2 August 2017 | King’s Legal Clinic
As a King’s Undergraduate Research Fellow focusing on the development of legal clinics in the United Kingdom, I was invited by my supervisor, Mr Steve Levett, to attend the International Journal of Clinical Legal Education Conference at the University of Northumbria. During the three-day event, I attended various seminars focusing on the different forms of legal clinics that have developed in law schools around the world, and learned of the research that has come from this work. From this, I have taken three main conclusions from my time at the IJCLE Conference, on the form of legal clinics, their impact on students, and the many challenges clinicians face.
While it was clear that new clinics are often generalist (i.e. dealing with no specific legal area) so they can scope out the type of legal advice sought for by clients in that community, more developed clinics at law schools around the world can have several different focuses. For example, the University of Northumbria’s Student Law Office handles 12 different legal areas, including family, consumer, and prison law.
From conversations I had with various students who had taken part in legal clinics, it became clear that they had become passionate about the types of cases that they had worked on. One paper presentation by Mr Alan Russell and Mr Andy Unger from the LSBU Legal Advice Clinic in London explored the potential correlation between a student’s participation in a live-client clinic and their academic attainment upon graduation from the LLB program. It was found that students who take part in legal clinics are 4 to 7% more likely to perform better academically than their peers who did not opt to take part in a clinic. This is an interesting study to watch in the future, to see whether this trend continues. Perhaps another factor to consider is where alumni students of legal clinics become employed – have they chosen a career in law, in similar legal areas, or have they opted for employment that is completely different?
Changes to legal systems and the way accreditation is attained will inevitably have an impact on student legal clinics. In the UK, the Solicitors Regulation Authority will be introducing a new common assessment – the Solicitors Qualifying Examination, by September 2020. In order to become solicitors, then, students will need to take a standardized exam and undertake two years of work experience. However, this work experience will not be regulated – instead, supervising solicitors will just need to sign off that students have completed this requirement. Having spoken to many clinicians present at the seminar, there is a high likelihood that academic universities will be introducing legal clinics as a work experience option. How do we ensure that the students learn the key competencies they need while also making sure that clients have the optimal quality of legal services they should expect?
Another challenge often overlooked is the risk of students and lawyers ‘burning out’ early, due to the difficult cases that they are exposed to. In this regard, I was particularly impressed by the Barbra Schlifer Clinic in Toronto, Canada. This clinic is unique in that it is the only one in North America which has combined a counselling service with the provision of legal aid, in order to create a ‘wrap-around’ service that includes finding shelter, food, and basic necessities for women. It proposes a ‘feminist advocacy theory’, which functions to help women in need, as well as to ensure that its lawyers and students are not suffering from vicarious trauma. Students who participate at this clinic undergo training to prepare them to recognise trauma in their clients, and then check-in at the end of each day with senior lawyers and counsellors to ensure that they are handling their workload in a healthy manner.
In sum, it has been an eye-opening experience to be able to attend the IJCLE Conference, and to see the amount of work that goes into creating student legal clinics. As an incoming third-year LLB student who will be taking part in the new legal clinic course at King’s, the conference has given me more appreciation for our new legal clinic, and I am even keener to begin!
By Emily Lemaire | King’s Law Student & KURF Scholar