I was torn between two titles for this blog. A functional option 1 was the winner. Option 2 was an obscure mouthful, “Pro bono student law clinics, horses, the Forth bridge and stuck records,” which now survives as something of a sub nom. Hopefully your interest has been piqued. Do read on.
On Monday 11 March 2013 the Aberdeen Law Project hosts its AGM at the University of Aberdeen. The AGM is not just a dusty meeting, rather it is a full day of events where the students get to showcase what they have been up to and dignitaries/hangers-on come along to bask in their reflected glory and (in some cases) contribute to the day. If that sentence seemed a little pejorative, be aware I count myself as a dignitary/hanger-on; most likely the latter rather than the former. I shall be contributing just a little though, in the form of a ten minute oration about what the Project has been up to and my views as “faculty director” (i.e. the interface between the law students and the supervising staff).
My talk is short and makes use of PowerPoint, for pictures only. Here are the five pictures I will use.
First, the Aberdeen Law Project logo.
Second, the University of Aberdeen logo.
Third, a horse and cart.
Fourth, the Forth Bridge. (Glorious numerical and riparian coincidence unintended.)
Fifth, a record.
So, how do you make a lecture on pro bono publico student legal advice from those five pictures? Well, dear reader, you will just have to check back after the AGM to find out. An update shall be posted some time after the event.
UPDATE – 11 March 2013
So, I return to this blog now that I have delivered aforementioned speech. How do the images knit together?
The Aberdeen Law Project logo can be explained thus. It has something of a dual identity, hence the Latin and English names. Clearly, the English name is not a direct translation. So why Casus Omissus? As explained by Ryan Whelan in an article in the first Aberdeen Student Law Review, the Project “is concerned with the gaps within our legal system“. Unmet legal need. Access to justice. You know the buzz phraseology, but the Project tries to make a difference.
The University of Aberdeen logo can be explained in heraldic terms (and is so explained in an excellent Gaudie article by Sebastien Raybaud, the Gaudie being another fine student institution at Aberdeen). As interesting as that is, heraldry was not the order of my day. The symbolic order of my day was education, i.e. the University of Aberdeen is an educational institution. It has been since 1495. Okay, other things happen here, but education comes first, does it not? The University of Aberdeen’s registration with Scottish charity regulator OSCR might imply so, where it notes the following purposes: “The advancement of education, The advancement of health, The advancement of citizenship or community development, The advancement of the arts, heritage, culture or science.”
The horse and cart is a rather dated form of transport. It lives on in the English phrase “putting the cart before the horse”, aka running before you can walk.
The Forth Bridge is a wonder of cantilever engineering. Its intricate design makes (or used to make) painting and maintenance a never-ending task. That task lives on in the phrase “like painting the Forth Bridge”, used for an endless, repetitious task. Sisyphus, re-start your uphill struggle.
The vinyl record may mean not very much to Generation Y, but it used to be prevalent medium for music. When an LP gets stuck, repetition happens. When an LP gets stuck, repetition happens. (See what I did there?)
Returning then to my talk. On the day, I asked the audience for some up to date equivalents to three phrases I had represented in a pictorial fashion. Not many were proffered. All three of those phrases could do with a makeover to bring them up to the present day. Their time has past.
Pro bono publico legal activity has a long pedigree, but its time has certainly not passed. Students can have a role to play, as I have argued before. It is important that any initiative they have is fostered and an environment is provided for that. That is where I sound like a stuck record. In 2012 I mentioned how, despite occasional harrumphs, I was (generally) delighted to help any students knocking on my door for a bit of assistance with a case they are advising on. I said the same again in 2013. I may say the same in 2014. When an LP gets stuck, repetition happens.
Why do students have a role to play? Well, unmet legal need, the casus omissus (see my first picture), is not going away. In fact, it is a bit like painting the Forth Bridge. You think you are about 3/4 done, and it is time to start again. Again. That is why student law clinics and those who assist student volunteers have a role: today, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. You get the drift.
Should these students be helping? After all, or so the argument goes, they are not ready, or at least not rubber-stamped. Some are not even half-way through an undergraduate degree. Is it all a bit like putting the cart before the horse? Maybe, but so be it. Even with such reservations, with suitable supervision a law student can make a real difference to someone with an access to justice issue. Did I mention access to justice issues are not magically disappearing in 2013?
In the process of making a difference, students will learn so many valuable insights about how the law works, clients and perhaps even about themselves. Thus we return to the one picture remaining. Education. Whether as part of a credit-bearing course or as part of a co-curricular activity, pro bono publico student legal activity can make a difference to students.
And to the community.
And even to the academic staff at universities.
Why staff? Well, I recently circulated a survey to my students. My main concern was to gauge appetite for a credit bearing course, but I took the opportunity to ask (almost in passing) why they got involved with the Aberdeen Law Project. Some truly inspirational replies have come back. I am absolutely delighted to be a hanger-on of this particular student activity. They do make a difference and are an inspiration to me. Who knows, this blog might be an inspiration to you as well.
Finally, you now know how to get from a horse and cart, to the Forth Bridge, to a record, with a spattering of education and student voluntary work. I hope that too is inspirational.
(Image credits – the Aberdeen Law Project and University of Aberdeen logos are taken from the respective websites and I trust/hope neither will object to my usage of the images on a WordPress site. The other three images were found via Microsoft Word 2007 in a Clip Art search and I would be delighted to offer further credit than that to the originator of any image. It should go without saying that I am not making any money out of my usage of the images, nor do I plan to, but if anyone has any IP issues with any of the above do get in touch. Thanks.)