A Student Guide to Clinical Legal Education and Pro Bono

by Edited by Kevin Kerrigan and Victoria Murray

Chapter 2: Setting up a clinical legal education or pro bono project

Chapter 2 sets out some of the core reasons for establishing a clinic. These are explored in more depth below in case you need to convince fellow students or academic staff of the benefits. You can also read about how you can market your clinic to ensure it’s sustainability.

Rationale/justifications for establishing a clinic

The project will enhance legal skills
Almost all clinical schemes have as a central aspect, student learning, practice and reflection on legal skills. The core Legal Practice Course skills of interviewing, research, writing, drafting and advocacy (and their Bar Professional Training Course equivalents) tend to be addressed in a practical manner which permits students model their professional behaviours on others, receive feedback and learn from mistakes.

The project will advance student knowledge of legal ethics
If students are learning in the professional arenas of legal practice then they will have to address matters of legal ethics. Such issues will arise naturally as part of student interaction with clients and / or specific issues can be designed into the clinical experience through simulations. Ethics are addressed in the narrow sense of understanding and compliance with codes of professional conduct but may also be addressed at a more fundamental level with students exposed to moral decision making, dilemmas and the concepts of personal and professional responsibility.

The project will enhance general and intellectual skills
Chapter 1 explains how a clinical environment can be well suited to the achievement of the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) benchmark statement for law descriptors for general and intellectual skills.

The project will promote deep knowledge of specialist areas
Although clinical learning cannot generally guarantee the breadth of coverage of traditional methods it is arguable that students conducting real or simulated professional work tend to examine legal concepts and rules in a thorough and in-depth manner in order to be able to formulate legal research questions, provide solutions to problems and offer tangible advice.

The project will improve student employability
This is related to the notion of skills development. If students, in addition to traditional tuition and library based study, learn the law in the context of real or realistic participation then they are likely to develop the skills, maturity and professional attitudes that are attractive to employers and helpful for the workplace.

The project will foster active and reflective learning
Chapter 1 makes clear that reflection is an essential component of clinical legal education. Arguably, students who undertake clinical learning become more autonomous, self-aware and take responsibility for their own learning.

The project will increase student understanding of social justice issues
Clinic clients tend to be those who experience barriers to accessing justice that are deep rooted in social and economic problems. Even in modern days of mass higher education the majority of students have a poor appreciation of the social justice problems facing poor and marginal communities. Clinic can help expose them to these problems and the resulting legal problems, conflicts or disputes.

The project will increase appreciation of the role of the law in society
Clinic can provide a vibrant way of providing context to students’ study of legal rules. By seeing at first hand the impact of law on peoples’ lived experience students are more likely to understand how abstract rules may have widespread, sometimes unanticipated consequences. They may also better appreciate the dynamic nature of law and that lawyers may have a role in shaping law.

The project will develop co-operative learning
Clinic is normally an excellent example of team work in higher education. The co-operation operates at a number of levels: between student and supervisor; student and student; student and client; student and professional etc. The notion of working together towards an external achievement (the best interests of the client) and the professional imperative to put aside personal motivations can provide real benefits to students.

The project will engage and motivate law students in their studies
This may be particularly the case with live client models but can also be true of simulated clinic, especially when compared to traditional methods of learning. The requirement to work towards a goal in circumstances of uncertainty, particularly if the student performance has real impact and legal, financial and emotional consequences for clients provides a true incentive to perform outside of the student’s normal personal motivations.

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Marketing/external relations

Everyone involved with your clinic should be aware of excellent story you have to tell. The notion of students providing a free service while they learn the law is a very attractive proposition. It provides a highly positive view of students and of the university / college engagement with its local community. Stories associated with the clinic are likely to be of interest to local media outlets and you should be alive to the potential for good publicity to arise from clinic work (subject of course to client consent to information being shared).

These days a website is an essential “front door” for any service organisation. You should work to create an attractive and useful website that is accessible for new clients but also has a wealth of information about the clinic for anyone who needs to find out more detail. You could have a password protected section if you wish to restrict certain material for a limited audience e.g. clinic students only. You may need to follow your institutional protocols for web content and layout but even so, you should be able to work with the web team to create a good clinic website in relatively short time. If possible you should try to secure a website address/url that can be accessed directly without having to navigate through your institution’s website. See for example www.studentlawoffice.co.uk which links directly to Northumbria University’s law clinic.

