Student advisor, Melissa McKillen, reflects on her first case with the Law Clinic. Melissa considers what she has learned from working on the case and from her experience of representing a client at a virtual hearing.
At the beginning of this academic year, I represented one of the Law Clinic’s clients at the SSSC Fitness to Practise Panel impairment hearing along with my co-advisor, Ronan Leslie. This was the culmination of six months of casework (and all of the interviews, research, phone calls, Zoom meetings and letter-drafting that casework entails), and it would be the end of my first ever case with the Clinic.
For law students, the opportunity to represent clients in forums like the SSSC hearing is invaluable. While hearings in these strange times are somewhat removed from what we might have imagined as we applied to university – this particular hearing took place on Microsoft Teams, rather than at the SSSC’s offices in Dundee – it could well be said that the lessons to be taken from such experiences remain the same.
I believe that two of these lessons were particularly important.
The first is that the outcome of a case will not necessarily fit into the binary of an outright ‘loss’ or an unmitigated ‘win’. Sanctions imposed by the SSSC are numerous and varied; each is located along a spectrum and may be combined with further sanctions. As far as a client appearing at the hearing is concerned, the imposition of any sanction short of a removal order may fit their definition of a successful outcome; or, a client may consider the imposition of even the lightest of sanctions to be an injustice. Therefore, a client’s conception of a successful outcome, rather than a representative’s own definition of a ‘win’, is paramount. At the same time, however, we as advisors have a duty to manage our clients’ expectations as to what the Panel might decide, so that they might instruct us accordingly.
The second lesson is that the representation that the Law Clinic provides to our clients really can, and often does, make a significant difference to the outcome of a given case. As the hearing went on, Ronan and I remarked during several of the adjournments that we felt as though the case was on a knife-edge. It is worth considering, then, how our client’s case might have fared had they attended the hearing without representation. While we are not lawyers, the Law Clinic and our supervisor, Gillian Melville, had equipped us with the acumen and the knowledge to secure the best outcome that we could possibly have hoped for in this case. The experience of representing a client at a hearing in which they stood to lose their livelihood has thrown into bold relief something that previously I had known only in theory: that law clinics such as ours serve to level the legal playing field between those whom we represent, and their opponents.
I am immensely proud of the work that Ronan and I did on this case, and I am delighted with the outcome of the hearing. Of equal importance to me, however, are the lessons that I have taken from my experience at this hearing, which I can apply to my next case.
Melissa McKillen, Student Advisor and Elected Member
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