Prison time gives student lawyers practical edge

November 10, 2000

Student lawyers have been to Wormwood Scrubs to run law courses for prisoners as part of a national move to expand pro bono work in legal education.

The College of Law and the Inns of Court School of Law have both launched initiatives this autumn. The College of Law has introduced a "street law" programme, where students give rights-based courses to groups such as prisoners, single parents or the homeless.

Nigel Savage, chief executive of the College of Law, said: "Student lawyers need practical experience just as much as student doctors or teachers."

Street law is available to students doing the Common Professional Examination, or diploma in law - a course for those without a legal degree.

The college plans to extend street law to its legal practice course (LPC) and to validate it.

In September, the Inns of Court School of Law launched a three-pronged approach to pro bono work. Students on the Bar vocational course, and soon students on the LPC, can work in the ICSL Advice Clinic; with the Pro Bono Partnership Programme, which has links to more than 20 organisations; and with the Free Representation Unit, which allows students to represent clients and be assessed for it.

The UK Centre for Legal Education at Warwick University will host a conference with the Clinical Legal Education Organisation in January to run workshops on how to set up this provision.

Cyril Glasser, Law Society council member for education and training, said it was a revival of a popular approach from the 1960s at universities such as Harvard. He explained: "Today, the aim is to make courses more credible to students by giving them practical experience."

Nigel Duncan, principal lecturer at the school of law, said: "The Solicitors' Pro Bono Group has also established an initiative to instill a culture of pro bono work in students. And the introduction of community legal services has given some scope for universities to work in this area."

Earlier this year, legal education was accused of being elitist when Lord Woolf, the lord chief justice, criticised a legal practice course set up by eight City firms.

Professor Savage said: "We want to train future lawyers to be aware of their professional responsibility to support their communities and those in need of information about their legal rights."

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