Clinical Legal Education conference report

It is well-accepted that clinical projects are an excellent forum for helping law students learn practical skills and formulate real-world solutions to legal problems rather than merely an abstract determination of liability. In the 1970s and 1980s, London South Bank University (LSBU) was at the forefront of clinic but upon the massification of higher education we lost our clinical projects because they were not financially sustainable. Revitalised by the employability agenda, clinic has returned to LSBU as an innovative South London drop-in service where students give face-to face legal advice in an open-door clinic.

LSBU has just published its 70-page Drop-In Clinic Operational Manual as a free teaching and learning resource, funded by a HEA teaching grant and available here.

Andy Unger, head of law at LSBU and Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, Law Society president

The manual was officially launched on Friday, February 15th at LSBU’s Clinical Legal Education Form and Funding conference. Attended by 100 academics, practitioners and students, the conference demonstrated a wide range of how to do and fund and think about clinical legal education, underpinned by a strong emphasis on the importance of pedagogic content and reflection.

‘It was difficult not to come away from this event without feeling inspired. From networking opportunities, to hearing directly from students, to useful break-out sessions and informative lead presentations this was a well-structured and thoroughly informative day.’
Malcolm Combe, University of Aberdeen

‘The conference was excellent. I left feeling stimulated and enthused, which is not normally how I feel on a Friday in the middle of February.’
Lucy Yeatman, University of Greenwich

‘Thank you for a wonderful conference, full of interest and fresh thinking, and just a great vibe.’
Prof John Fitzpatrick, University of Kent

 

In Session One (New Clinical Projects) we heard from Prof John Fitzpatrick from the University of Kent law clinic. This is a long-standing, well-established, wide-ranging full service clinic, embedded into their LLB as an optional module for Year 2 and Year 3 students. It has recently obtained substantial funding from three charities to develop a new immigration and asylum law project. The second speaker was Karen Clubb, senior lecturer at the University of Derby, where they are developing a very innovative means of using clinic as the basis for socio-legal research, which opens up the possibility of postgraduate fees as a clinic funding stream. The third speaker was Dr Sue Prince, associate professor at the University of Exeter, where they have set up a court-based law clinic to assist litigants in person. They began in Sept 2011; their caseload has increased exponentially; and now they are facing decisions about how to best ensure the financial sustainability of their project. Their current solution (similar to ours at LSBU) is to partially embed their clinic by embedding the training but not the clinic itself.

In Session Two, Law Society President Lucy Scott-Moncrieff addressed the conference, which then broke into five discussion groups to consider the benefits of a clinic placement, clinic and social justice, priorities in clinic, recruitment/selection of clinic staff and students, and funding sources. The five discussion groups formulated questions to ask a form and funding panel in the final session.

In Session Three (New Clinical Identities), Dr Chalen Westaby from Sheffield Hallam University presented her research into the role of clinical legal education in advancing law students’ understanding of ’emotional labour expectations’ in the legal profession.  The second speaker was Lisa Nolan from the University of Westminster who is conducting research into the rise of audit culture on legal academic identity with a particular focus on the professional identities of academics involved in clinical legal education. Then I talked about what motivates students to get involved in clinic, and sought to disentangle the sometimes muddled concepts of pro bono work and clinical legal education.

In Session Four, a panel chaired by Alan Russell from LSBU discussed the questions agreed by conference earlier that day. The panel members were Julie Bishop, director, Law Centres Network; Sheila Donn, partner, Philcox Gray Solicitors; Jacqueline Kinghan, director at the  Centre for Access to Justice, UCL; Jake Lee, solicitor and pro bono & community affairs manager, Allen & Overy LLP; and Carol Storer, director of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group.

Links to all the conference materials are available on the HEA Social Sciences blog.

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