The use of university law clinics for legal reform

by Paul Maharg on 20/06/2015

Final presentation in this session, Chris Gallavin and Henry Holderness, U of Canterbury Law School, NZ.  They are talking about integrating a structured law reform programme into a university clinical legal studies programme, what they were trying to achieve and the results so far.  He described the effects of the recent earthquake on university study — in fact it has almost bankrupted the university, with loss of student income, adaptations to buildings, decanting staff and study environments, etc.  Community revitalisation was essential, especially the line ‘what can we [in the university] do for you‘, rather than the other way round.  They are now launching projects that analyse public interest, criminal miscarriage cases and other forms of cases.

What is the model at Canterbury?  Not just transactional — they wanted to develop a law reform model.  The origins of clinic were different — UK, US, etc.  The clinic was established in 2013-14, Prof Robin Palmer was the director.  As well as clinics they run internships, and all students undertake it, during a four year law degree, around 100 hours of clinic.  Students use a log book to track their activities.  Law Society is an integral component of the Faculty, and essential to the clinic experience.  U of Canterbury now has 3 strategic aims: Criminal Justice Degree, implement comprehensive clinical legal programme, conduit for all things legal in Canterbury region.

General clinics have two aims — practical training, and service to deserving clients, and helping those in need.  Eg tenancy and housing, insurance, employment, etc.  A significant by-product is the identification of recurrent legal problems, particularly problems faced by people with little capacity to effect change.  A question:  why have a clinical programme if you don’t then take action to solve those problems?

The answer is, according the speakers, make law reform initiatives an integral part of our general clinic – hence Palmer’s idea of the Law Reform Clinic.  What is it?

  • a clinic dedicated to the remediation of recurrent legal problems identified in the general clinics
  • sits alongside the general clinics but has same status with the clinical law programme
  • provides interested students with the opportunity to experience law reform in action
  • serves the public by helping to improve the law

What’s the process?

  1. training
  2. identify problems
  3. research
  4. action planning
  5. implementation

Reminds me of PBL methodologies…  They gave an example, of housing and tenancy, where there’s bond (damage deposit) abuse, and no joint final inspection at the end of the tenancy, so the scope for landlord to take advantage of tenant.  The solution was to draft and lobby for, legislative amendment to the Residential Tenancies Act 1986.  Second example:


There were also graphic and moving stories of experiences during the earthquake.  Chris described how all the bookcases had keeled over in the Library, like dominoes.  His own case texts fell into a pile in the floor, and haven’t been sorted yet.  Reminded me of the speculation by Derrida (?or was it Bloom?) saying that one of the radical things we could do with libraries is remove the covers and title pages of texts.  This form of clinic is radical, and community-based. Excellent session, quite inspirational.

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