Michele Leering

Michele Leering

Former Executive Director/Lawyer

Michele (B.A., LL.B., M.Ad. Ed., PhD.) was CALC’s Executive Director/Lawyer for over 35 years, until retiring on December 23, 2023.  She is finishing up outstanding project work with CALC, as Executive Director Emeritus, until March 2024. Initially providing legal services to CALC’s clients as a traditional community lawyer, 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 projects into poverty, homelessness, and, more recently, access to justice, as well as undertaking legal needs and other research.

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.” Diverse public legal education projects have included 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. In rural and remote areas, this strategy is crucial for reaching earlier people who might not otherwise know they needed legal help. Past projects included Libraries & Justice, Rural Justice & Health Partnerships (JHPs), and the Rural and Remote Boldness project.

Current commitments include responding to the Attorney-General’s Modernization Review of Legal Aid, supporting the growth of JHPs and research projects funded by the Law Foundation of Ontario, including a pilot study of the unmet civil legal needs of people who have been or are incarcerated in a local detention centre, a mapping study of Ontario’s JHPs, as well as a cross-disciplinary, and multi-jurisdictional look at how best to evaluate and measure the impact of the health justice approach (Measuring What Matters report will be forthcoming in late 2023).

She is committed to leveraging new resources for access to justice work through better knowledge management, sharing and creation of professional knowledge amongst Ontario’s clinics and improving the legal profession’s capacity for innovation. To that end, she is undertaking doctoral research while on unpaid leaves and while working part-time. As part of that work, she helped to produce the Canadian Bar Association’s resource for law students, “An Experiential Learning Guide: Learning Law in Place,” and published in the Canadian Bar Review on reflective practice, action research, and access to justice, and presented at the International Law & Society Conference.

She is a member of the International Legal Aid Group and has presented at conferences in New Zealand (2009 – reaching hard-to-serve communities) and Netherlands (2013 – the crucial role of trusted intermediaries) and Ottawa (2019 – Justice & Health Partnerships). She has worked with the Open Society Foundation’s (OSF) Justice Initiative to share information about legal clinics as a vibrant and responsive model for access to justice and legal empowerment. 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). More recently she presented at an OSF workshop on developing measurement indicators for the Sustainable Development Goals 16.3 (New York, 2018). 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). She also co-wrote a paper on the Ontario clinic system (2015), presented on rural justice issues at an International Development Research Centre conference (2016), on institutionalizing basic justice services at the Legal Empowerment Leadership conference (Hungary, 2017), and provided a case study of Ontario’s clinics (Argentina, 2019).

In November 2020, Michele was appointed to the Order of Canada as a Member, which recognizes individuals who have made a difference in the country.  Read about it in our media release.

Selected presentations and articles