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Barker, D --- "Community Engagement in Contemporary Legal Education: Pro Bono,Clinical Legal Education and Service Learning" [2009] LegEdDig 30; (2009) 17(2) Legal Education Digest 52

Community Engagement in Contemporary Legal Education: Pro Bono, Clinical Legal Education and Service Learning

Edited by Patrick Keyzer, Amy Kenworthy and Gail Wilson

Halstead Press, 2009, 122 pp

This book arose out of a forum on community engagement convened by Patrick Keyzer that took place at Bond University, Queensland, Australia in November 2008.

The forum, which involved law academics, clinical practitioners, law students and other interested parties, was concerned with the question as to how Australian law students might become involved in serving the legal needs of the community.

In his foreword, the Hon. Michael Kirby, a former Justice of the High Court of Australia, narrows the focus of the topic by drawing the attention of the reader to the fact that for many years previously, Australian law academics had been trying to persuade the Council of Australian Law Deans to adopt a formal policy whereby all law students in Australia would have to become involved in pro bono programs of clinical legal education as part of their legal training. He also conducts a wide examination of the problems facing Australian law schools in introducing clinical programs and pro bono education and considers both the arguments for and against pro bono.

As stated in the Introduction by Patrick Keyzer, the book replicates the papers presented at the forum to the extent that each of the six chapters in the book is headed both by an abstract and an introduction. In this way the format creates a structure which makes it easy for the reader to comprehend the many facets of the topics which were considered by the forum panellists and delegates.

With regard to the particular chapters, John Corker argues the case for a structured or coordinated approach to pro bono which, although a comparatively recent phenomenon in Australia, has now led to 28 law firms appointing pro bono coordinators. He pays tribute to the establishment in 2000 by the former Howard government’s Attorney-General of a National Pro Bono Task Force which led to the setting up of a National Pro Bono Resource Centre at the University of New South Wales in August 2002. In his view experiential law student learning in a social justice context can be just as successful as the structured legal pro bono process adopted by the legal profession.

Corker stresses the importance of recognising the distinction between clinical programs and pro bono programs, although these can still be complementary. Whilst contemporary Australian law school approaches to pro bono student programs compare unfavourably with the North American approach in both the United States and Canada, Corker still believes that clinical legal education in Australian law schools affords the best opportunity for students to develop coherent pro bono activities.

Carolyn Sappideen and Figen Cingiloglu describe the influence of Pro Bono Students Australia (PBSA) on the development of pro bono schemes in Australian law schools. In a wide ranging review of all aspects of pro bono programs for law students, they illustrate how the PBSA has assisted their Law School of the University of Western Sydney to develop its unique identity as a law school for the promotion of social justice.

The chapter by Jeff Giddings focuses on how the provision of pro bono legal services not only assists the general community but has the added advantage of building links between law schools and their immediate communities.

Amy Kenworthy acknowledges that whilst there is nothing new about ‘community engagement’ there is an argument for increased attention to be given to ‘currently under-utilised community engagement practice across all levels of tertiary education law degree programs – the application of a pedagogical tool called service-learning’. She goes on to explain that service learning is designed to both increase students’ exposure to community-based issues as well as to promote the enhancement of their commitment to active civic and social engagement in their future roles as professionals and community members.

The Sydney University Law School’s external student placement program has operated since 1996 and currently the Law School is seeking to build upon this whilst at the same time expanding its clinical options. In his chapter, Peter Cashman explains how a working group which has been established and chaired by the Law School’s Dean, Professor Gillian Triggs, is now developing a more extensive clinical legal education program. In explaining this concept Cashman draws on both the recent Carnegie Foundation Report and the work of Professor Philip Schrag of Georgetown University, particularly with regard to his checklists as to the ‘Practical Issues in Implementing a Clinical Program’ and ‘Issues in constructing a Clinic’.

In the concluding chapter Jennifer Nielsen describes the significance of Clinical Legal Education (CLE) as a recognised and valued form of learning by Australian law schools, and also discusses how CLE’s potential ‘to engage students in critical analyses of ethics and the practice of law’ was applied within the Southern Cross University School of Law and Justice’s CLE program. This includes an interesting account of how Nielsen, in cooperation with a former colleague, revamped their law school’s clinical program. Originally there was a sense of disappointment, as the lack of financial resources prevented them from establishing a law clinic, but an alternative adoption of a system of placements through a course unit entitled Clinical Legal Experience led to a successful outcome for students enrolled in the course.

Any engagement with the community on the basis of legal support and its incorporation into legal education requires enthusiasm on the part of both the staff and students involved. The enthusiasm which must have been displayed at the forum has been transferred to the papers now published in this book. However this is more than a mere recording of the forum’s proceedings, being a worthy initiation of how community engagement can contribute to contemporary legal education. In the view of this reviewer, it will serve as both a major contribution and as an inspiration to all those involved in developing future pro bono, clinical legal education and service learning programs. It is to be hoped that when appropriate budgetary resources are available, the Council of Australian Law Deans will feel able to adopt, as mentioned in the opening paragraph of the Hon. Michael Kirby’s Foreword: ‘a formal policy on involving all law students in this country, as part of legal training, in pro bono programs of clinical legal education’.

Emeritus Professor David Barker AM


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