This report is based on data received through responses to an electronic survey which was distributed to university Law Schools throughout the UK from June–July 2015. The research identified 62 university Law Schools with law clinics, of whom 32 responded to the survey, giving a survey response rate of 52%.
- Understanding the value of clinic partnerships to external organisations and advisers will be a necessary part of assessing the role that clinics play within the advice ecosystem. Further research should be undertaken to assess the value of those partnerships to external providers.
- The impact made by clinics on the intellectual, practical and emotional barriers experienced by individuals in their attempts to resolve their legal problems needs to be understood. Specific research with clinic clients should be conducted to measure
the extent to which clinics are able to enhance the legal capability of their clients. This research should include a focus on the impact of clinics not being able to offer a full legal service to clients, and the consequential impact of any collaborative, referral or signposting arrangements that clinics put in place for clients.
- Clinics do not adopt case selection policies that prioritise complex, strategic or test cases, and they are reliant on expert and specialist advisers to be able to progress these types of cases. The role of expert and specialist advice should be protected within the advice ecosystem to enable clinics to offer the most effective form of legal support to their clients.
- The relationship between clinics and external service providers is of critical importance and should be
enhanced. A mapping of service provision across the UK, which includes the services delivered by university law clinics, would assist in establishing how these services interact, the limitations and scope of service provision and the consequent gaps that exist. It would also provide further insight into the significance of law clinics as a proportion of overall advice provision.
- University law clinics offer considerable potential to capture original empirical data and observe social phenomena that can be mined for research purposes and translated into policy impact. This research can be based on the casework of external partners, as well as clinic casework, but the capacity of external partners to feed into policy-focused consultations and research should be enhanced so that policy makers are able to benefit from this responsive analysis of access to justice barriers.
- University law clinics also constitute a unique environment in which to test and develop innovative solutions to legal problems, that can draw on expertise in cognate areas within universities, from psychology, to philosophy, to communications, to design, to IT. Funding bodies, particularly those with an interest in access to justice or in the application of cross-disciplinary innovations to social problems, should identify funding streams designed to support
pioneering research in these areas.
- If universities are to play a role in developing the access to justice potential of their law clinics, there should be external support from government to enable universities to align their core activities with this role, and to receive appropriate recognition for their work. This could include reassessing the funding allocations for teaching clinical legal education, providing additional funding for enhanced employability outcomes, and creating REF-focused research initiatives to connect researchers to law clinics.
- Justice departments could work directly with universities to support Law Schools in being able to offer law clinics in areas of legal need, through direct funding to university staff focused on casework supervision or development planning, or indirectly through funding student support to increase the ability of students to deliver casework.
- University law clinics could also be supported by other government departments whose policies and practices may be contributing to increases in legal need, for example through regulatory changes to social security entitlements or special educational needs provision, particularly if clinic-focused research was designed to identify systematic improvements in decision-making processes.
- While law clinics are split on whether their mission is to provide social justice or enhanced educational experiences, there is a recognition by clinics that their work does deliver access to justice for clients, and that students are part of this process of meeting access to justice needs. Further research should be conducted to establish the impact of law clinics on developing a social justice ethos among law students, and in particular on developing student attitudes towards pro bono activities as part of the role of lawyers.
The full report can be downloaded here: Access to Justice through University Law Clinics