How Rise’s Virtual Legal Clinic Engages Community Partners During Remote Meetings

Rise Women’s Legal Centre

Rise Women’s Legal Centre (“Rise”) is a non-profit community legal clinic providing legal services to individuals who self-identify as women across British Columbia, Canada. Legal assistance is given by senior law students, trained and supervised by staff lawyers. Student services are supplemented by volunteer lawyers who assist with providing summary advice. Rise also supports frontline workers and community partners who work in family law. It assists its community partners in supporting women navigating the legal system through Rise’s Virtual Legal Clinic.

For this story, we caught up with Vicky Law. She is the Program Lawyer for the Virtual Legal Clinic run by Rise Women’s Legal Centre. She spoke to us about how Toasty has helped her and her colleagues break the ice during community meetings and increase engagement.

The Challenge: Engaging Community Partners and Increasing Collaboration

The Virtual Legal Clinic was established in 2017. And so even before the pandemic, video conferencing was essential for effective functioning.

The problem was that a lot of people were hesitant about video conferencing. Even community partners weren’t comfortable using technology and dealing with setup.

This is why Vicky and her colleague decided to host bi-monthly remote meetings with their extended community. The sessions were an open invitation for community partners. It was to help them learn about program updates and what was new in family law. An additional benefit was the increase in community partners’ familiarity with video conferencing. And so, the Clinic started using these sessions to train new community partners.

While the meetings were going well and they saw more community partners joining, Vicky knew they needed a more interactive platform.

“The meetings we were having weren’t a lecture format. It wasn’t supposed to be one person talking all the time, and we really wanted there to be discussion and communal learning. It’s difficult when you are on a video platform and you ask an open-ended question, and all you hear back is silence and crickets.”

Using Toasty to Break the Ice

Vicky’s main challenge was encouraging conversation and collaboration in an online setting where people didn’t necessarily know each other.

But she did know that the frontline workers wanted to hear from each other. She remarks, “We did a short survey, and one of the comments from our community partners was that they would love to hear more from other community partners.” 

The problem, though, she says, is that no one wants to be the first to speak. And calling on people to talk isn’t the ambiance the Clinic seeks to create.

The Ask feature on Toasty and the ability to respond anonymously helped solve that.

“People can provide individual responses anonymously, and we can pick which response we talk about. That initial piece was always difficult to do on other video conferencing platforms because I had to rely on myself and my colleague to be the conversation starters… So those tools are really great in getting the conversation started.”

Using these features also helps Vicky make sessions easier for new community partners. The anonymity that the platform allows aids new community partners to participate without putting them in the spotlight.

Talking about new community members, Vicky says, “They don’t know what the vibe of the group is yet, they don’t know how the group is usually run. They are there for the first time. Everyone else has been meeting for so long already, so I think the ability to have that kind of participation is really valuable.”

Encouraging Collaboration between Community Partners

The Virtual Legal Clinic works with marginalized women experiencing violence and even fleeing from abusive partners. The Clinic relies on community partners to provide clients with emotional support and guide them in following lawyers’ advice.

Yes, frontline workers are provided resources and guidance. But there are some questions that the Clinic team doesn’t always have answers to.

Vicky explains, “I haven’t lived in a rural area in British Columbia, and I am reliant on the frontline workers to tell me, ‘Hey, we are having a problem, how do I solve this?’ And sometimes we don’t have the answers, but because there are other people on the same call, there’s a lot of brainstorming and a lot of ‘have you tried this’ and ‘I have done it this way and it’s worked for me,’ and that’s really helpful and creates a sense of belonging.”

Integrating polls and Ask in the Toasty meetings with community partners has enhanced the sense of collaboration and belonging.

It allows for learning from others. And Vicky mentions instances where participants underline this. They say things like, “Oh yeah, someone mentioned this, and I didn’t even think of that, but it really aligns with what I feel and what I do.”

The Result: Increased Collaboration and Engagement

1. Community Members Speaking Up:

“I found that the individual questions (Ask), the anonymous responses, the polls, the voting on the answers are useful to get people out of their shell and talk.”

2. Seeing Answers from Others

“The individual responses are extremely beneficial because you can see all the responses, and you can’t see them until you type in yours… People can reflect on their own answers, and people can ask questions about someone else’s answer.”

3. Anonymity

“I really like the Toasty option where you have the anonymous option, and people can provide individual responses anonymously, and we can pick which response we can talk about.”

Vicky and Rise’s Virtual Legal Clinic are planning more sessions with Toasty, and Vicky is excited about using other features. With attendance numbers always being an unknown component, she hasn’t had the opportunity to use group responses and breakouts.

She explains, “I don’t know if I am getting 5 people or 15 people. So it’s kind of hard to plan for that. But I would like to use it. I am actually planning a virtual online course to recruit more volunteer lawyers to join our program. And there are going to be activities and exercises for learning. So my goal is to use the group responses and breakouts.”

Vicky also wants to plan questions and polls to conduct more collaborative sessions with community partners.

Toasty’s interactive features, she tells us as we are about to end the call, will allow her to dig deep. It will help her elicit feedback and modify the sessions. This will evolve the way the Virtual Legal Clinic works and provides services.