyer. In addition to providing traditional legal services, she has been extensively involved in community development and law reform work. Key commitments since joining CALC in 1985 have included founding a domestic violence services’ coordination network, organizing injured workers, and instigating local participatory action research into poverty, homelessness, and, more recently, access to justice.
Since 2002, she has worked to transform legal aid services to better respond to the needs of clients and communities through partnering and collaborating with other community legal clinics and Legal Aid Ontario on a number of projects, including “Paths To Justice: Navigating with the Wandering Lost”. She has worked on diverse public legal education projects including Ontario’s first domestic violence legal rights’ guide, a local guide to living on a low income, the clinic’s website, rural newspaper columns, a Family Law Paths to Justice Guide, a blog, and “legal health awareness checks” that reflect her passion for encouraging legal literacy, capability and empowerment. She strongly believes in the power and promise of “trusted intermediaries” – service providers, community helpers, friends and neighbours and others – for reaching people who need legal information and support before a crisis hits. Working with trusted intermediaries has become an important part of her project work. In rural and remote areas, this strategy is crucial for reaching earlier those who might not otherwise know they needed legal help. Recent projects include the Libraries & Justice, and Rural Justice & Health partnerships, and the Rural and Remote Boldness project.
She is committed to leveraging new resources for access to justice work through better knowledge management, sharing and creation of professional knowledge in Ontario’s clinic system, and diversifying legal education to improve the legal profession’s capacity for innovation and commitment to close justice gaps. To that end, she is doing doctoral research, was on unpaid leave for eight months in 2016, and is now working part-time. She is currently working on an Experiential Learning & Access to Justice Guide for Canadian law students through her work with the Canadian Bar Association’s Access to Justice Committee.
She is a member of the International Legal Aid Group and has presented on access to justice topics at conferences in New Zealand (2009 – reaching hard-to-serve communities) and Netherlands (2013 – the crucial role of trusted intermediaries). She has worked with the Open Society Foundation’s Justice Initiative to share information about community legal clinics as a vibrant and responsive access to justice and legal empowerment model. This has included organizing an Ontario clinics’ study tour for Ukrainian organizations (2010) and Argentinian delegates (2016), and a study day for delegates from eight other countries (2016). She has also presented at legal empowerment conferences in Ukraine (2009, 2012, 2016) and Turkey (2013, 2015), consulted on the role of paralegals as a global legal empowerment strategy (Nepal, 2014), co-wrote a paper on the Ontario clinic system (2015), presented on rural justice issues at an International Development Research Centre conference (2016) and on institutionalizing basic justice services at the Legal Empowerment Leadership conference (Hungary, 2017).