my legal clinic course experience

My Legal Clinic Course (LCC) experience with the McGill Centre for Intellectual Property Policy (CIPP), under the supervision of Professor Prie, has fallen somewhat short of my expectations. Had I better understood the nature of the work I would be assigned, I doubt I would have applied for the opening. Although I may have somewhat misunderstood the position as described in the LCC Handbook*, I feel there was no good reason to imagine that I would be acting as little more than an editor, if not, at times, a copyeditor. Though I imagine, from the simple act of painstakingly ordering words on a page, I derive more pure literary pleasure than most, I would have preferred nonetheless to have spent more time engaging with substantive legal issues.

My first assignment was to increase the readability of the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section of the Canadian Public Domain Registry website: a free and publicly accessible online database of information regarding the copyright status of literary works published in Canada. For the purpose of helping uninitiated users of the website most thoroughly understand their rights and obligations in regard to inventive and creative works, my task was to articulate relatively basic copyright concepts in the most easily accessible language. Shorter sentences were best.

As most of the content had been drafted already by the time I received the FAQ, most of my work involved increasing clarity and precision, cutting extraneous material, and creating a more logical order of entries. Though I was not introduced to any copyright principles or theories different from those to which, in my Intellectual and Industrial Property course, I had been already exposed necessarily, I would say that I am now, in general, more comfortable with copyright law.

My work was assigned to me either in person or via email. From time to time, I would submit my edits and Professor Prie would give me feedback. She seemed to be quite pleased with my suggested improvements and has already forwarded my FAQ final draft to Creative Commons, which oversees the Registry website. On the several occasions Professor Prie and I met, we basically discussed how the FAQ ought to read, so as to best further Creative Commons’ goal of promoting public access to copyrighted works. In general, I was given a great degree of freedom to make those changes I thought most effective. Similarly, as the assignment was fairly straightforward, my work was essentially unsupervised.

Probably my biggest regret in regard to my Clinic placement is not having completed my hundred hours. At our very first meeting, Professor Prie told me that though I could do the work on my own time, I should be careful not to leave it all to the end of term. Though I have no one to blame but myself for being in the position of having to finish my time once the semester ends (and summer begins), I wish she, as my supervisor, had been a little less easygoing with deadlines. To my defence, there were certainly times when Professor Prie could have been a little more prompt in responding to my emails requesting the feedback necessary for me to continue my work; but, then again, when I did not hear back from her, I really should have been more persistent. All that said, depending on the week, I would do anywhere from twenty hours of work to none at all.

Having completed the FAQ edit, my second assignment, which I received several days ago, is to edit a memo announcing a call for submissions to a volume of essays on the topic of Canadian digital technology networks. Although, to be fair, the call is—at almost thirteen hundred words—quite extensive, I am not looking especially forward to what will essentially be the preparation of an advertisement. While, once again, I very much do enjoy the craft of careful writing itself, I had hoped that my Clinic experience would prove to be of somewhat more value to my principally legal, law school education.

Aside from my obvious disappointment with the subject matter of my assigned work, my first suggestion for how to improve the Legal Clinic Course would be to do away with the requirement that in order to successfully complete any placement, one must log a hundred hours of work. In my mind, there is no necessary correlation between the amount of time I put into a project and either 1) the quality of the work produced or 2) the educational value of having done the work. Furthermore, being told, at the very beginning, that all I was expected to do was “just put in the hours” made it difficult to see my efforts as much more than busy-work. If nothing else, my time with the CIPP has felt less like school, and more like a part-time job.

What I found most rewarding about my placement was the degree of autonomy I was given. I very much appreciated the fact that Professor Prie trusted me to work alone, giving me essentially free rein to make those changes I deemed necessary. Of course, with all this freedom, I ran a little astray with my scheduling, but I suppose that will just have to count as a part of what I will have learnt.

Finally, I appreciated the opportunity to gain three credits for doing work that will go out and into the world. Similarly, the further I get through law school, the more interested I am in putting my efforts towards something that is not, at least in large part, about winning a good letter grade. As insignificant as it may be, I really do hope to see my words grace the electronic pages of the Canadian Public Domain Registry website, helping people to better understand their intellectual property rights and obligations.


*The Handbook describes the nature of the work as, “Public interest research on intellectual property and development policy. Legal research and writing experience; brief/memo drafting; public information presentations; review and comment on/revision of legal documents.”