Our Executive Director

Michele Leering, Executive Director/Lawyer

Michele LeeringMichele (B.A., LL.B., M.A., PhD. Candidate) is the Executive Director and a lawyer with the clinic. In addition to providing traditional legal services in poverty law areas, she has been extensively involved in community development and law reform. Key commitments historically have included domestic violence service coordination, organizing injured workers, and instigating local participatory action research into issues of poverty, homelessness, and, more recently, access to justice.

Since 2002, she has engaged in various projects to transform legal aid services to be more responsive to the needs of clients and communities through collaboration and coordination with partners at Legal Aid Ontario. She has worked on diverse public legal education projects including a domestic violence handbook, a local guide to living on a low income, a website, rural newspaper columns, a blog, and “legal health awareness checks” that reflect her passion for encouraging legal literacy, capability and empowerment. She believes strongly in the power and promise of “trusted intermediaries” – service providers, friends and neighbours and others – for reaching people who need legal information and support before a crisis hits. Projects to work with trusted intermediaries have become an important part of her work. Particularly in rural and remote areas, this strategy is crucial for reaching people who might not otherwise know they needed legal help.

Additionally, she is committed to leveraging new resources for access to justice work through better knowledge management, sharing and creation, and, developing “integrated reflective practice” as a core competency to strengthen the legal profession’s capacity for justice system innovation and commitment to improving access to justice in the myriad ways that are possible. To that end, she undertook further graduate research at Queen’s University and was on leave from her position as Executive Director from January to September 2016.

She is a member of the International Legal Aid Group and has presented on access to justice topics at conferences in New Zealand (2009 – reaching hard-to-serve communities) and Netherlands (2013 – the crucial role of trusted intermediaries). She has volunteered with the Open Society Foundation’s Justice Initiative to share information about community legal clinics as a vibrant and responsive access to justice and legal empowerment model. This has included organizing an Ontario study tour for Ukrainian organizations (2010), presenting at conferences in Ukraine (2009, 2012) and Turkey (2013, 2015), and participating in a consultation on paralegal development as a global legal empowerment strategic initiative (Nepal, 2014).

List of selected presentations.


Our Lawyers

Deirdre McDade, Co-Director Legal Services

Deirdre obtained an honours degree in political science and a law degree from Queens University. She joined the clinic in 1999 as a staff lawyer and is now a Co-Director of Legal Services. Deirdre supervises the clinic’s social assistance and criminal injuries compensation files.  She is active in the movement to end violence against women. She is a past Board member of the Kingston Sexual Assault Crisis Centre and Three Oaks Shelter for Abused Women, the former volunteer coordinator at the Sexual Assault Centre in Belleville and a former member of the Quinte Coordinating Committee against Violence and the Dedicated Domestic Violence Court Committee. She is the Co-Chair of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board Practice Advisory Committee.

Deirdre is engaged in a number of law reform and policy initiatives to ensure income equality. She is the eastern region representative on the Legal Clinic Steering Committee on Social Assistance and sits on the Social Benefits Tribunal Practice Advisory Committee. Deirdre is a founding member and current Steering Committee member of the Poverty Roundtable.  

Gina Cockburn, Co-Director Legal Services

Called to the bar in 1990, Gina worked in private practice, primarily in family law, including work for the Children's Lawyer, until 2001 when she joined the clinic staff. She is the supervising lawyer of our housing, employment and consumer teams. Gina is a former Board Chair of the Community Development Council of Quinte and Three Oaks Foundation. She has been a member and Board member of a number of community organizations, including the Poverty Roundtable Hastings Prince Edward, Affordable Housing Action Network, the Affordable Housing Working Group Prince Edward and Alternatives for Women.

Samantha Hayward

Samantha was called to the bar in 2008. She graduated from York University with an undergraduate degree in Psychology in 2003 and obtained her law degree from Queen's University in 2007. Her current work at the clinic focuses on the area of housing and ODSP appeals. Prior to joining the clinic in 2009, Samantha worked in private practice, mainly in the area of family law. Samantha is a former Treasurer for the Three Oaks Foundation Board of Directors and is currently the Chair of the Board for the local branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Trisha Simpson (on leave)

Trisha was called to the bar in 2011. She graduated from the Ottawa University with an honours degree in Criminology. She received her law degree from Queen's University.  While at Queen's, Trisha was involved with Queen's Legal Aid and the Pro Bono Students Canada. Prior to joining the clinic in 2013, Trisha worked in private practice, mainly in the area of family law. Trisha’s current work at the clinic is primarily in the areas of WSIB and ODSP appeals. Trisha sits on the Board of the John Howard Society of Ontario.  Trisha is currently on leave.

Melissa MacRae

Melissa was called to the bar in 2013 after receiving her law degree from Queen’s University. Melissa’s current work at the clinic focuses on community education, social assistance law and ODSP appeals. 

Lisa Turik

Lisa was called to the bar in 2014. She graduated from the University of Guelph with an undergraduate degree in Psychology in 2010 and obtained her law degree from Osgoode Hall Law School in 2013. Her current work at the clinic focuses on the areas of housing and ODSP appeals. She is also the lead for the Justice and Health project.

Danielle Holbrough

Danielle obtained Honours undergraduate and Master’s degrees in English Language and Literature from the University of Windsor. She attended law school at the University of Ottawa where she worked at the University of Ottawa Community Legal Clinic, primarily in the public legal education and outreach division.  Danielle was an articling student with us in 2016.  Upon completing her articles, she stayed on with us as staff lawyer, filling in for lawyers on leave.  Her current work at CALC focuses on Consumer & Debt law, ODSP appeals, and social assistance.

Brianna Robinson

Brianna is a graduate of UBC Law and was called to the bar in 2017. Her undergraduate degree was in Philosophy and Indigenous Studies. Brianna worked at the Indigenous Community Legal Clinic in Vancouver during her studies, and joined CALC after doing her articles here. Her focus is on Community Development and Wills.