Research on Clinical Legal Education: Unpacking the Evidence

Mkwebu, Tribe (2020) Research on Clinical Legal Education: Unpacking the Evidence. In: The Clinical Legal Education Handbook. Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, London, pp. 256-288. ISBN 9781911507161, 9781911507178

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This chapter comprises of a literature review that identifies themes arising from research on clinical legal education. Existing evidence relating to clinical pedagogy is synthesised to create a web of knowledge. I also draw on insights gained from my doctoral research and my experience as a clinic supervisor within Northumbria Law School’s Student Law Office. An initial systematic literature search identified relevant factors that clinicians should take into consideration when planning to establish, develop and sustain clinical programmes. The results of that initial review led to the development of a map of the identified factors. The continued expansion of the global clinical movement and the need for clinic resources such as a handbook on clinical legal education necessitated a further review. The purpose here is to determine the extent to which research has been undertaken in the field; provide a rationale and justification for continued engagement, expansion and sustenance of all dimensions of research in the field; and assess what is known and outline what is not yet known. I have structured this chapter in terms of specific thematic examples gleaned from a review of clinical scholarship. Whilst the establishment and sustainability of clinical programmes falls outside the purview of this chapter, readers will find the consideration of certain influential factors in the establishment and sustainability of a clinic, a common thread running through the chapter.

With that said, I briefly consider the importance of a clinical component within the legal education curriculum for the purposes of context. Reviewed clinical scholarship suggests that clinical programmes can help law students gain practical lawyering skills essential for legal practice and at the same time providing a platform upon which members of the community can access free legal advice. The clinical scholarship I reviewed describes a global clinical movement in motion; sweeping across five continents and elucidating the increasingly important role experiential learning plays in the education of students. In providing the reader with relevant information on the development of the Global Clinical Movement, Bloch states the following:

“...a momentum has begun to develop that [which] has helped sustain existing clinical programs and ease the path toward institutionalizing clinical education. In other words, the global reach of clinical legal education has aided and facilitated its growth and acceptance.”

Encapsulated in this quotation is the fact that many, myself included, accept and firmly believe that the benefits of clinical legal education transcend borders. Many clinicians all over the world try to make legal academies and the legal profession more permeable to the advancement of social justice and the preparation of students for law practice. A great deal of clinical scholarship has focused on the importance of clinical legal education in educating future lawyers. Clinicians, in the main, acknowledge the wisdom if not the necessity of integrating a clinical component within the mainstream legal education curriculum. Sometimes, it is easy to believe that we understand why clinics are formed and how they are developed, justifying our understandings by calling it common sense. Consequently, we end up not engaging in a systematic way to understand our field and how the establishment and sustainability of clinical programmes can be influenced by a consideration of certain topical issues that I raise below.

The thematic literature review presented here is organised around five themes. First, universities have a responsibility to model curriculum requirements that should support a teaching and learning environment where ours and our students’ mental health and emotional wellbeing should be supported. With the wellbeing of students and staff located within the broader contemporary debates currently taking place within the sector, issues associated with wellbeing are addressed. Second, consideration of reflection and reflective practice within a clinical pedagogy is given to determine the extent to which this important element of clinical pedagogy can and should be situated within the cycle of experiential education. Considering the fact that reflection, by definition, is an intimately personal experience, the challenging nature of assessing reflection is highlighted and the question on whether or not reflection should be assessed within a clinic setting is addressed. Third, the scale at which the clinic nurtures a contemporary environment that is highly conducive to developing skills for clinic students is examined. The extent to which the clinic helps students to enhance their employability opportunities, while also providing them with practical, hands-on experience of the kind of activities they will be undertaking once they graduate and enter the professional world is reviewed. Fourth, the importance of clinic students being exposed to social justice is discerned and the inherent tension between the service and education missions of clinical legal education is discussed. Fifth, the extraordinary pervasiveness of regulation and the number of questions rising from the regulatory framework within a clinic setting is explored.

Item Type: Book Section
Subjects: M900 Other in Law
X200 Research and Study Skills in Education
Department: Faculties > Business and Law > Northumbria Law School
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Paul Burns
Date Deposited: 09 Sep 2019 16:44
Last Modified: 31 Jul 2021 17:32

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