Representing LAO in prison proves to be valuable articling experience
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
A profile of Legal Aid Ontario’s Steven Akman
Steven Akman has been to prison. Over the last five months, the articling student has been the Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) representative for Kingston Penitentiary, the historic maximum security prison slated to close within the next two years.
“As an articling student, I never imagined I’d get a chance to be part of something like this,” Steven Akman says of taking part in the WASH Court Modernization Committee.
Correctional law was never an area Steven considered practicing before his articling experience placed him squarely in the prison system. There, he routinely meets with offenders seeking legal assistance. Having spent a fair amount of time working within the prison system, Steven says he would now consider pursuing it.
“No two situations are alike,” he says, citing legal matters ranging from dangerous offender applications to disciplinary hearings for possession of contraband.
Disciplinary charges and sentencing are different in the prison system, Steven notes. For one thing, it’s a fairly informal process that can result in sentences ranging from a fine to loss of privileges to solitary confinement. Resolution can take place in a hallway outside the court.
“I imagined a different setting,” he remembers of his first time in disciplinary court. “I thought the setup would be similar to outside criminal court, but was surprised to see a room set up with just some desks and chairs.”
While some things are informal, others are not.
“I still have to introduce myself each week to the correctional officers at the main gate!” Steven says.
Deciding to be a lawyer
Choosing to pursue a legal career came early for Steven. As a grade 11 student, he took a law course for one of his electives, which helped to build the foundation for his decision. Later, he had placements at the Ministry of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice while completing a criminology and criminal justice degree at Carleton University and then law school at the University of Ottawa.
He wasn’t sure which area of law to practice when he completed his law studies. When he learned about LAO’s articling program, he liked that it offered students the opportunity to work in various practice areas while providing legal services to those in need. It was a key reason Steven wanted to complete his articles at LAO.
Waiting to hear back on whether he was accepted was one thing – finally getting the call while in an underground parking garage was another.
“I was worried I’d lose cell service during the call!” he remembers.
Steven chose to write his bar exams in June before starting his articles. Starting at LAO in July, Steven quickly found himself taking on interesting learning experiences.
Helping to modernize the WASH court system
Besides providing legal services within the prison system, part of Steven’s articling duties include working out of Kingston’s Weekend and Statutory Holiday (WASH) Court, which covers 20 different police detachments.
People taken into custody over the weekends or on statutory holidays need to be presented in front of a justice pending an in-person bail hearing on the next available day; they are put in front of a video conference system linked to the Provincial Court for a possible judicial interim release (bail).
Steven routinely splits the docket with duty counsel before court begins and “meets” with the accused via video conference. If possible, he works on consent releases with the Crown.
“I hadn’t even heard of this type of court before beginning my articles,” he says. “Court is usually very busy with up to 10 to 20 accused each day requiring duty counsel assistance. Some days can be long – but they’re all fast-paced and exciting.”
Every week, there’s something new. Working with different duty counsel and assistant crown attorneys each week has provided ample learning opportunities as Steven observes their varied styles.
Currently, Steven takes part in the WASH Court Modernization Committee alongside judiciary members, duty counsel, defense lawyers, crown attorneys, police agencies and the Kingston Criminal Court.
“As an articling student, I never imagined I’d get a chance to be part of something like this,” he says. “It’s a privilege to work alongside distinguished individuals in resolving issues and creating change.”
Steven reflects that LAO’s articling program offers a unique experience; while law school provides theory, articling at LAO has provided him with practical experience in dealing with clients.
Once he completes his articles in May, Steven hopes to continue working at LAO through its Lawyer Workforce Strategy.
Get more information
For further information on working for LAO, contact LAO’s Human Resources toll-free at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 1-800-668-8258.