Clinical legal education driven through legal clinics is a legal teaching method based on experiential learning, which fosters the growth of knowledge, personal skills and values as well as promoting social justice at the same time. As a broad term, it encompasses varieties of formal, non-formal and informal educational programs and projects, which use practical-oriented, student-centred, problem and community-based, interactive learning methods, including, but not limited to, the practical work of students on real cases and social issues supervised by academics and professionals. These educational activities aim to develop professional attitudes and foster the growth of the practical skills of students with regard to the modern understanding of the role of the socially oriented professional in promoting the rule of law, providing access to justice and peaceful conflict resolutions, and solving social and community problems.
Legal clinics are a demand-driven and bottom-up approach to research. Their work can be described as community-based research (CBR). Their main function is to increase both public awareness and to provide access to legal science to laymen and non-profit organization. In practice, this means civil society organizations will have access to the legal research operated within the legal clinics at no cost.
Legal clinics also expose students to new business management skills in the field of legal services, contributing to a change of behaviour in the legal professions through exchange of ideas with successful legal entrepreneurs and professional trainers from the universities.
Legal clinics have existed for half a century in the USA. While legal clinics have been a fixture of legal education in the United States and other common law jurisdictions since the 1960s and 1970s, the concept in Europe has remained under-developed and under-utilized. Additionally, research regarding the use and potential of clinics in legal education has been limited. Even today it is not clear how many European Universities use the model.
More recently they have been introduced in European Law Faculties and in law curricula and their role has gradually increased (According to the Report of C. Bartoli, (“Legal clinics in Europe: for a Commitment of Higher Education in Social Justice”, in Diritto & questioni pubbliche, special issue, May 2016. The report is available at: http://www.dirittoequestionipubbliche.org/page/2016_nSE_Legal-clinics-in-Europe/index.htm) 51 clinics are operating in the Europe Union in very different fields. But compared to the number of Law faculties existing in Europe (approximatively 451 according to a counting done online as there are no official statistics available), the number of legal clinics is extremely low which is highly regrettable as legal clinics have longed proved their efficiency in the US, where almost all law schools have developed clinical legal education with regard to the impact clinics activities have on community problems (for an overview of the US legal clinics landscape see the report of the Carnegie Foundation”Educating Lawyers, Preparation for the Profession of Law” 2007).
This late transplantation is due inter alia to the important differences existing between the functioning of law schools in the US and in Europe and between the American legal tradition – related to the common law system – and the legal traditions of the EU member States on continental Europe which are all related to the civil law tradition (For an anlaysis of these reasons and the necessity to adapt the American model, see E. Poillot, “Comparing Legal Clinics: is there a way to a European Clinical Culture? The Luxembourg Experience”, 4 European Journal of Comparative Law and Governance, 2017, pp. 111 – 139).
Legal clinics are still at an embryonic stage of development in Europe. Lawyers are naturally brought to understand and work in their communities (ubi societas, ibi ius) but still lack the appropriate methodologies to reach out and provide this kind of services. The project aims at providing guidelines and best practices that can be easily replicated in the hundreds of existing law faculties within the EU. Inasmuch as European law schools attract a great number of scholars and students from non-EU, European countries (e.g. Russia) or other continents (Latin and North America, Africa, Asia) and have strong bilateral agreements with other Law faculties, there is a concrete possibility of ‘exporting’ the model to other systems.
In legal clinics, students tackle legal issues involving real people. Legal clinics provide hands-on-legal experience to law students and services to various clients. They provide pro bono services in a particular area, providing free legal services to clients. Legal clinics develop apprenticeship within the academic curriculum by providing students with theoretical knowledge, practical skills and ethics. In fact, in the frame of legal clinics, law students learn the rules of ethics, study related cases and ethical opinions, work through hypothetical cases highlighting ethical dilemmas, and explore the obligations of lawyer to clients, third parties, and tribunals. Legal clinics represent an integrated approach to legal education as they allow developing networks of ideas, individuals, and institutions to advance teaching and learning, perfectly fulfilling the third mission of Universities in the field of law.
The STARS project helps to renew teaching strategies in law schools by providing models of “learning by doing” methods that can be implemented in more classical classrooms settings and demonstrate the importance of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches of teaching.