Sussex Clinical Legal Education Launch

Amir Paz-Fuchs
Amir Paz-Fuchs

Below is the text of my talk at the Sussex Clinical Legal Education Launch Event, which took place 5th October, 2016, at the Old Courthouse, in Brighton.

 

I would like to say a few words to introduce, from our perspective, what we’re doing, and why we’re doing it. Sussex Clinical Legal Education is both a practical endeavour and a new way to think about teaching law. It is practical, because it is about exposing students to the difficulties that litigants face when seeking to access justice

In The Rule of Law, Lord Bingham wrote that the “denial of legal protection to the poor litigant who cannot afford to pay is one enemy of the rule of law”. The increase in court and tribunal fees, on the one hand, and cuts to legal aid, on the other, are, to borrow the phrase from none other than the President of the Law Society, “a huge setback for justice in the UK” that will deter people from appealing adverse decisions.

But it is also an important development in the way we teach law. The Association of American Law Schools wrote, almost 25 years ago, that

Clinical education is first and foremost a method of teaching. Among the principal aspects of that method are these features: students are confronted with problem situations of the sort that lawyers confront in practice; the students deal with the problem in role; the students are required to interact with others in attempts to identify and solve the problem; and, perhaps most critically, the student performance is subjected to intensive critical review.’

Indeed, the way we see it, this is a start of a revolution in the way we think about teaching law, about our commitments to the community, and about our engagement with the legal profession in Brighton and the region.

So what are doing now? From the beginning of this academic year, we’ve started a new Clinical Legal Education module. Students on the module take part in lectures on access to justice and the role of clinical legal education as a group, but each student is also involved in one of five projects, or clinics. If you look through the brochure, or on our website, you will find some details, but very briefly, they are:

First, Citizens Advice – an exciting collaboration with Central and South Sussex Citizens Advice, led by Bonnie.  Students received training with Citizens Advice, and have already been meeting with clients as part of the gateway service. We’ll be looking towards collaborating with other Citizens Advice Branches in the near future.

Second, CLOCK – in this project, led by Lara and Marica, students sit in the Court to assist litigants in person with forms, arranging court papers, suspending evictions and small claims, and finding legal advice.

Third, Employment Law Clinic – Ioannis and myself oversee students who offer free legal advice in areas of employment law. In doing so, students are supervised by external solicitors from one of four law firms that have already expressed their willingness to assist us: DMH Stallard, Fortis Law, Healys and Martin Searle.

Fourth, Family Law Clinic – here students meet with clients and offer free legal advice, supervised by a solicitor who is also a member of staff – John Jupp, in areas including family disputes, divorce, separation, children issues, co-habitation and financial matters.

Fifth, and finally, the Housing and Welfare Law project involves collaboration with two housing charities – the Brighton Housing Trust and JustLife. Alex and Lucy supervise the students, who engage with people in temporary accommodation, who have difficulties accessing benefits, and/or who are not sure what rights they have.

So as you can see, Sussex Clinical Legal Education already involves a wide range of models: students in courts, students in charities, students in the communities, students on campus. Students giving legal advice and students facilitating access to professional, legal advice.

It involves an inside-out, and an outside-in, process. Inside out – in the way we teach, what we do in classrooms, but also managing the enthusiasm from quite a few members of staff who have stepped up with ideas to develop programmes and clinics in their field of interest. These already include environmental law, creative industries, and criminal justice, for example. But it is also outside-in, by which I mean responding to approaches and needs from the community, and in particular – from our new-found friends and partners. Here we find that there is a dire, and unsurprising, need for assistance in areas of asylum and migration, which we will try and respond to.

So this is a good opportunity as any to thank project leads for the incredible amount of work they have put in for the past two years of planning; to John Jupp, John Child and Carly Brownbridge for their crucial role in steering the project; to Andrew Sanders and Sue Millns, and formerly – to Stephen Schute and Heather Keating, for their support and financial commitment on wbehalf of the school; and finally, but crucially, to our partners, in the community and in the profession: without your support we could never have gotten off the ground, and as a result of  your enthusiasm we know that this only the beginning.

So clinical legal education is very much about the profession, and about the community. But it is also very much about students. Law students. Our law students. There have been quite a few studies, here and abroad that show that many students come to law school for altruistic, rather than self-interested, reasons. They want to make the world a better place, address injustices and pursue social justice. They leave law school, however, in a very different mindset, concerned mainly about, well, making money. To what extent have they just ‘grown up’, and to what extent has the law school played a role in this change of heart? Whatever the answer you give, it is clearly the case that clinical legal education helps keep the passion alive, showing students that, equipped with the power of the law, one can truly do good, and improve lives. And this is true, of course, not only in their student lives. For lawyers are gatekeepers to the realm of law – they, we, you, construct the law and also have a role in deciding how high are the walls between lay members of the community and a true understanding of their rights. This is, after all, a great deal of what access to justice is about.

Can you please join me in thanking them, and our speakers – Robert Bourns, Joe Miller and Prof Adam Tickell, for helping make this a very memorable evening.

 

Amir Paz-Fuchs is Director of Sussex Clinical Legal Education.

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