Classic case: A legal aid lawyer's path

By CBA/ABC National December 2012

Making a difference: Amanda Dodge

Classic case: A legal aid lawyer's path

Photo of Amanda Dodge by Stuart Kasdorf.

Amanda Dodge was called to the bar in 2004 and has remained steadfast in her mission to improve the lives of disadvantaged people. She is helping secure access to justice for those in need through community advocacy, the CBA’s Access to Justice Committee and through the passion she brings daily to her “dream job” at Community Legal Assistance Services for Saskatoon Inner City, better known as CLASSIC.<.p>

Earlier this year, the Saskatoon lawyer’s efforts were celebrated when she received the CBA’s inaugural Legal Aid Leader Award.

How did you get started?

It’s my faith that has motivated me to want to help others, to recognize the plight of low-income people and be part of ameliorating that.

As a student I began looking at (career) options and I started reading a bit about the work of lawyers who were helping others. There was one article in particular about a lawyer working for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. She went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada and obtained a decision that helped all blind people in Canada. Using the law as a tool ... that seemed to me a very effective way to help people.

I was 22 then. After I completed my undergrad degree, I spent a year in seminary. It was my year to think and pray about this, and it led me to law school.

Today, I am so grateful to be part of CLASSIC. I love it. I must underscore how collaborative it is. I started here four years ago as the executive director.

Two years later, I asked to change roles to become a supervising lawyer, to oversee and mentor the law students who work on client files. Last year we had more than 100 students involved and served nearly 700 clients.

Amanda Dodge

Amanda Dodge

CLASSIC is such an inspiring organization because it was founded by students . . . three students who came along with energy and optimism, who thought they could do something about helping low-income people get the legal help they needed. They developed the foundation and building blocks for CLASSIC, which was over a year old when I came along.

It’s awesome for me to see a student’s perspective change. As you would expect, law students tend to be a more privileged group of people. At the beginning, and I am generalizing, it’s like they’re deer in headlights. They’re nervous and a bit awkward in responding to the clients. Then you see their relationships develop. They start to understand more about the social realities and the situations their clients are in.

I remember one student after he’d met with an Indian residential school survivor and heard her horrific story of physical and sexual abuse. I think that was a very important day for him, to see someone else’s reality. He was in tears.

The aspect I find most rewarding is in our clients. I’ve been doing this kind of work for eight years and am still blown away by their stories. It’s never just one hardship or trauma, it’s often several, that snowball onto each other.

Yet these people are able to make it through. They are survivors. And so often they are able to maintain optimism and positivity and sometimes even have a sense of humour. To me, there’s nothing more inspiring. -N

This interview was edited and condensed.

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