Through King’s College London’s Staff International Exchange Programme (SIEP), I recently spent a few days visiting the Faculty of Law at Maastricht University to learn more about their approach to clinical legal education.

The Faculty of Law at Maastricht is known for developing the method of Problem-Based Learning (PBL). PBL is a student-centered teaching method that aims to develop students knowledge and analytical skills through solving real-world problems. It is an active learning style that enables students to engage with the core issues at the heart of the problem enabling them to gain a deeper understanding of the subject matter.

My first day in Maastricht started off nice and relaxed. I took a leisurely stroll across the Hoge Brug towards the main centre of Maastricht where the university is situated. I was on my way to meet Dr Catalina Goanta, Assistant Professor in Private Law. Before meeting Catalina, she arranged for two students to take me on a quick tour of the city centre and the main university buildings.

Meeting Dr Catalina Goanta – Clinic Education, CSR and Mediation Clinics

At the end of my tour, I met with Catalina along and her students. By way of introduction, I explained to Catalina how our King’s Legal Clinic worked and the various clinics and projects we offered. Along with our generalist advice-only clinic, we also run specialist advice-only clinics helping with a range of issues including immigration & asylum, small businesses, housing, family and employment; all in partnership with law firms.  In addition, we also have a number of projects that our students are involved in as part of our clinic. Our students assist in representing clients appealing against wrongful decisions made about their eligibility to welfare benefits; examining evidence to determine whether there has been a procedural error that means an individual’s criminal conviction is unsafe or supporting lawyers providing free representation to migrant families seeking permission to remain in the UK.

Catalina explained that the clinical education offered at Maastricht differed from what some may consider are more traditional forms of clinic. For example, the American style model of clinic which typically involved students advising or representing clients and learning  about the law by doing cases. More usual for Maastricht has been their involvement with moot courts as a method of clinical education as well as other models of clinic. One such offering was their Corporate Social Responsibility Clinic (CSR). The clinic had previously involved 12 Masters level students who would work on a project with an external partner with the objective of promoting  one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

The Mediation Clinic that Catalina, along with Dr Mark Kawakami, founded within the law faculty is another avenue of clinical education for students at Maastricht. One of the pillars of their Mediation Clinic has been to engage students with mediation through participating in international competitions. Recently, students had represented Maastricht at the International Commercial Mediation competition hosted by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in Paris. Catalina explained that students interested in mediation as a career often found it difficult to break into the industry. So, through engaging in competitions like the one offered by the ICC, students can start to network with reputed mediators and beginning developing their mediator profile. The other two pillars involve hosting mediation workshops/masterclasses and recruiting students to volunteer as mediators and conduct community mediation sessions.

One of the main motives for my visit to Maastricht was to learn more about the mediation sessions conducted by students and so I was particularly keen on following this up with Mark the next day.

Meeting Dr Mark Kawakami – Mediation Clinic and PBL in action

Following on from my discussion with Catalina, I met with Mark to have a more in depth discussion about their Mediation Clinic.

We firstly had a brief chat about some of the benefits and challenges of offering clinical education within a law school. Generally, we found that students were eager to participate with clinics – it gave them valuable educational learning in line with their academic interests with the simultaneous aim of providing a service to your local community. Nevertheless, there were sometimes challenges in the retention of students who initially showed keen interest in being involved in clinic. Additionally, the challenges with trying to source clients to assist or finding the right channels to make them aware of the services offered by clinics.

As a way of ensuring visibility for the mediation sessions offered by their clinic, Mark explained that they worked in partnership with a local neighbourhood mediation organisation called Trajekt. Mark arranged for me to speak to two of his students who volunteer as mediators with Trajekt, Floris and Feodora. Also present at the meeting was Monique Benning who is the project coordinator for Trajekt. The process of selecting students to volunteer with the clinic is quite robust and involves an application, interview, a two day training session at Trajekt and then a short exam covering the mediation knowledge and techniques learnt at the training. Feodora particularly praised the benefits of the two-day training session with Trajekt. The use of role play helped with understanding the basic theory behind mediation and techniques for good active listening, how to be impartial and how to initiate conversation between parties. It is also made her aware of the mediation process in its entirety; what may go well and what may go wrong. She said that the training challenged you to be more reflective about yourself and understand your strengths and weaknesses to then be a better mediator.

In terms of sourcing clients for their mediation sessions, Trajekt receives referrals for mediation from the police/housing co-ops/local municipality when a complaint has been made by a local resident. The resident’s complaint is then assessed for suitability. If it is suitable, the issue is allocated to two mediators. Previously, Trajekt just had student mediators from Maastricht volunteering. Now, students are paired up with an experienced mediator who volunteers their time for free with Trajekt as well. This has meant that more complex issues can be dealt with and allows the students to have a better learning process – feedback is given by the experienced mediator about what the student has done well and what they could improve for next time. Generally, many of the mediations they assist with are disputes between local residents and students e.g. noise complaints. Where possible, Trajekt insists on involving the landlords as well, especially if they routinely rent to students. The landlord can then ensure that future students are aware of how to behave to maintain good relationships with the local residents.


PBL in action

Later on in the afternoon, I had the chance to observe a tutorial being conducted one of Mark’s colleagues, Daniel On who is a PhD researcher. The class was focused on European private law and was ran using problem-based learning.

The students, as part of the course, were analysing a piece of European legislation relating to the sales of goods. Students were split into small groups (two to four people) and tasked with taking on the role of a specific country delegate; one group was the European Commission and another a fictional European Institute of Economics. There was also a student who took on the role of presidency and had to chair the forum. A proposal was put forward concerning the draft legislation and the students were trying to negotiate comprises, reflecting their own national position on certain issues, which would hopefully be incorporated by the European Commission group responsible for drafting.

It was so engaging to see the students debating their adopted countries position regarding whether to include or exclude particular aspects of the legislation. The students led the discussions and had to present their arguments on the basis of their prior research about relevant national law, policy issues behind those laws as well as factoring in laws of other nations in comparison that supported or opposed their country’s position. This type of learning allows students to begin critically analysing laws and develop a deeper understanding of lawmaking as a process. The comparative law aspects force the students to consider the national laws of other countries and determine whether they can harmonise opposing standpoints to come to an amicable agreement that works for all participating.

Final thoughts

My time at Maastricht, though short, was packed full with great ideas and meaningful discussions on innovative ways to engage students in clinic and embed more formally into a law school curriculum. Particularly noteworthy, is the Maastricht University Law College (UMLC). The UMLC is an extracurricular honours programme running over 2 and half years. The programme has been developed to give students the chance to focus on law in context and gain more legal practice through a range of interdisciplinary modules. The UMLC is oriented towards developing more practical skills rather than being solely research focused and students from different faculties, not just Law, can apply to the programme. Dr Nicole Kornet, who leads the programme, said this enabled different perspectives when looking at the same problem; it could be viewed through the lens of the law or a sociologist or an engineer.

The move towards more interdisciplinary collaboration is certainly one increasingly welcomed here at King’s too and can only help in enhancing the educational experience of all students.