Long before his tenure as Dean of Law at the University of Ottawa, Bruce Feldthusen played an active role in poverty law services. A strong advocate for the provision of french-language legal services and a tireless supporter for Student Legal Aid Services Societies (SLASS), he has worn many hats.
After 13 years, Dean Feldthusen stepped down on June 30.
Before he left, I was able to join the Dean in his Fauteaux Hall office on the university campus, where we talked about his commitment to French language services and his role with the LAO-funded SLASS.
A balancing act
Dean Feldthusen came to the University of Ottawa in January 2000 as Dean of the Common Law Section. He also taught Torts, Administrative Law, Remedies, and Human Rights. Born and raised in Montreal, Feldthesen said the access to his home city was one of the reasons he wanted to live in the Ottawa region. “This is my Canada,” he says of our nation’s capital.
One of the many hats the Dean wore was an administrative role in the university’s SLASS. He’s certainly no stranger to the student clinic system: the Dean worked at a SLASS while completing his law degree at the University of Western Ontario. The University of Ottawa SLASS has over 40 part-time student volunteers, all of whom are part of the law program’s clinic course, which runs for the duration of the school year. The students provide mostly criminal law services, balancing three to four case files at a time, under the supervision of four full-time lawyers.
When Feldthusen first arrived at the University of Ottawa, he met with SLASS staff lawyer Louise Toone on a regular basis. Not long after, he had “complete trust in the SLASS staff. The students are getting great hands-on experience and the community is being well-served.” The Dean found that many Francophone law students have a traditional interest in working at the clinic, and many end up staying in the community as practicing lawyers. The provision of services in French is as necessary as ever, especially in Ottawa. “You hear French and you read French all the time, even if you’re English,” he explained.
In the community
I asked Feldthusen about how the SLASS evolved over the span of his deanship, and some of its biggest accomplishments. “The SLASS staff always has a hunger for new opportunities,” he explained. The SLASS has branched out to provide more than just the basic services, including opening the Aboriginal service branch – a unique division staffed by aboriginal law students who provide legal services to members of Ottawa’s aboriginal community – and providing community legal education. The clinic works hard to add more articling students by securing grants any way they can. “The team goes out of their way to be a part of the community,” he explained proudly.
Speaking of being part of the community, Dean Feldthusen was a big advocate on doing anything he could to connect with his faculty, which included using social media. “It’s a huge faculty, so it can be hard to communicate face-to-face regularly. We do anything we can, including using Twitter, to distribute facts, bulletins and notices, or to announce when our faculty did something great.”