Thursday, July 17, 2014
The International Journal of Clinical Legal Education just completed its 12th Conference titled “Clinic without Borders,” in Olomouc, a town in the Haná region of the Czech Republic dating back to the 10th Century A.D. The conference was co-organized with the European Network for Clinical Legal Education, and was held at Palacký University, which is nearly 450 years old, and is one of the oldest universities in Central Europe.
The conference was attended by nearly 200 law faculty members and social justice advocates from all over the world. Countries represented included Japan, Cambodia, China, Nigeria, Australia, Belarus, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil, Italy, India, South Africa, Indonesia, Poland, Russia, Georgia, Spain, Canada, Kenya, Hungary, Sumatra, Bali, Finland, Turkey, New Zealand, and more. Approximately ten percent of the delegates were from the United States and included faculty from the Catholic University of America, NYU, American, University of California, Cornell, University of New Mexico, University of Georgia, Columbia, Rutgers, Albany, Georgetown, Washington and Lee, George Washington University, Willamette, and more.
Themes included “Clinic in the Wider Curriculum,” “Growing Clinics around the Globe,” “Multi-Disciplinary Clinics,” “The Growth of Clinics in Europe,” and “Virtual Clinics,” and the papers presented ranged from “The Path to Clinics in the Middle East” to “Clinic in an Era of ‘Crisis’ for Legal Education” to “Developing a Cross-Border Clinical Legal Education Project.” It was a rich exchange of ideas, resources, and collaborative opportunities that reinvigorated many of those who participated.
One area of disappointment expressed during a debrief of the conference was the dearth of paper proposals submitted in relation to the theme of “Virtual Clinics.” According to Johnny Hall of Northumbria University (UK), digital technologies could easily become the “Fourth Wave” in clinical legal education. What caused the lack of interest in presenting on this topic?
One possibility considered is that clinical law faculty members are as uncomfortable with digital technologies as the rest of legal educators. Most of us have not been leaders in integrating education technologies into the law school curriculum, clinical or otherwise. At the same time, we recognized that many clinical faculty and students utilize digital technologies in our law school courses, practices, and lives almost every day in the form of email, course websites, word processing software and files, messaging, social media, digital document storage, internet conferencing, smart phones, tablets, laptops, Internet, scanners, practice management software, social media, clinic websites, digital recordings, and more. We just don’t think the use of these technologies converts our face-to-face clinics into “Virtual Clinics.” Thus, the issue may simply have been one of terminology in the “Call for Proposals.”
After all, we heard stories at the conference of law faculty who were actually operating clinics without a “bricks and mortar” home where students never actually meet their clients in person. Most of us who are integrating these technologies into our law school clinics still rely very heavily on the face-to-face interactions between students and clients and faculty and students that make the clinical experience so rich, especially in certain practice areas such as domestic violence, refugee law, child advocacy, family law, and more.
What would be the consequences both for our students and the populations we serve if we converted a significant number of law school clinics into “virtual” ones? On the one hand, we could better serve rural, disabled, remote, or international clients who normally would not have physical access to our law school clinics, but we also might start to favor certain practice areas such as business law that lend themselves better to remote representation than others. Having a virtual clinic could also exclude those individuals who are too poor to afford the technology needed to access the clinic. These are some of the consequences that we must consider as an educational community in the Digital Age and respond with awareness and intent in designing our courses and curricula within a world of rapidly changing technology and limited resources.
As we met at IJCLE’s 12th Conference and considered the technologies that we already have integrated into our clinical courses and practices in whole or in part, we recognized that many of us have not undergone the thoughtful and intentional design and due diligence that is normally so characteristic of clinical pedagogy. Why? What is it about technology that eschews intention, analysis, and reflection in the clinical community?
We may soon find out. The planners of IJCLE’s 13th Conference are considering organizing next year’s conference around this potential “Fourth Wave” in clinical legal education. The conference will be held July 22-28 in Turkey and will overlap with the meeting of the Global Alliance for Justice Education. Pencil the dates in your calendars now. Regardless of the topic finally selected, if it is anything like this year’s conference, it will be well worth the flight.