Law student helps pro se clients navigate system

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Like a lot of students, Justin Ng once suffered a horrendous experience with a landlord—and realized how useful a better understanding of the law could be in protecting his rights as a tenant.

“I think this experience, in conjunction with a desire to do concrete and pragmatic work, was the impetus for law school,” he says.

Now a 3L student in the Dual JD program offered by the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law and the University of Windsor, Ng started his academic career in Canada with a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Toronto, and a master’s in the subject from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

“As a kid, the idea that government could be a force for good was impressed upon me from episodes of The West Wing,” he says. “But ultimately, I was attracted to political theory because it offered an opportunity to understand and study competing visions of a just society.

“In particular, I was interested in the more pernicious dimensions of tolerance in contemporary western liberalism and that was the inspiration for graduate school.”

Relishing the intellectual rigor of graduate school, and how clean and abstract the discipline of political theory could be, Ng originally envisioned a career in academia—until the landlord troubles set him on a path to study law.

Now he is headed for a degree that will be of use on both sides of the border, and hopes to take the Uniform Bar Examination in the near future. He was drawn to the Dual JD program by the experiential learning opportunities.

“Judicial externships are not readily available to rising 1L students in Ontario, but it’s something Detroit Mercy Law really encourages its Dual students to do in the summer following their 1L year,” he says. “The idea of spending so much time in Detroit also appealed to me as well. Prior to the pandemic, I really enjoyed getting the opportunity to navigate the Detroit food scene with law school buddies and exploring other parts of Michigan.”

Ng appreciates the opportunities to serve others and do meaningful legal work even as a 3L. Last semester, he served in Detroit Mercy Law’s Pro Se Legal Assistance Clinic, helping unrepresented litigants in matters before the federal court.

“Under the direction of Director Barbara Patek, our cohort helped many clients with their Social Security appeals, employment discrimination cases, and Civil Rights claims,” he says. “The most rewarding part of the experience has been the interactions with grateful clients.”

His 2019 internship with Chief Judge Pro Tem Patricia Fresard at the Third Judicial Circuit in Detroit provided a behind-the-scenes look into the judicial decision-making process.

“Judge Fresard and her law clerk Frances Yturri were fantastic mentors – they were patient, took the time to provide excellent feedback, and gave me the opportunity to do substantive and meaningful work in my first experience in the legal profession,” he says. “I thought it was a great introduction to working in the legal field, and they both really helped facilitate my entry into the legal profession as a summer law student in the summer following my 2L year.”

Ng is a legal research and writing teaching assistant at Detroit Mercy Law, partially responsible for organizing practice rounds and coaching students for their first-year moots; Dual students participate in an American moot in the fall semester, and a Canadian moot in the winter semester.

“I’m always incredibly impressed with the tremendous progress students make from their initial practice rounds to their actual moots, and that’s been my favorite part of serving as a TA,” he says.

As a research assistant to Dean Waters at the University of Windsor Faculty of Law, Ng enjoys a variety of work ranging from researching case law, combing through primary sources, and other administrative work.

“It really forces me to be flexible and explore areas of the law with which I am not familiar,” he says.

Ng has been volunteering since late August 2020 at the Federal Pro Se Legal Assistance Clinic in Detroit.

“The most rewarding aspect has been helping clients navigate the legal system, so they get to have their day in court,” he says. “Many of our clients have found that proceeding without legal representation is challenging, and many are unable to find lawyers to bring their claims on their behalf. So, often our clients are grateful just to have us listen to their stories and provide with them limited legal assistance. I’ve had the good fortune to help out on a few appeals for disability benefits, and our clients have all been appreciative of our work. It’s definitely been a highlight of my 3L year so far.”

He is looking forward to completing his articles at Miller Thomson LLP in Toronto, a national Canadian all service law firm where he worked as a summer law student last year.

“My initial attraction to the firm was how down-to-earth and approachable everyone was, and my summer experience really affirmed those impressions,” he says. “Although I worked remotely in the summer, the lawyers and support staff made painstaking efforts to ensure I was integrated into the firm’s culture and provided meaningful mentorship. For instance, an associate—located in one of Miller Thomson’s offices in an entirely different province—took the initiative to reach out to me almost every week to chat to ensure I was acclimating to the firm given the remote environment.

“The work was challenging, but also immensely rewarding, and I had exposure to a broad range of practice areas such as commercial litigation, insolvency and restructuring, tax and real estate.”

During the pandemic and remote learning, Ng misses the camaraderie of the in-person law school experience.

“I miss being able to grab dinner, explore Detroit, and even the late-night cramming sessions during exam season with friends – there’s really no substitute,” he says. “In the interim, I’ve tried to make the most of staying at home by—unsuccessfully—learning how to cook from my fiancée. It’s proven a somewhat futile endeavor.”

The Toronto native is a big fan of the Motor City.

“There’s always something to do in Detroit. Whether it’s a Lions’ game, exploring the local food scene, or a trip to Eastern Market – the city has offered a great reprieve from the everyday banalities of law school,” he says. “I definitely miss Detroit, and hope to return when the border restrictions are lifted.”

In his leisure time, Ng enjoys playing tennis, and watching the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“Tennis definitely serves as a nice break from my studies, but I generally only get the opportunity to play in the summer and early fall,” he says. “Conversely, being a life-long Leafs fan has had the opposite effect, and probably added more stress and disappointment to my life. Still love them though.”

Ng has wonderful memories of two pre-pandemic international trips—a road trip and camping in Iceland, and a trip to Japan to hike Mt. Fuji and to satisfy Ng’s craving for omakase restaurants.

“Getting the chance to share a completely different culture with my significant other was the most enjoyable aspect of both trips,” he says. “Iceland was like being in an entirely different world, and we took advantage of the summer solstice and its almost 21 hours of daylight to explore the country’s scenic views. A highlight was hiking to natural hot springs in freezing temperatures, while encountering a family of roaming Icelandic sheep.

“Japan was a foodie’s paradise, but the highlight of our trip was visiting Hakone, a picturesque town known for its hot springs.”

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