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The importance of law clinics and CLE

The importance of law clinics and CLE

Matthew Biggerstaff


Reading time: three minutes

A more unique method of education and the law which I haven’t discussed before is the increasing use of Clinical Legal Education (CLE) within universities. CLE refers to law students completing practical legal work while being overseen by university staff members, and it's an increasingly helpful method of both education and legal aid. 

CLE most often takes the form of pro bono work, providing an invaluable free service to those who have no other options. With the increasing challenge of a lack of legal aid, a cost-of-living crisis, and the stress put on lawyers making it harder to find any willing to take on pro bono work, universities are in an excellent position to help those in need. In fact, according to a LawWorks survey in 2018, it was reported that two-fifths of pro bono clinics within the UK are run by universities. This clearly fills a massive gap for pro bono work, while doubling as great education for students.  

In a subtle advert for my own university, the University of Sunderland has a law clinic providing pro bono legal advice from staff and students. The clinic has assisted over 600 clients, saving over £500,000 in legal fees. Given that, of course, the North East of England is one of the poorer areas of the country, many simply cannot afford the legal fees that come with seeking advice or justice. Law Clincs, such as the one in the University of Sunderland, are a massive help to the local community and individuals.

Discover a list of pro bono initiatives on LawCareers.Net.

One issue that I think university examinations have is that there's a lack of being judged on practical experience. It's hard to judge how good someone will be in their chosen legal role when you're doing written exams or multiple-choice questions on one specific subject at a time. Although I’ve discussed the importance of extracurricular activities before and how they can help combat this, I also believe that CLE can be a big help to gaining practical experience. Working in a law clinic helps give you experience in:

  • working in a group on a legal issue;
  • client interviewing;
  • writing professional advice; and
  • it also looks excellent on any postgraduate applications!

Unless a placement option has been taken by an undergraduate student, many will leave with little to no actual practical experience, especially with how competitive gaining work experience within law firms can be for students. CLE foxes this issue and provide accessible and practical experience for students to partake in, working within the university, but still in a professional legal setting. 

I also believe that working in an environment in which you're helping those who have difficulty in accessing justice helps students to build an understanding with clients which they can take into practice. A big part of law and legal justice is remembering that those we deal with are very real people, and when you’re writing out the case facts of R v Brown for the third assignment in a year, it's easy to forget that. Understanding clients and their needs, as well as understanding the barriers which stand in front of many looking for justice, can only help students and solicitors, helping to create lawyers who don’t just have experience, but understanding, ready to start their legal careers.