A few words of advice and encouragement may be enough to prevent a young man from getting a criminal record.
Student lawyers Brittany Ashmore and Daniel Wilson were assisting Legal Aid Society of Alberta lawyer Murray Shack outside Red Deer provincial court one day this week, explaining the workings of alternative measures to a young man who obviously faced his first encounter with the justice system.
If followed, the advice would take him on a journey in the next few months that could expunge his charge, resulting in no criminal record if he follows through on the tasks presented him.
The advice is a small part of the students’ duties this summer in providing people who can’t afford a lawyer — or even the small fee charged for a legal aid lawyer — options for their predicament.
“Student Legal Assistance is a non-profit organization run by the University of Calgary,” said Ashmore, a second-year law student who has an undergraduate degree in psychology and pharmacology. “We help fill a void in the legal system for those people who can’t afford legal aid.”
Wilson is entering his third year in law after graduating with a commerce degree.
The students offer advice and represent people in matters of small claims, criminal offences, traffic violations, family matters except divorce, student academic and non-academic appeals, social assistance, disability employment insurance appeals and some administrative tribunal work. They’re not allowed to appear for people in Court of Queen’s Bench.
A qualified lawyer oversees their work.
A nominal fee is charged at their office, located on the third floor of 5008 Ross St.
Wilson, 28, is entering his second year of the service in Red Deer.
“Every trial I’ve prepared for has been resolved either through a plea, charges withdrawn or witnesses not showing up.
“I can hardly wait for my first trial,” he laughed. “I’m hoping for one next week.”
He said he enjoyed the experience last year.
“I like working with people and the files are interesting. I would recommend it,” he added.
Wilson, from Central Alberta, said he had about four files that were headed to trial last year but all were resolved before trial.
“We can handle most things thrown our way,” said Ashmore, 23 and from Drumheller.
The students have acquired a few files since the office opened in late April.
“This is our summer job and there’s nothing second to learning in the field,” Ashmore said.
“It’s good experience,” said Ashmore, who is undecided about going to work for the Crown prosecutor’s office or becoming a defence lawyer.
Wilson said he’s leaning toward becoming a criminal defence lawyer.
Both have been with the school program since last September. “It runs all year in Calgary,” Ashmore said.
Summer programs also run in Lethbridge and Bow Valley.
The Red Deer office number is 403-309-1742.