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Pro bono work and social justice
Pro bono work and social justice

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1.1 The development of clinical legal education

Clinical legal education (CLE) is a teaching method based on experiential learning or ‘learning by doing’. It was developed in the United States as part of a social justice agenda to provide legal services to the poor. CLE programmes deliver pro bono services to their community, allowing students to learn by experience, with the hope it will foster a new generation of pro bono lawyers.

CLE has been defined as:

Clinical legal education involves an intensive small group or solo learning experience in which each student takes responsibility for legal or law related work for a client (whether real or simulated) in collaboration with a supervisor. Structures enable each student to receive feedback on their contributions and to take the opportunity to learn from their experiences through reflecting on matters including their interaction with the client, their colleagues and their supervisor as well as the ethical dimensions of the issues raised and the impact of the law and legal processes.

(Giddings, 2013)

The development of CLE in the UK has been quite slow. The University of Kent and the University of Warwick were early pioneers, opening a clinic in 1973 and 1976 respectively but only four law school clinics were operating in the 1980s. It was not until the 1990s that an interest in CLE really started to develop. This could partly be due to the fact that in the UK, until the 1980s, the existence of extensive provision of state-funded legal services meant that the need to provide legal services for the poor did not yet exist. A recognition of the need to provide employability skills and the recent cuts to state-funded provision for legal services have led to a renewed focus on the development of CLE in UK law schools.

Activity 2 Pro bono in university law schools

Timing: You should allow yourself 30 minutes to do this activity.

Universities need to consider the rationale and goals for their law clinic or public legal education activities. Some clinics have ‘social justice’ as their mission, but should the focus be on learning and teaching or addressing an unmet legal need? What comes first, education or clients?

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There are a number of reasons you might have considered, including:

  • Students should have the opportunity to develop their employability skills, such as interviewing or presenting, in order to enhance their employment prospects.
  • It is an important aspect of legal education to encourage students to participate in pro bono activities and may engender a commitment to pro bono which will continue after graduation.
  • To reflect the mission of the institution; for example, the Open University has a commitment to social justice and the creation of its Open Justice centre supports this mission.
  • Many students and academics have a commitment to social justice and believe there is a moral obligation to provide pro bono services.
  • Participation in pro bono activities provides the opportunity for supervised practice-based learning and supports the transition from student to professional.
  • Participation in pro bono activities gives students the ability to apply the law to a real-world scenario.