Rise Up: Donor-funded community clinic is busier than ever during pandemic

While much of the world was forced to shut down at the start of the pandemic, the Rise Women’s Legal Centre, located in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, had to quickly find ways to continue their operations online.

“Rise is busier than ever because women still face the exacerbated tensions of living with abusers, and abusers using COVID as a new way to manipulate the situation and cause harm,” said Andrea Bryson, case manager at Rise. “On top of that, clients continue to come to us with the usual family law matters in a province where access to justice is anything but accessible.”

A community clinic serving individuals who self-identify as women with their family law matters, Rise helps those caught in the gap between being ineligible for legal aid yet unable to afford legal representation. Most of their services are delivered by upper-year Allard Law students, under the close supervision of their experienced staff lawyers.

Jylelle Carpenter-Boesch is a second-year law and past student clinician with Rise. The sudden closure of their office meant that Jylelle and the rest of the team had to move fast to take the operations off-site. Jylelle recently took some time out to answer a few questions about what this experience has been like for her and what Rise looks like today.

Jylelle Carpenter-Boesch
Jylelle Carpenter-Boesch

Given the current reality created by physical distancing measures, how is Rise continuing to serve the needs of the community?

I was at Rise during the transition to remote work. Although some courts and court services were closed, clients still needed assistance with preparing documents for when court services become fully reinstated and for when negotiations with opposing parties and referrals are resumed. To meet the community’s need for legal services, Rise implemented measures so students could work at home while being virtually supported by the Rise team. Students worked from home and contacted supervising lawyers through email, Zoom and phone calls. Because of the support system Rise provided, student clinicians could still adequately assist people seeking legal services during a global pandemic.

Why is it important for Rise to continue operations?

The pandemic put many of Rise’s clients in positions where they had to continue working while caring for children and family members. Many clients were still in the middle of negotiations and trial preparations while the landscape of their lifestyles completely changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Full court services were not offered during my time at Rise amidst the global pandemic, but there were still legal issues and clients who needed legal advice and assistance with their legal issues.

Additionally, the global pandemic resulted in increased family violence. Violence in relationships became increasingly heightened, and the urgency of files would change daily and weekly. Rise student clinicians helped women navigate these changes with the help of the incredible Rise team, especially the case manager, Andrea Bryson, and the supervising lawyers to my files, Taruna Agrawal, Kim Hawkins and Vandana Sood.

…the global pandemic resulted in increased family violence. Violence in relationships became increasingly heightened, and the urgency of files would change daily and weekly.

What have been some of the major challenges Rise has faced working remotely? How have these been overcome?

The work could be extremely isolating because of the disclosures from clients and the lack of the supportive office space, which I had depended on heavily in my first two months at Rise. Vandana recognized that working on difficult files while being separated from your regular support network was going to be difficult, so she scheduled team meetings over Zoom so that students could talk as a cohort with Vandana. Other Rise team members often joined the meetings to check in on the student clinicians.

There were logistical problems, because very few of my clients had printers and so signing documents was difficult. However, Vandana and the Rise team were always helpful when I needed help troubleshooting any logistical issues.

Can you provide examples of the types of work you are doing for clients at this time?

After mid-March, court services changed every few weeks. We adjusted the files and services we would focus on while considering the state of court services at the time. The majority of my time was spent preparing court documents and negotiating with opposing parties. Additionally, I was doing legal research and providing legal advice for different issues that came up. I was also doing lots of service referrals for my clients.

What has been your biggest takeaway from this experience and how might this impact Rise’s operations in the future?

My biggest takeaway is the importance of a supportive work environment. Even though I spent my days working alone in my apartment after mid-March, I knew that I had support from the people at Rise. This made the remote clinical experience a lot less isolating!

Rise Women’s Legal Centre is an experiential learning program at the Allard School of Law that exists thanks to the generous support of its many donors and community supporters.  If you would like to support the clinic please do so using this donation form.