Students’ legal aid proves an academic eye-opener

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law students at the University of York have been gaining valuable international experience on placements abroad helping to give free advice in countries ranging from India to El Salvador.

The 21 students – 19 undergraduates and two postgraduates – were each placed for two to four weeks with law clinics providing advice to clients who cannot afford to pay for legal aid.

Some students visited the US, Canada or South Africa

Many already had experience with the York Law School Clinic which offers free legal advice to its local neighbourhood.

All the work carried out there by student advisers is closely monitored and supervised by a qualified solicitor.

The overseas placements provide opportunities to experience work under different legal systems.

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.”

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

“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.”

She said one of the most memorable experiences was visiting court in New Westminster where the sentencing process placed more emphasis on the commitment of defendants to aid their own healing process including becoming involved in cultural activities.

Law undergraduate Elliott Keech spent two weeks at the Catholic University of America in Washington DC where the clinic received cases on child support, immigration issues, landlord and tenant disputes and bankruptcy matters.

“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.”