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Solidarity across European Legal Clinics: Attending the ENCLE Conference

Frankie Hall, Trainee Solicitor, reflects on the recent ENCLE Conference

The theme of the conference for the European Network for Clinical Legal Education conference, held at the University of Brescia, Italy, was “Solidarity: We are all in this together!” After 2 years of purely digital communication, the conference presented an opportunity to reflect on how clinics have adapted and worked together in response to the changes brought by the pandemic. The BPP Pro Bono Team were delighted to attend in person, particularly in the beautiful city of Brescia!
The conference started with a plenary on the challenges that clinical legal education has faced in the past 2 years. The first discussion covered the impact of Covid-19 and the movement to online delivery of clinical legal advice. This was followed discussions of the effect of the war in Ukraine from two perspectives – one from the perspective of delivering emergency legal advice to refugees in Germany, and one from the perspective of clinical legal educators from Ukrainian universities and the challenges of continuing to support students in an ongoing war. The talk from colleagues in Ukraine was particularly moving. Academics and students from Ukraine have shown great courage and fortitude in persisting with clinical legal work on anti-corruption, despite the unimaginable difficulties they have faced during the invasion.
Representatives from the BPP Legal Advice Clinic delivered two talks during the Conference. Veronica Barresi, the Clinic Manager for our Enterprise clinic, delivered a fascinating lightning talk on The Case for Business Law Clinics: Promoting economic justice and employability. Veronica presented a compelling argument that transactional law clinics have a place alongside traditional social welfare law clinics in promoting access to justice, particularly access to economic justice, by supporting entrepreneurship and improving long term economic prosperity in local communities. She also discussed how the BPP Legal Advice Clinic aims not only provide legal education, but also to improve the employability of our students in a competitive legal employment market.
Our second talk was an interactive workshop delivered by myself and Emma Blackstone, Joint Head of Pro Bono. Our topic was Diversity and Inclusion: Is your clinic accessible to your student body? We were very pleased with the level of engagement with this talk, particularly from international colleagues from Germany and UK colleagues from the Open University. In group discussions lead by our staff, we discussed identifying barriers to accessing clinical education, and ideas overcoming these barriers. It was particularly valuable to discuss how we as clinical educators can work collaboratively with colleagues in other parts of the university such as Safeguarding teams and Students Associations to improve the accessibility of our clinics.
Two other talks were of particular interest to the BPP Pro Bono Team. The first was on Enhancing Solidarity Through the Policy Clinic, a talk lead by colleagues at Northumbria University. At the BPP Legal Advice Clinic we have recently launched our first policy clinic in collaboration with the Environmental Law Foundation. We were interested to learn how the policy clinic at Northumbria has allowed students to form strong connections with NGOs and charities, potentially introducing them to skills outside of the legal profession and alternative legal careers. The research from Northumbria also demonstrated that policy clinics can give students a wider appreciation of the social benefits that high quality legal research can provide and encourage curiosity about the law in students at the beginning of their careers.
The second talk of particular interest was on the new Solicitor’s Qualifying Examination and the potential impact it could have on social welfare law. Unfortunately, the areas of law traditionally covered by legal aid like housing, family, employment, and immigration are not covered in the SQE. This presents a huge challenge to the social welfare law field – how can the social welfare law profession continue to recruit qualified young lawyers if the topics are not part of the new SQE curriculum? The answer, we hope, comes through clinics. At the BPP Legal Advice Clinic we not only deliver opportunities for students to gain experience in these fields through pro bono work, but we are also offering 6 month paid Qualifying Work Experience placements for BPP students who have volunteered with us. The recruitment of our first 5 QWE placements will begin in September 2023. Our colleagues at the conference were intrigued by this innovative approach and we hope they will follow BPP’s example!
There were several other talks on topics as diverse as addressing teen reliance on social media through Streetlaw, teaching migration law through arts, CLE as an instrument for student social mobility and many more. This conference presented a unique opportunity for our team to contribute to the academic field of clinical legal education and to collaborate with colleagues unique perspectives from both the UK and elsewhere in Europe. We came away full of ideas for improvements we can make to our clinics. We would like to thank our hosts at the University of Brescia for their hospitality!