Information leaflet / brochure
This should be a short, simple and attractive overview of the clinic which explains the nature of the service, the type of work undertaken and contact details / opening hours for new clients or other queries. It should contain illustrative photographs, sound bites and / or quotations. You should ensure that the information is not particularly time sensitive so that you can make a bulk order that will last you for a significant period of time. You can send the leaflet to law firms, chambers, courts and tribunals, community legal service organisations, businesses, charities, local authorities, advice agencies, libraries and so on. A significant number of your cases will come as referrals from external organisations. You should repeat this exercise on an annual basis if possible. The leaflets can also be given to visitors to the clinic, and internal university bodies such as the senior executive, human resources department and the students union.

A regular newsletter is extremely useful for keeping people informed of the activities and progress of the clinic. It is particularly useful for people in your own institution who may know of the clinic but not know a great deal about how it operates such as students in lower years of the degree programme, non-clinical academic staff, law school management etc. It may also be useful for attracting future students or helping existing applicants finally decide whether they wish to come to the institution. It is a task that clinic students may wish to take on themselves and might include issues like: significant cases, guest lectures, visitors to the clinic, research projects, links with other clinics, career information, student profiles etc.

Annual report
A more ambitious publication is an annual report which is a more formal document recording significant events through the year and reviewing the work of the clinic, themes, plans, problems etc. If you wish to create an annual report it is important that you keep a running note of events through the year and keep accurate statistics that will be comparable year to year. The initial task may be quite onerous but once the template is in place it is easier to maintain a report in future years. The annual report is particularly useful for showing relevant decision makers that you are continuously monitoring the development of the clinic and seeking to improve it.

Press releases / media appearances
You should speak to your law school or institutional press officer to make her / him aware of the clinic and the work that it does. The press office may be able to secure interest from media organisations to run a general feature on the work of the clinic or to follow up particular stories. The clinic director or another nominated person should be willing to speak to the media about the work of the clinic and appear on television or radio as appropriate to talk about the service. For example, a good time to offer a local radio appearance is at the beginning of the academic year when the clinic starts to take on new cases. This can generate significant amount of new case enquiries.

There are a number of award schemes that are potentially of relevance to clinics and which you should consider seeking nomination for once your clinic is up and running. Here is a selection:
  • Times Higher Education Awards – These awards have a category relating to contribution to the community.
  • Attorney General’s Student Pro Bono Awards – Organised by LawWorks, these awards have several categories including best new pro bono project.
  • National Training Awards – organised by the UK Skills Council, these awards have a category aimed at providers of education and training.
  • Law Society Excellence Awards – These awards have a range of categories generally aimed at law firms but open to lawyers in clinics. There is also a new category in Learning and Development.
  • Junior Lawyer Division Pro Bono Awards – Organised by the Law Society these awards are aimed at students, trainees and solicitors up to 5 years qualified.
Community liaison
One task you may wish to allocate to someone in the clinic is to maintain relations with community organisations. Going to visit other advice centres, charities and community groups is an excellent way of cementing relationships, creating new contacts and maintaining referral of high quality cases. It also helps to ensure that you have advocates in the community who may be willing to assist with nominations for awards, applications for funding and so on.

Receptions / clinic launch
If you can secure the funding it is very nice to hold an annual clinic reception to bring all of your friends and contacts together for an informal gathering to celebrate the work of the clinic and update them as to any significant developments. Students are often willing to contribute to the organisation and presentation of such a reception. If, as suggested, you have established an advisory committee, this may form the core of invitees but you will also wish to ensure that you invite influential people within your own institution. If you have set up a new clinic then the obvious first event is to hold an official clinic launch. If you are able to secure a high profile local or national legal figure to open the clinic this will help to ensure the turnout is good – it could for example be linked to a public lecture.

Links with other clinics
You are likely to develop strong contacts with fellow clinicians both nationally and perhaps internationally. Creating informal and formal links with other clinics is a great way of sharing experience and enhancing your understanding of clinical learning. It can also lead to interesting cultural exchange between clinical staff and students and, subject to funding, can lead to further interactions such as joint events or clinic exchanges whereby staff and students work in the partner clinic for a period. A good way of exploring and developing links is to agree a Memorandum of Understanding with a partner clinic which will set out your intentions to collaborate and indicate the mutual benefits that may flow from this. You may require approval of such an agreement from your head of school or other university office holder but this can lead to significant benefits.

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