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The Necessity of Clinical Legal Education in University Law Schools: A UK Perspective

James Marson,* Adam Wilson** and Mark Van Hoorebeek***

Introduction

Few law schools within the United Kingdom (UK) university sector have integrated clinics established as legal practices that offer live client work to the student body. Clinical legal education is becoming increasingly popular within the sector as it provides numerous advantages to the student cohort and establishes an opportunity for the students to gain important practical experience, whilst enabling them to offer a valuable service to the local community.

This paper proposes that the expansion and subsequent unbridling of the provision of a law clinic in the sector will provide the students with the skills necessary of graduates in the increasingly corporate, commercially motivated, UK university sector. Secondly, it provides a basis for the rationale of a movement in funding bands, a study which is being undertaken by the Higher Education Funding Council for England over the proceeding three years, in consequence to the increasing costs involved to the institutions. This increase in funding, coupled with a determination from the institution and case study evidence as presented in this paper, will hopefully propel clinical legal education to the forefront of undergraduate legal studies in the UK. Clinical legal education is a method of improving the student experience and offers various advantages if integrated fully into the university administrative set up. Such views have been given rigorous academic coverage, however this paper further analyses the academic benefits passed on to the student populace, in relation to the potential advantages to UK universities.

Clinical legal education (CLE) has been a concept long provided in institutions in the United States(US) and is increasingly being focused upon in both the Western (Bradney 1992;(1) Dickson 2000;(2) and Grimes 1995)(3) and developing worlds (Iya 2000)(4) as a fundamental aspect of the undergraduate law students’ education. In the UK, whilst such skills have been addressed to varying degrees through mock court and mooting sessions, and the research skills necessary to acquire information through library exercises, the skills of communication with clients, ethical considerations in practice and the ability to put legal education into practical situations have been ignored. This has occurred (amongst other reasons) because of a lack of available expertise, funding, resources, time and accessibility. Despite these limitations universities have began a process of incorporating clinics into their academic framework not withstanding the higher costs involved, since they see these costs as counter-balanced by a unique learning experience which offers a competitive advantage against similarly placed institutions.

This paper begins by outlining the necessity for CLE in UK law schools and how this will become commonplace and may even become a pre-requisite for full exemptions from professional bodies including the Law Society. It then offers an insight into the working of a law clinic in a university law school in the UK and the benefits and potential offered to students and the institution itself. The paper further highlights how a movement towards CLE may assist in the contentious study undertaken by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) over the next three years regarding the funding of undergraduate students and the possible movement in the banding of funding – an initiative which is fundamental to the funding of law clinics and possibly the survival of these university departments. The paper concludes by assessing the implications of CLE to the student and institution with regard to the current structure of legal education and establishes the significant benefits of live client work for law students and the institution.

Footnotes:
*   Senior lecturer in Commercial Law, Sheffield Hallam University, Department of Law.
**  Senior lecturer, Sheffield Hallam University, Department of Law.
*** Lecturer, University of Derby, Department of Law.
(1) Bradney, A. (1992) “Ivory towers or satanic mills:choices for university law schools” 17 Studies in Higher Education 5.
(2) Dickson, J. (2000) “Clinical legal education in the 21st century: Still educating for service?” International Journal of Clinical Legal Education, November 33.
(3) Grimes, R. (1995) “Legal Skills and Clinical Legal Education” Web Journal of Current Legal Issues 3.
(4) Iya, P. F. (2000) “Fighting Africa’s poverty and ignorance through clinical legal education: Shared experiences with new initiatives for the 21st Century”International Journal of Clinical Legal Education, November 13.


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