The Scottish University Law Clinic Network: 2017 Update

As some readers of my blog will have noticed, I am involved with an initative called the Scottish University Law Clinic Network. SULCN, as explained elsewhere, is designed to bring together those involved in “pro bono” (see below) legal activity across the Scottish universities. Its next event will be on 7 June at Glasgow Caledonian University. The programme is under development and is coming together nicely. You can read a bit more about participants here, including: legal commentator and GCU lecturer Andrew Tickell (aka Peat Worrier); and the law firm Blackadders.

Throughout my involvement with student pro bono work, Scottish Legal News has been a supporter and follower of the individual law clinics and any joint activities that have been undertaken. I am pleased and grateful that this has continued in the recent Scottish Legal News Annual 2017, a hard copy publication that is also available online here.

At page 84 of the Annual you will find an article by and about Strathclyde Law Clinic.

At page 86 of the Annual you will find an article by me about SULCN.

With the permission of Scottish Legal News, I have extracted the text of that article below. Please do have a look and, as ever, let me know what you think or if you have any suggestions.

Before setting that article out, I will take advantage of this blogging platform to set out a bit more about what SULCN has been up to. I explained in an earlier post that SULCN’s activities could be roughly boiled down to:

  • Five events across Scotland (see below);
  • a Twitter feed that publicises what law clinics are up to individually and shares interest stories;
  • occasional referrals and information sharing across Scotland’s law clinics.

To that I can add one recent activity, which I will tantalise readers with then not say much about, which was co-ordinating a clinic-wide response to a regulatory matter.

To engage in some reflection, which is something I encourage my students (and particularly clinical students) to do, it might be the case that all of these things could have been achieved without the SULCN brand. That may be so, but I do think it has been a useful vehicle for meeting people at other universities and beyond. How useful is impossible to quantify. SULCN does not maintain a running total of monies won or saved for clients, or record what clinics have done after discussions with others in the sector. What is clear is it has: engendered collegiality amongst the university communities; proven to be a useful conduit for communications; and given a focal point for brainstorming and publicity through its annual conference.

Without further ado, here is the article that I wrote for Scottish Legal News.

Scottish Legal News Extract

The Scottish University Law Clinic Network (SULCN) is an initiative that brings together, and raises awareness of, student law clinics in Scotland. It was developed by law students and launched at the University of the West of Scotland in 2012. Since then it has held conferences at the universities of Strathclyde (2013), Edinburgh (2014), Aberdeen (2015) and Glasgow Caledonian (2016).

Readers of Scottish Legal News are likely to be aware of law clinics: some may have volunteered for them as students or as qualified supervisors. Law clinics across Scotland use the enthusiasm and skills of law students, supported by academic staff or other supervisors, to make an impact in their local communities “pro bono publico” (for the public good). They address access to justice problems across society in a variety of ways, including:

  • advice and (where possible) assistance to resolve legal problems where alternative support is not available, such as when someone is not eligible for legal aid but is not otherwise able to afford professional legal advice;
  • public legal education to allow people to help recognise when they have a problem with a legal solution, gain the knowledge to resolve their own problems or (ideally) to avoid a legal problem in the first place;
  • campaigning for appropriate law reform where the legal system creates barriers to accessible and fair legal solutions; and
  • introducing law students to issues of social justice and ethics early in their educational development, in the hope that they will take a commitment to social justice and high legal standards forward into their legal careers. 

Whilst students and staff do all they can to assist, they are aware of their role and limitations and are willing to work with alternative support services and the pro bono arms of the profession. The educational stage of the students also means any support or training offered will be given subject to a suitable disclaimer about that educational stage. Clinics operating on this basis will balance a number of potentially competing considerations, and in so doing allow students to make a positive (if incremental) difference to access to justice in their local community, whilst engaging in professional and ethical development, all in a manner that should not impose on qualified practitioners trying to make a living.

The law clinic landscape in Scotland is such that these services are offered at a local level, centred in the cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen (where clinics currently operate), though some law clinics now offer online services in order to spread their geographical reach. SULCN does not involve itself directly with those activities, but it provides a forum to share and showcase ideas amongst like-minded students, academics and supporters. It also supports the establishment of new law clinics where that is appropriate and helps existing clinics make decisions about future directions and activities. All clinics are faced with different circumstances and choices, and SULCN members engage in research and organise events to help law clinics best adapt to those circumstances and make appropriate choices. In fact, those themes were discussed at the conference at Glasgow Caledonian University on 8 June 2016. Those, and more, themes will be returned to when SULCN returns to Glasgow Caledonian University for its sixth annual conference on Wednesday 7 June. There are also plans afoot for a “hackathon”, to develop novel solutions to access to justice problems in society.

If any of this is of interest to you, please do get in touch. The current Chair of SULCN is Malcolm Combe (of the University of Aberdeen), who can be reached at m.m.combe@abdn.ac.uk. The network is on Twitter at @SULCN and online at http://www.abdn.ac.uk/law/research/the-scottish-university-law-clinic-network-546.php

SULCN logo

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About basedrones

Bachelor of Laws. Scots lawyer working at the University of Aberdeen. English law qualified. Took far too long to write this bio. Blogs on legal issues, with occasional veering into other purportedly intellectual stuff from time to time. Tweets about legal issues, education, law clinics, fitba, music, rogue cell division and not at all about politics at @MalcolmCombe.
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