: Promoting Justice Through Clinical Legal Education

Promoting Justice Through Clinical Legal Education

Kristoffer Greaves

Promoting-Justice-Through-Clinical-Legal-EducationJeff Giddings; Justice Press,* 2013; 
448 pages; $20+postage/packing (paperback)

It is a good year for resources concerning Australian clinical legal education, with Jeff Giddings’ book an excellent companion to the ‘Best Practices Australian Clinical Legal Education’ report released earlier in 2013.

Clinical legal education involves students ‘learning by doing and reflecting’ via supervised legal work on behalf of real clients, or through simulated scenarios drawn from legal practice. In Promoting Justice Through Clinical Legal Education, Giddings argues:

Clinical methodologies can make a more substantial contribution to legal education as part of an integrated and effectively sequenced program than on a stand-alone basis. [p 3]

An integrated approach, says Giddings, promotes justice through legal education by providing law students with opportunities to appreciate the importance of access to justice, to develop professional ethics, take responsibility for their work, and experience the limitations of the law and legal processes.

Giddings’ book distils his comprehensive PhD research into three parts, ‘The Potential of Clinical Legal Education’, ‘Four Case Studies of Australian Clinical Legal Education’, and ‘The Future of Clinical Legal Education’. Part One involves an introduction to clinical legal education, how it integrates with academic learning, discussion of the potential for clinical legal education and how this potential can be realised. Especially important, in my opinion, for those charged with implementing, delivering or developing clinical legal education, is Chapter Five, 
‘Factors Influencing the Establishment and Sustainability of Clinical Programs’. Here, Giddings discusses practical and political issues affecting the implementation and sustainability 
of clinical legal education programs, observing:

Clinical programs tend to operate within multiple systems – involving students, clients, the law school and university, as well as the legal profession and policy makers. This complexity generates potential for both conflict and collaboration. [p 116]

Giddings’ discussion of actual and potential obstacles and opportunities for collaboration, informed by a comprehensive review of past experiences, is especially useful for those contemplating new clinical legal education programs.

The four case studies provided in Part Two further illustrate the discussion. I was especially interested in the University of Newcastle Law School Clinical Program case study at Chapter Eight. The University of Newcastle Law School program integrates clinical legal education and practical legal training as part of its ‘professional program’, involving live client work and simulations. In Australia, practical legal training is most often completed as post-graduate training (an approach recommended by the Law Admissions Consultative Committee, and a requirement of at least one state admission board). Giddings’ description, of how the Newcastle University team negotiated the obstacles and built its integrated program, is instructive and inspirational.

In Part Three, Giddings describes ‘Frameworks to Foster Clinical Legal Education’ and an ‘Action Plan for Promoting Clinical Legal Education’. The latter chapter provides recommendations for action from within (universities, law schools, legal academics and students), and without law schools (government, regulators, the judiciary and the profession). Giddings’ recommendations include increased government funding, broadening the focus of admission boards beyond substantive legal education, and improved contributions by the profession to external placement programs. Universities and law schools could develop structures ‘that promote the inclusion of clinicians in research collaborations.’ [p 366]

The book is well structured and easy to read. It is especially relevant to policy-makers, decision-makers, academic teachers and researchers, and practitioners involved in legal education. Current and prospective law students might also find the book useful to guide their legal education choices, and to better understand the contexts in which Australian legal education exists.

KRISTOFFER GREAVES is a lawyer and a PhD candidate at Deakin University. His research is focused on lawyers who teach practical legal skills.

* Editor’s note: Justice Press is the sister publication of the Alternative Law Journal, working together to support and promote justice.

(2013) 38(3) AltLJ 200
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