Pro Bono Law Clinics act as a vehicle to provide students with the opportunity to learn by doing, to experience the law in practise and to go beyond theoretical concepts of law and apply the skills outside of the constraints of chalk and talk.
The History of Law Clinics
Such opportunities first became available in the United Kingdom in the 1970’s, mimicking the already well-established American law clinics.
Given this reasonably long history of law clinics, it is acknowledged that Clinical Legal Education is not a recent innovation, although Law Clinics are still not common place in UK universities.
Their significance in legal education has been long recognised as a crucial addition to an LLB programme as highlighted by Gerald F Hess (Seven Principles for Good Practice in Legal education, (1999), JLE 49, Vol 3).
The Purpose of Law Clinics
Pro Bono Law Clinics can have several functions or may just include one function. They may be embedded into the curriculum at undergraduate level or postgraduate level. They could be optional modules or extracurricular activities. In essence pro bono activities vary from institution to institution.
Pro bono work can range from Streetlaw projects through to full case management and representation at courts and tribunals.
The Types of Law Clinics
Streetlaw is an American concept which is delivered with a view to educating citizens about their rights and areas of law.
The desired purpose is for the target audience to gain a better understanding of their rights and responsibilities in relation to the identified issue, to lessen their likeliness of developing legal problems and increase their likeliness to seek help where required.
Streetlaw is practical in raising awareness to people about the law in their everyday lives in the communities where they live.
Streetlaw sessions also provide an incentive for those delivering it to understand more about a particular area of law as well as those hearing it.
Therefore, the advantages to students undertaking such a pro bono activity are clear and allow students and universities to engage with their local communities.
Advice clinics tend to be more involved, and sometimes these types of clinics can form part of undergraduate study, or postgraduate study as an academic module.
Advice clinics start to get to the real root of legal practice. They involve carrying out initial research from an enquiry received, interviewing clients and producing a written advice for the client to take away with them.
The benefit of such clinics enables students to deal with real clients with real legal issues.
In addition, they allow the students to work with practitioners who supervise the work, allowing for networking opportunities by virtue of their involvement.
Representation clinics include all the work of the advice clinics and more.
Some may be limited in scope by virtue of limitations on rights of audience; however students can get the opportunity to represent clients in small claims courts, employment tribunals, welfare hearings and Criminal Injuries Compensation hearings amongst others.
The type of work carried out could include preparation of court documentation (bundles), drafting legal documentation including skeleton arguments, statements, court forms, schedules of loss etc. and finally it could include advocacy in the tribunals and relevant courts.
Deciding Which Pro Bono Activity
When considering the type of pro bono activity you would like to get involved in, it is worthwhile researching the offering at different universities to allow you to make an informed choice.
The skills that you want to develop should be matched with the type of pro bono activity. The main focus for taking part in Pro Bono work should be to enhance your employability skills in an increasingly competitive legal market.
More and more opportunities may now exist as a result of the cuts to legal aid from April 2013 and demand may outstrip supply.
Boosting Your Job Applications
When you leave academia there will be the opportunity to add the opportunities to legal work or legal experiences in your CV and application.
An application that states:
“…I had the opportunity of working in the law clinic whilst undertaking my studies at xxxxx University. During this time I was involved in a xxxx case where the client was successful in achieving a settlement of £xxxx. My role throughout the case involved drafting legal documents, negotiating with Solicitors, and representing the client at the final hearing…”
may go some way to securing that training contract or legal placement.
Law Clinics In Action
Here is a helpful video of how our Teeside University Law Clinic works: