At busy Toronto court, paralegal says things never get boring
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
A profile of Legal Aid Ontario’s Alex Kens
When Legal Aid Worker Alex Kens first immigrated to Canada from his native Ukraine, he admits he didn’t have a full understanding of what Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) did.
“We were able to really help her – and it makes you feel good when you know you’re actually assisting people.”
– Alex Kens
“This kind of system doesn’t exist in the Ukraine,” he explains. “Back home, I don’t even know what people with legal problems do.”
Since joining Toronto’s Criminal Court Duty Counsel Office in 2010, Alex has witnessed firsthand the many services LAO offers at one of the busiest courts in the city. A typical day starts with interviewing people who have just been arrested, contacting sureties (people willing to post bond for a person in custody) and completing all of the necessary prep work for duty counsel (the legal aid lawyer in the court room).
“A lot of clients are repeat clients,” he observes, “and a lot of them are dealing with mental health issues.”
A considered approach with mental health clients
Despite the hectic pace at College Park when there are a lot of people in custody needing assistance, Alex notes that people with mental health issues require a special approach. Sometimes, it can be as simple as taking the time to really listen in order to sort out the issue at hand.
He recalls one particular case where a client was repeatedly arrested and released and it was clear that a more effective plan of release was needed.
Alex took the time to meet with the client and build the trust and rapport necessary to determine her wishes and find out what her needs were. The discussion gave Alex a better understanding of how best to proceed.
He was instrumental in finding this client a special duty counsel with experience in dealing with clients who have mental health issues. The resultant release plan for this individual included reporting to the Mental Health Court at Old City Hall and connecting the client with doctors and a social worker.
“We were able to really help her – and it makes you feel good when you know you’re actually assisting people,” Alex says.
He says his manager Renza Cecchetto taught him a lot about understanding the many factors at play with people like these clients.
Renza has been at College Park as Supervisory Duty Counsel since 2000. She has been with LAO as duty counsel since 1991, when she was called to the bar.
“Renza is just amazing at working with mental health clients,” he praises. “Often, the most difficult cases wind up with Renza – and if she can’t help them, then no one can.”
Alex admits that dealing with mental health clients can take a lot longer, but feels it’s worth taking the extra time to provide constructive assistance.
A career with LAO
Being able to help people was one of the main reasons Alex chose to pursue a career with LAO.
When he immigrated to Canada, he had two degrees – one in teaching English and the other in administrative management. A keen interest in the law and the knowledge that there was a growing need for paralegals in the justice system led Alex to complete the legal studies program at Humber College.
He acknowledges that, back in 2008, it was difficult to find field placements. Today, LAO has partnered with Humber to help students gain hands-on experience at work placements throughout the GTA. Toronto’s Criminal Duty Counsel Office was host to a student this past summer.
Alex ultimately completed his field placement at the South Etobicoke Legal Clinic before moving onto a full-time position within LAO in 2008 as an Application Assessment Officer at the Etobicoke Area Office. While at the legal clinic, he routinely worked on Ontario Disability Support Plan appeals or landlord and tenant issues. Because of his background, he often stepped in as a Russian and Ukrainian interpreter.
Having seen firsthand the type of help being offered to those in need, Alex says, “I liked the idea of working for an organization that actually helps people when they need it the most.”
In 2010, when he moved to the duty counsel office, he was licensed as a paralegal with the Law Society of Upper Canada. The year was marked with positive changes in his career. Moving from the clinic to the duty counsel office was a change in pace; every day at the Toronto criminal court is a busy one with things moving a fast clip – but that’s how Alex prefers it.
While he had a lot to learn at the courthouse, Alex notes the theoretical knowledge of legal principles and procedures from his paralegal training helped him to navigate through the complicated court system.
“You never get bored at the courthouse,” Alex says with a laugh.
LAO, he feels, is the right place for him to be.
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.