What happened to law clinics in lockdown?

Hugh McFaul is Co-Director of the Law School’s Open Justice Centre and Module Chair of ‘Justice in Action’ (W360).

The disruption caused by Covid-19 has had far reaching impacts and required all of us to adapt to life’s challenges under lockdown. University law clinics are no exception and law academics and clinic supervisors have had to act fast and think creatively to keep their clinical programmes running.

Another blog from earlier in 2020 discussed clinical legal education providing opportunities for their law students to provide much-needed legal advice, education and guidance to members of the public. This can be through provision of pro bono advice clinics, legal education workshops in local schools, prisons and community settings and by supporting litigants without professional representation during court proceedings. Making these types of engagements work during a period of social distancing isn’t easy and inevitably involves some creative use of online platforms.

The Open Justice Centre has been experimenting with online methods to deliver clinical legal education since the launch of the Justice in Action module in 2017. We have dabbled in virtual reality, online advice clinics, digital team building and mobile apps for public legal education.

Given our experience, Co-Director Francine Ryan and I were invited to guest edit a special Covid-19 edition of the International Journal of Clinical Legal Education (IJCLE) to investigate how law teachers have responded to the challenge of keeping their law clinics running during the pandemic.

We were delighted to receive contributions from law teachers running clinical legal education programmes in the UK, USA and India. The difficulties discussed are significant but all the papers demonstrate how the creative solutions adopted point to new pathways for clinics to engage with their communities. So, although 2020 may have been a write-off for countless summer holidays, weddings, concerts, plays and pub visits, there is some comfort in the progress that has been made in making legal education more innovative and accessible than could have been hoped for 12 months ago.

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