Oct 11 2012 | Posted by SSBibek

York law students lend a helping hand abroad

University of York law students are gaining valuable international work experience on placements with clinics offering free legal advice to their local communities. A total of 21 students from the York Law School are working with law clinics in the United States, Canada, India, El Salvador and South Africa. All the international clinics offer free advice to clients who cannot afford to pay for legal aid.

The placements of two to four weeks have given the 19 undergraduates and two postgraduates the chance to experience working under a different legal system, as well as an opportunity to gain further valuable experience of pro bono work.

Undergraduate LLB student Megan Hanney worked at the First Nations Legal Clinic in Vancouver, Canada for two weeks in August. The clinic specialises in assisting aboriginal people with both criminal and civil proceedings. 

Megan said: “My experience in Canada was an incredible eye-opener to the problems of marginalised groups in society and how indigenous people are dealt with and their culture respected in Canada. It has increased my understanding and adaptability. Those working in the clinic were incredibly welcoming and extremely grateful for my presence.”

One of her most memorable experiences was visiting the First Nations Court in New Westminster. She said: “The process of the court in sentencing is a lot different to ‘regular’ sentencing processes as there is more emphasis on the commitment of the defendant to aid their own healing process. Defendants are often encouraged to get a job, to become involved in cultural activities and to attend various group meetings appropriate to their needs. This comes from the belief that justice is about honour and respect, rather than right and wrong.”

Many of the students taking part in the placements had already gained experience with the York Law School Clinic, which offers the local York community free legal advice. All the work carried out at the clinic by student advisers is closely monitored and supervised by a qualified solicitor.   

Richard Grimes, a solicitor and the University's Director of Clinical Programmes, said: “A placement in another jurisdiction gives students the chance to compare and contrast. As well as showing them the nature of legal service provision elsewhere, it may build commitment to pro bono work. For the host organisation, it can provide a useful addition of labour.”

Law undergraduate Elliott Keech spent two weeks at the Catholic University of America in Washington DC, USA, in July and August.

Elliott said: “The CUA clinic receives many cases on child support, immigration issues, landlord and tenant disputes and bankruptcy matters. My time there gave me an insight into the relationship between a lawyer and client, and enabled me to better understand American law and its differences with English jurisdiction.

“Working in a clinic was a tremendous experience. Doing so many different and interesting tasks in such a short amount of time was a great privilege, and qualifying on both sides of the Atlantic has been added to my list of options to explore.”

The York Law School offers a unique hands-on approach to legal studies, based on problem-based learning as a core component, rather than traditional lectures and tutorials. 

For more information on the free legal service offered by the York Law School Clinic, or to book an appointment, phone 01904 325819 or email law-clinic@york.ac.uk.