If you had a legal problem, would you know what to do? Could you afford the services you need? Andrew’s doctoral research on access to justice focuses on improving legal services so that Canadians can avoid legal problems and/or easily find the resources they need.
Research suggests that almost half of all Canadian adults experience at least one legal problem over a three year period. Yet the vast majority do not seek legal assistance for these problems. This is an acknowledged access to justice problem. My doctoral research explores two aspects of the problem: 1) what factors affect how individuals with potentially legal problems respond to those problems, and 2) whether lawyers working in for-profit firms exhibit different levels of pro-social motivation compared to those in other practice settings. My Public Scholars Initiative project contributes to this research by helping to create and improve a network of access to justice researchers across Canada to raise the quality of discussion, research, and policy suggestions relating to the problem of access to justice.
What does being a Public Scholar mean to you?
For me, being a public scholar means recognizing and emphasizing that scholars are part of society and part of their communities. This means sharing research and ideas with members of the public, and not just with other researchers. It also means engaging with members of the public in the course of doing research. In my case specifically, it means building or repairing connections between the academy, the legal profession, and members of the public.
In what ways do you think the PhD experience can be re-imagined with the Public Scholars Initiative?
Exciting. Thrilling. Vibrant. A frisson. Feeling giddy. I’m not sure that we often associate these words and feelings with PhD research, but I wish we did more so. At its best, a PhD is an opportunity to learn deeply and contribute tangibly to something that you – and hopefully others – care about. Re-imagining the PhD with the notion of public scholarship as a guide may help to reinvigorate the experience. I hope the PSI will be an opportunity to liberate and support students to do good work that matters to them and others.
How do you envision connecting your PhD work with broader career possibilities?
Whatever I do after my PhD, I hope to stay focused on access to justice problems. Doing a PhD has allowed me to think deeply about the problem, learn new methods and modes of inquiry, use new forms of communication and engagement, and form new relationships – both in the academy and more broadly. Regardless of my next career step, I think these skills and relationships will help me to make a positive contribution to my area of interest.
How does your research engage with the larger community and social partners?
My research is necessarily connected to the public sphere because the problem of access to justice is one that is experienced broadly by members of the public. In order for my research to be effective, I have to both engage with members of the public to understand the nature of the problem, and also to ensure that any solutions are practically viable. For my public scholars project, engaging with researchers across Canada is a step towards the goal of raising the quality of discussion about access to justice.
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?
As a practicing lawyer, I was surprised and dismayed by the number of people with good cases who consistently showed up at pro bono clinics because they couldn’t afford a lawyer. I was also concerned that while access to justice was a recognized problem, there appeared to be few good plans to address the problem. This is what compelled me to return to graduate school to study the problem.
Why did you choose to come to British Columbia and study at UBC?
Vancouver is a dynamic place. It has a vibrant legal community in many ways. It’s also a city that seems open to innovation and new approaches. Studying at UBC offers an excellent opportunity to be part of this community, and to do so while surrounded by top-rate scholars. In addition, I have a wonderful supervisor and doctoral committee. They have challenged me, but have also offered unbelievable support for my work.
Re-imagining the PhD with the notion of public scholarship as a guide may help to reinvigorate the experience. I hope the PSI will be an opportunity to liberate and support students to do good work that matters to them and others.